Saturday, October 16, 2010

Frugal Yule - Gifts under $10 and $25

Buy, donate or make-it-yourself Christmas gifts 
for under $10 and under $25

$0 - Yes, it's possible to buy something for nothing! Have you checked your credit card loyalty points balance recently? Or Air Miles or other reward points? Definitely worth the investigation - I cashed out $150 worth of Starbucks gift cards one year from my credit card rewards points program! Don't forget that Shopper's Optimum points add up, too - I once had $70 of loyalty money to spend! Great gift ideas from Shopper's Drug Mart: Burt's Bees products, higher-end cosmetics, & cologne/perfume.

$10 and under:
Top 20 World Charitable Gifts $10 and under:

Top 10 Local (Vancouver Area) Charitable Gifts $10 and under:

Make it for approximately $10 or less:
  • Jar or Mug of Hot Cocoa Mix. Some basic instructions here, but I have more tips: buy an inexpensive or vintage mug and place your homemade mix in a food-safe decorative cello bag (you can buy them at Urban Source alternative art supplies on Main St. for practically nothing!). Tie with ribbon or something really funky like old telephone wiring (check out Urban Source! Cheap and neat!), and include a candy cane, or a vintage teaspoon dipped in melted chocolate for stirring (Kitsilano Natural Foods sells chunks of Bernard Callebaut chocolate in their bulk section, or buy chocolate chips when on sale). You can get really fancy and make your own marbled marshmallows, too! Get your vintage mugs and teaspoons from a Salvation Army Thrift Store or other inexpensive source. Don't like Hot Chocolate? Try this recipe instead for Homemade Hot Chai Mix - don't forget to accessorize with cinnamon sticks and star anise pods (Superstore has lots of Indian spices).
Just the bare bones....

  • Homemade Cookies. There are literally thousands of cookie recipes online. The most inexpensive cookies are sugar cookies (nuts and spices are pricey), and they are the easiest to decorate, too! Make your own cookie template (draw or trace a printed image onto a piece of parchment or wax paper, cut it out, lay it on your rolled dough and cut around it with a knife. The smaller and boxier the shape, the easier it will be to lift it with a flipper or turn it over from your cutting board onto your cookie sheet), or alternatively use a mug or wide drinking glass to cut circular shapes. You can purchase inexpensive glass jars at Ikea (my favourites are the Slom), or scope out the local thrift shop for vintage inspiration. Another fantastic idea (not my own) is Pie-in-a-Jar single servings! I'm planning on attempting this one myself! Buy the Bernadin 125mL jars at Canadian Tire (I bought mine for $7.39 per 12 pack 25/09/10) or elsewhere if you can find them for less.

  • Windowsill Herb Garden. See my earlier post - if you buy 3 different seed packs and use them to make 4 gifts, you will be definitely well under the $10 per gift limit!

  • Learn-to-Knit or Crochet kit. Get down to Dressew and pick out some yarn in whatever colour or style you like (yarn is $1.99 at Dressew!). Purchased mid-sized knitting needles (4 or 5 is a good size) or a medium sized crochet hook (4 or 5 mm). Next, get onto your computer, register for free at and search for easy, beginner-level free patterns - sort by popularity to find the coolest free patterns currently available. Print off a couple of patterns and fold into a decorative envelope (or a plain envelope you decorated - all you need is a pen or pencil crayon!). Visit a second-hand bookstore and find a learn-to book, or photocopy key pages from library copy. You can also list the URL of a free learn-to-knit or crochet website in the literature given to your crafty recipient.
Dressew Supply - W. Hastings between Homer and Hamilton

Buy it for $10 or less - unique & local gift ideas:
  • (Vancouver Farmer's Markets) Membership. For $10 you can purchase someone a "Cherry Tomato Membership" for $10 ($100 buys you the "Beefsteak Tomato Membership"!). The Cherry Tomato Membership gives the recipient 15% off all merchandise at the info booth (t-shirts, bags, juice, etc.), a free ticket and front-of-the-line-pass to the Holiday Market, 2 free tickets for the monthly raffles, and special discounts at the Member Appreciation Days. But perhaps most importantly, these memberships help keep the fresh food coming to your neighbourhood by supporting the market. A very trendy and useful gift indeed - tie it in with the "slow-food" movement (I hate that term - reminds me of constipation!) by 'wrapping' your card in a vintage wide-mouth mason jar (hit up the thrift shops!) and some grosgrain ribbon.

