The Art of Thrifty Christmas Gifts

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Oooh, we’re all feeling the squuuueeeze.

It’s true because they talk about it on the TV all the time.  No one has any money, and lots of people don’t have any jobs. But still the TV is full of adverts attempting to guilt us into buying expensive gifts. Like that horrendous Littlewoods advert where apparently “Mum” puts over £2000 worth of presents under the tree, presumably by racking up insane amounts of debt which she’ll only just have paid off by next Christmas. Because gifts BUY love.

Well, I am a firm believer in the power of a little thought and imagination. We shouldn’t be in floods of tears 3 weeks before Christmas because we have to make a choice between eating or buying a stupidly expensive gift for little Damian that he’ll have forgotten about in a month, or worse, a stupidly expensive gift for a “grown up and old enough to know better”  friend or relative.

I’m not religious, but I LOVE Christmas, the secular, Christmas Trees, Santa and Starbucks Egg Nogg Lattes Christmas. I have equal love for Christmas Carols, Mariah Carey and Bing Crosby. Frankly if you mark it with the word “Christmas” then for 6 weeks of the year I’ll love it. Part of the fun of Christmas is giving and receiving gifts, but that doesn’t mean it’s all about manic consumerism and unsustainable levels of personal debt. It should be fun buying those little tokens of appreciation and love for someone.

And that’s what they are. For me, at least, the fun isn’t in the accumulation of piles of expensive gee gaws, it’s in knowing that the person thought about that present. That they wanted to be there when you opened it to see your face, even if in reality they can’t.

Being given a gift can feel positively hurtful if you know that no thought went into it. So before you email everyone and ask for lists of what they want for Christmas so they can feel guilty asking for stuff and you can feel guilty for not buying it. And before you get caught up in the whirl of thoughtless 3 for 2 Supermarket gift offers, take a look at these ideas for an alternative way to do Christmas giving.

The Themed Gift

A collection of small gifts with a theme and a card explaining it is far more thoughtful, and cheaper than a supermarket boxed gift.

You can buy all the ingredients for this from the pound shop or Charity Shops if you use a bit of imagination! Think about the things you see. If you spot a nice tea cup and saucer (or if you already have one in your house!) then team it with a packet of biscuits and a tea bag, rather than just making the cup and saucer the gift.

afternoon by the fire

Pine Cone firelighters, marshmallows, sachet of hot chocolate and a christmas mug = Afternoon by the fire (only works if the recipient has an open fire! If not try swapping the firelighters for a candle and framing a photo of a roaring fire!) Total cost, about £12, including the fancy pine cone firelighters.


relaxing bath
Shower Cap (I just bought a spotty one from Poundland!), Lush Bath Bomb and a paperback book = Relaxing bath. Total cost, approx £6.

The Budget Challenge

The idea of this gift is to set a budget, say £10 with a 10% each way margin, and get as many gifts as you can for that price, while still bearing the recipient in mind! You’ll need the agreement of your gift giving partner, but this is actually a really fun way of saving money, and feels quite exciting on Christmas morning as you’ve no idea what you’re going to get!

Charity Shops, Hawkins Bazaar, Poundland, The Works and the miniatures section in Boots are all great for this, as is cheating and raiding any samples you might have laying around the house!

The Craft Option

This might smack a bit of children making mothers day “gifts” at school, but if you have an actual skill then this is an opportunity to put it to use! Sometimes knitting a jumper might work out more expensive that buying one from Primark, but the one you make will have actual thought in it and can be customised to the recipient.

You can even customise parts of other gifts. Photoshopped pictures and customised vases for flowers are all a nice idea. Best crafty gift I ever had?

The Internet. (If you haven’t seen this episode of the IT Crowd this will make no sense)

The Really Skint Option

If you’re really, really poor this Christmas, then make your gifts more or less free. Promisory notes for a months worth of washing up, vouchers for a coffee in bed or, if you’re likely to have more money in future, for cocktails for 2 are a nice gesture, as long as you’ve really thought about what the recipient might appreciate.

One year Mr Chick gave me a bell for Christmas. It came from a Charity Shop and cost next to nothing, but all I had to do was ring it and I got bought drinks, food and warm jumpers. What a brilliant gift.

As long as you’ve genuinely thought about what you give, don’t feel guilty about it. If they don’t appreicate it, then they don’t deserve you!

