By Julia Pantoga
This is the gift-giving season. But most years, I find myself fairly broke at the beginning of December, and certainly not in a financial position to spend January rent on holiday gifts. However, I like to give gifts to everyone: parents, siblings, nieces, nephews, spouses, and of course, my son. In my family, that’s a minimum of 20 gifts! Pretty daunting for my paltry budget, but I always find a way to do it.
My main strategy is to give the same gift to everyone in the same category. For example, all the adults, or all the children or all the nieces, etc. When I am out shopping during the year, I look for items on sale and buy several of them and store them on my “present” shelf. Last year, I found orange and lime green plastic shoe bows on sale for 50¢ at the hobby store and I bought four for my nieces.
One of the gifts I’ve made many, many times is a framed sheet of stamps. Every time I go to the post office, I peruse all of the current stamp designs. If you live in a major city and go to the philatelic counter at the main post office, you will find a spectacular array of designs to choose from. But, even if you live in a smallish town (as I do now) and the display is limited to the most-used denominations of stamps, you will be surprised at how wonderful and varied stamp artwork is. Over the years, I’ve framed wildflower, sports team, superhero, picture book character, famous author and movie star stamps. The stamps I’m using in the pictures below, were just regular 41¢ stamps I bought at my local small post office. Here’s the easy and fabulous way I turn sheets of stamps into artwork.
1. Buy your stamps in sheets.
2. Take your stamps to a craft store and buy a background sheet of paper and inexpensive frame that match the stamps. (I buy frames all year around when they are on sale.)
3. Use an Exacto knife to cut the paper to fit the frame. (OK, I’ll share my tip here—take the glass out and use it as a guide to cut your paper.)
4. Assemble the paper and the stamps in the frame (Here’s another trick— affix the sheet of stamps to the paper with little pieces of tape on the back, so the stamps don’t slide around under the glass). Consider the border markings from the post office, as something that adds charm and authenticity to your work and spare yourself the time of trimming it off or cutting a paper mat to cover the writing. Just put a piece of nicely covered paper behind the stamps.
Aprons (or whatever is most you)
Last year, plain children’s aprons were on sale at the craft store, so I bought one each for each of my nieces and nephews (and my son). Later, I bought paints, a paintbrush and stencils and painted the first initial of each of their names on an apron. That was one of my most expensive homemade gifts. I think I spent about $8 per apron.
Use What You Have Around
Some of the best gifts I’ve made have come out of times that I had almost no money at all and had to look around my house for ideas of things I could give for gifts.
One of those times came when my son was in kindergarten. I looked around the house, and all I could see was piles and piles of artwork he had come home with. Luckily for me, he went to a school where all the artwork was on identical paper. I selected the 20 pieces that I thought were the most appetizing and took them to my local copy shop and laminated each of them to make 5 sets of 4 placemats each. When I was looking for placemats to photograph for this article, I found out that most had finally disintegrated after years of use (my son is 21 now). My brother-in-law said, “That was one of the best gifts we ever got.” Luckily, my mother stored this precious artwork of her grandson carefully, so I am able to show you photos of what the finished product looked like:
Another year, I spied my collection of shells, which were taking up a lot of display space and were breaking one by one every time they were moved. The next time I went to the craft store, I bought a set of plain magnet disks (I’d imagine you could buy them at the hardware store too). I glued magnets on the back of my shells and gave each of my nieces and nephews a set of shell magnets. I only kept a few for myself.
Then, of course, there have been plenty of years when I’ve grabbed bars of cookie dough out of the freezer, put a bow on it and given that away. But me and frozen cookie dough is another story, for another time… (I now label and mold all my dough, but in the old days, I used to store it in wax paper and slap a bow on it before I gave it as gifts. No one ever complained about the humble wrapping.)