  • Greenpeace reusable eco-timber chopsticks for $5. You really can't ensure greener chopsticks than these, and at only $5 each you can still afford to go out for dinner with them! Let's be honest: anything that says "Greenpeace" on it is edgy and cool.

  • 25 minute Mini-Cruise on an Aquabus. For $8 you can purchase an adult ticket for a 25 minute 'mini-cruise' in an iconic Aquabus around False Creek, departing from Granville Island and arriving at Yaletown (where there is a convenient new CanadaLine station). Even better, treat the grandparents - tickets for the 25 minute cruise are only $4 a pop per senior (including HST!) or $10 per senior (or child) for a full day pass. 

  • Daiso / YokoYaya 1-2-3 Japanese Gifts. A glass sake set or small set of tea cups with lids or sushi platters, chopstick rests and chopsticks can easily come together for under $10 at these Japanese discount stores. Baking and cooking utensils and notions abound, and you could very quickly create a gift basket with a particular theme. For the automobile enthusiast, car cleaning wipes and accessories (although not particularly 'green') are plentiful enough to easily create a gift bag for the car - pick up the "portable toilet" for $2 if you see it. Best gag gift ever!
YokoYaya 1-2-3 at The International Village Mall (Tinseltown, Stadium/Chinatown SkyTrain Stn)

    Japanese sake set for under $10 - Daiso & YokoYaya 1-2-3
    • Sketch book and art pencils. De Serres is a great place to pick up a few small items (but gets expensive quickly!). The UBC Bookstore has also proven to be a reasonably priced option on this front. Who would like to receive a sketch book? Do they doodle in the margins? Display untapped talent? Then that's your recipient!

    • Stainless Steel Food Containers. I did mention these before in a Back-to-School post, but they are so well-priced that they are worth mentioning again! With the fears of BPA and other plastic-nasties polluting your food, stainless steel containers and traditional 'bento boxes' have become en vogue in a big way. The Tickle Trunk carries several multi-compartment lunch containers for very, very reasonable prices! This food container (container #3) is one of my favourites - just $8! It may be online shopping, but it still counts as local! Support the Vancouver merchants!
    Say no to plastic! Buy a stainless steel lunch container like my vintage one.

    • Handmade Fair Trade Jewelry. Ten Thousand Villages sells unique, handmade jewelry that helps to support the economies of third world countries. Earrings like these and bracelets are very reasonably priced and cheery. They even have a section of products from Haiti, so you can help support the recovery process financially. Be sure to check the clearance section for some really great deals - the artisans have been paid up front in full, so no worries about short-changing anyone either. Another great option is the "under $25" section - many items are well under $10 and are beautiful and exotic. There is a new store on Granville Island and one in Kits at 2909 West Broadway near Bayswater. Another great retailer (online) selling handmade, ethical jewelry is - I like this bracelet for $5

    • Sunday Afternoon Tea and Tour at the Roedde House Museum. $6 for tea and a tour? Not bad, and definitely off-the-beaten path! The Roedde House Museum is located at Broughton and Barclay and includes homes in the Queen Anne revival style. Get to know the history of Vancouver in a hands-on, dignified setting and enjoy a spot of tea.