When you’re buying your gifts this year, just remember you’re buying them for someone you love and care about, and who hopefully loves and cares about you too. Remember, a voucher might seem thoughtless,  but £10 to spend in Boots might be more useful for friend with money worries than an expensive necklace that they’ll never be able to wear as they can never afford to go anywhere nice enough.

I hate to use a cliche. But….

It’s the thought that counts.


P.S. It’s Day 3 of the 12 days of Christmas giveaway and today I’ve added 2 handmade heart shaped tree decorations from my Etsy shop. Any comment on this post will get you an entry to the competition, and you can still get extra entries on Day 1 and Day 2.

73 Responses
  • Wendy
    December 7, 2011

    I love a good home made gift, or something with a little thought behind it.

    Of course, I’d also love santa to bring me a nice pair of knee high leather boots with fur lining in them too. No thought required. Size 5 please.

  • Sabelline
    December 7, 2011

    Very good post, the idea of the bell is just brilliant! Thanks for putting things in perspective and giving us fab ideas. The bath time Christmas combo is wonderful too.

  • Kate Collison
    December 7, 2011

    I’ll be fighting my way around Hawkins Bazaar this weekend! Great ideas.

    • Mugammad
      February 9, 2012

      I would be very gaureftl to win the contest. I would use the money to pay toward my mortgage as we are behind on the payments.

  • Lucy
    December 7, 2011

    Best Retro Chick post ever (and I really enjoy your blog), I feel all Christmassy now and you’ve given me inspiration 🙂

  • Old Fashioned Susie
    December 7, 2011

    I totally agree with the whole gift giving thing as surprise, I have an icky situation this year where someone has actually bought their Christmas present themselves from us, and now expects the money! WTF! Where’s the Christmas spirit in that transaction!

  • Old Fashioned Susie
    December 7, 2011

    Hehe- sorry for ranting!

  • Sandy P
    December 7, 2011

    I knitted a lot of scarves this year, with lots of thought going into colours, type of stitch etc for each person. But then you read every “worst gifts to receive” lists and knitted stuff is almost always top!! Makes me a tad cross….don’t people realise how much effort goes into a handknit!

    Mind you, I do tend to fall into the consumerist trap for my son and as he’s got older there’s less toys and games….which is a shame as I like them!!!! LOL!

  • Style Eyes Ethical Fashion Blog
    December 7, 2011

    Yes definitely the thought that counts! Funnily enough I have just been writing a similar post for Oxfam. I really can’t see the point of spending the next few months of next year paying off debt from Christmas, Christmas just seems to have turned into a whirlwind of consumerism. I am definitely setting a limit in Christmas gifts this year but I think that does make you think a bit more about what you give. I am also handmaking and thrifting some. I love the idea of someone giving babysitting vouchers to me for Christmas, would be great to be able to have a night out!

  • Roisin
    December 7, 2011

    Don’t enter me into the competition, but I wanted to say a big fat WORD to this post – a thrifty Christmas is totally do-able.

    And I also wanted to say that you sent me one of these ornaments along with the Vintage Tea Party Book that I won from you earlier this year, and it’s taken pride of place on my little Christmas tree. I love it! Thanks, Gemma x

  • Michelle
    December 7, 2011

    I love the themed gift idea – I received a baking-themed gift one year with sprinkles, a pink spatula etc. and it was lovely, but I daresay quite thrifty.

  • Louise
    December 7, 2011

    That Littlewoods advert leaves a sour taste in my mouth too. People have forgotten what Christmas is all about. X

  • Anneke
    December 7, 2011

    Great article, our circle of friends pledged to only give handmade gifts this year, unfortunately i have totally run out of time, but my neighbour is baking booze sozzled christmas cakes as gifts.

  • Fi Phillips
    December 7, 2011

    What a great post. I’ve gone down the themed gift box route before and it’s always been a success. I think I’ve made jewellery and suncatchers and bookmarks for so many people now that I couldn’t do that again. Must find new victims. Love your husband’s idea of the bell service.

    My only difficult Christmas purchase this year is a sad one too, for a lady dying from cancer. Don’t want to give her anything that means she’ll have to expend energy because she’s short on that. She’s also diabetic. Think a themed pamper gift box may work though.

  • Natasha De Vil
    December 7, 2011

    I try to do as many handmade gifts as poosible each year at christmas because it more personal as well as penny saving. Of course I shall be clocking up to todays extra entry 🙂

  • luxiehoney
    December 7, 2011

    Love these ideas. I’d also say the Body shop for mini body butters and lip balms- cute and they are often on 3 for 2 (plus discount with the card). Cute giveaway too 🙂 xxx

  • Aimee
    December 7, 2011

    Retro chick saving the christmas mad world!

  • Tracey
    December 7, 2011

    I adore handmade gifts so much more as it shows the thought put into them.

  • ConstantlyAlice
    December 7, 2011

    GREAT ideas. Sharing on FB!

  • Cathryn
    December 7, 2011

    This is exactly what I am doing for people! Much more thought and care goes into this. Oh and I do LOVE a bargin! 🙂

  • Bren
    December 7, 2011

    Some lovely ideas here, I may even get my hubby a bell 🙂

  • Bunny Moreno
    December 7, 2011

    I love love love your post today. I think my view on giving during Christmas has changed a lot since having children and also since realizing that its not worth spending on those darn credit cards only to pay triple for it in the end. This yr is very tight so we are only giving to our children and niece-I hate not being able to give more but I hope people understand-if not then thats there problem. We choose to eat than to not eat on Christmas day hehehe Fantastic post Gemma!!! xox

  • Claire Barker
    December 7, 2011

    Great ideas, homemade can often mean more because of the thought and effort that goes in to making them.

  • suzanara
    December 7, 2011

    love the themed gift idea and the set a limit one,great ideas 🙂

  • Elaine Kidd
    December 7, 2011

    I have been knitting toys for all the children I know this year, so skint. At least I know that most of the parents know how much work goes into them.

  • Ellen Stafford
    December 7, 2011

    Fab ideas! I love getting bargains at the local charity shops!

  • Julie Booth
    December 7, 2011

    I think it’s a great idea to be thrifty. I am always on the look out for nice cheap toiletries and little gifts that I can make into hampers.

  • Julie Booth
    December 7, 2011

    I love making crafty things too as presents such as homemade jewellery

  • claire woods
    December 7, 2011

    Some interesting ideas that I’d not thought of before. You don’t need to spend lots of money to put a smile on someone’s face on Christmas Day.

  • Maxine
    December 7, 2011

    Such lovely ideas! Yes, Christmas may be tough this year, but you’ve captured so well the idea that it is thoughfulness that is the most important thing. One year, my now hubbie once gave me a box full of sea shells and pebbles that he’d secretly collected whilst we were on holiday – it brought back such lovely memories, and he even bought some fish and chips to go with it! best present ever!

  • Erica Price
    December 7, 2011

    Love the themed gift ideas.

  • Perdita
    December 7, 2011

    Ohhh now I want the IT Crowd for Christmas. Not the TV show DVD, I mean 2 geeks, a goth and their manager to sit in my basement and fix the internet whenever it goes down!! 😉

  • Gingermiss
    December 7, 2011

    I love these ideas I am hand knitting some of my gifts and my grown up children are donating money to oxfam on behalf of their grandmothers.

  • Nickie Chapman
    December 7, 2011

    Love them! I always mean to make things but never get around to it, and have a last-minute panic.

  • Ashe @ Dramatis Persoane
    December 7, 2011


  • Jo White
    December 7, 2011

    It is definitely the thought that counts! I’m loving all the thrifty ideas! I am going to make time to produce some homemade gifts this year! xx

  • Samantha Williams
    December 8, 2011

    Great ideas for thoughtful gifts. This year I’ll be giving more thought and perhaps pinching Retro Chic’s theme tip. I’ll also be wrapping my Christmas presents with saved paper from last year and homemade tags from last year’s christmas cards. Thanks for the tips.

  • Sarah
    December 8, 2011

    What a great post! I’ve really glad I’ve found your blog (I’ve been reading some of your older posts), you are insightful and wonderful, just like this post shows! xo

  • Ali Bunn
    December 8, 2011

    I love ‘the internet’ episode! Also loving all your other present ideas. I’m off to buy a pinecone firelighter now… x

  • Chantelle
    December 8, 2011

    What an inspiring post – Christmas put into perspective! And such lovely Christmassy hearts, I maybe digging out my sewing machine this afternoon!! x

  • Lauren
    December 8, 2011

    Good ideas – I’ve been struggling to find gifts on a budget this year and there are some great ideas there!

  • Emma Hollands
    December 8, 2011

    So pretty!! Brilliant post! I’ve just raided all my vouchers (Tesco and Sainsbury’s) to buy presents with – got a jumper from Tesco, a £25 House of Fraser voucher (to buy three smaller presents with) and a £27.50 Amazon voucher – to buy 5 presents with! Woohoo! Oooh must chck Boots points too! xx

  • Julia
    December 8, 2011

    I would love someone to get me the relaxing bath idea – nothing better on a cold evening 🙂

  • Rachel Vass
    December 8, 2011

    These are really lovely hearts and can I say I totally agree that a well thought out personalised present is better than an expensive generic gift. x

  • Kirsty Gillmore
    December 8, 2011

    They’re lovely! They remind me of the tree decorations my Mum has in NZ. I’m always sad this time of the year as it’s another year I’ll miss seeing them

  • Lyn
    December 9, 2011

    Love this post. The idea of making gifts gives me the Christmassy tingle. And this is a great reminder that we dont need to go mental on expensive gifts.

  • Rebecca Murphy
    December 9, 2011

    Love home-made gifts – and home-made cards, too!

  • Blue
    December 9, 2011

    Hahahaaha, love your internet box, my friend had that idea a few years ago and made one out of clay for me with little mini figurines of Moss, Roy and Jen inside the box, all of which she made and painted herself. I was delighted!

  • eyeliah
    December 11, 2011

    I like the relaxing bath kit! Very thoughtful. I have been struggling to find something affordable for early 20s brothers and my step dad, ugh! it’s so hard!

  • Michelle Williams
    December 11, 2011

    Lovely, please enter me

  • Julie Picton
    December 11, 2011

    Wish I could make thing like this. So cute

  • Joanne B
    December 11, 2011

    My mum is making all her gifts this year. I’m trying to but my children just don;t appreciate the effort put in!

  • sally hall
    December 11, 2011

    great ideas, i will get hunting!

  • Patricia Martin
    December 11, 2011

    Fingers crossed!

  • Yasmin Selena Butt
    December 11, 2011

    I approve of hearts! I have a huge ceramic one that hangs above my study door : )

  • claire constable
    December 11, 2011

    love the idea of a limit and theme

  • Deborah Bird
    December 11, 2011

    aww they are very pretty x

  • Molly Louise
    December 12, 2011

    I love your post above. I’ve been making all my pressies this year, but fast running out of time to complete them all (the reason I’m up so late tonight!) so I’m liking your ideas in the ‘really skint’ section, which I might be following if I run our of crafting time.
    Your hearts are very sweet too! x

  • Karen Walkden
    December 12, 2011

    lovely , i make a lot of gifts myself too 🙂 not cos i have no money but cos i think its nicer if you give personalised gifts

  • carrie
    December 12, 2011

    love the little hearts beautiful have just found yoru blog and have fallen in love

  • Helen
    December 12, 2011


  • Hannah
    December 13, 2011

    I love a handmade gift, so please enter me x

  • Louise
    December 13, 2011

    What a great idea for secret santa gifts!

  • Sarah Armstrong
    December 13, 2011

    Soooooo pretty!

  • missmatilda
    December 13, 2011

    meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee xxxxx

  • Kelly Garrett
    December 13, 2011

    Homemade stuff rocks! I love making food gifts and putting together sets for ‘film lovers’ or ‘book worms’ that are beautifully presented to the gratefl recepient 🙂

  • Emma Lowe
    December 14, 2011

    i enjoy making things for presents, i have made cross stitch and quilts in the past

  • Alix Bell
    December 15, 2011

    Looks great! (:

    December 15, 2011

    Thank you thank you thank you! The Internet!! I will so give this to my husband this year, and watch as he tries to let me down gently! LOL

  • Laura Carroll
    December 16, 2011

    Great pressie ideas! Love the afternoon by the fire!
    And those hearts are so cute <3

  • Eliza
    December 16, 2011

    Those little hearts are just sweet! I find buying presents quite stressful, perhaps I should try and make some instead (although I suspect that I may be sadly lacking any craft related skills).

  • Tegan Faulkner
    December 16, 2011

    Super cute!

  • Alice
    December 17, 2011

    OOh they are so cute! x and oh my gosh especially with that internet you look just like jen off the it crowd!