    $25 and under:
    Top 20 World Charitable Gifts $25 and under:

    Top 10 Local Charitable Gifts $25 and under:

    Make it for about $25 or less: 
    • Paint a t-shirt, shopping bag or make a flag. Pebeo fabric paints (Opus or De Serres for about $5 each) come in a range of inspiring and vibrant hues for making up that t-shirt you've been wanting to buy but just cannot find or for imitating one you've seen and can't afford. I purchased a set of 3 or 4 colours on sale for much less than $5 a piece - keep an eye out for sale packs. Not convinced you're artistic enough to come up with a good design? Do a knock-off of something you've seen online! You could even print off an image, glue it to cardboard and cut it into a stencil. It's relatively easy to replicate a flag like a Gryffindor house banner for the Harry Potter fan. Plain t-shirts and blank canvas bags have been available at De Serres in the past. Joe Fresh downtown has lots of plain t-shirts for cheap, and be sure to check places like Army and Navy or Costco for packs of plain cotton t-shirts, too. Clearance fabric from Dressew (downstairs to the right) is quite afforable, too.
    Army and Navy discount store on W. Cordova between Abott & Carrall

    •  Homemade Laundry Detergent and Laundry Accessories. There are several recipes available online for making your own laundry detergent (ecologically sound and customizable). Why not whip up a batch (don't forget the nice jar - check out Ikea's Slom jars), wrap it with a wide grosgrain or gingham ribbon, and give it along with a drying rack (Ikea's Jall rack is awesome - only $8!) or an inexpensive laundry basket. You could even make your own dryer balls from recycled felted (accidentally or on purpose!) woollen sweaters. (Installing an old-fashioned outdoor clothesline is a fantastic idea as well, but it appears to be difficult to gather all necessary hardware for less than $25). If you grew your own lavendar this year, you might make a sachet to go with your laundry kit, too. Check out for free sachet patterns that can be knit or crocheted, or Sew Mama Sew's sachet tutorials. Bra and delicates washing bags are available in a myriad of shapes and sizes at Daiso and Yokoyaya 1-2-3 as well.

    • Slow-Food Trend: Homemade Antipasto (or preserves). One thing about living in the city is that you begin to long for the simpler holiday gifts that neighbours brought over while wassailing. One of our neighbours made antipasto, and every year I looked forward to it! Here's a recipe posted on a blog for simple antipasto - no, it looks dreadful (I'm fully aware!), but I'm telling you right now that nothing goes better with crackers and cheese during holiday entertaining . . . except of course my mom's crab dip, but you can't really can it. Old-fashioned, made with love recipes in non-plastic containers and no chemical preservatives are sought after nowadays, and you can easily make this very yummy and simple antipasto at home (here's another recipe). Note that you have to be very, very careful when canning seafood (risk of botulism contamination), and you might wish to freeze the antipasto in the jar instead. Alternatively, buy a simple canning accessories kit at Canadian Tire (the one pictured was about $14) and a box of jars (they were on sale earlier this month) and have a go at canning. Think of the cheesy Obama-slogan knock-offs: "Yes we CAN!" with a red and blue shadowed drawing of a Mason jar. Don't forget that chutneys and marmalades are also good choices for heat-processing and are less risky than seafood-containing mixtures. Here's a link to the Bernardin website's "Getting Started" canning instructions. Notice that 'high acid' foods are the only ones you can safely can at home without a pressurized heat-processor. Fun 'high acid' foods include pickles, salsas, jams & jellies (even things like 'roasted garlic jelly'!), and chutneys (like 'cranberry chutney').
    There's nothing like vintage Mason jars for the slow-food feel.

    • Simple Hanging Birdfeeder and Feed. There are some hideous birdfeeders out there, but here's one that you can build very easily yourself (if you buy the lumber from the Home Depot, you can apparently have it cut to length in-store for free!). All it takes is 4 feet of 1" x 3" pine, screws and tacks or eye-hooks, 10" square of fine aluminum mesh for the floor, plus string or wire to hang it. You can paint it or stain it or leave it au naturel. If you could get your mitts on some reclaimed Mountain Pine Beetle wood and make it out of that, you'd be a local legend! I can't seem to find any online, but it's certainly worth looking into if you're interested in building this or another project. Buy feed in bulk at Kitsilano Natural Foods.

    Buy it for about $25 or less - unique & local gift ideas:
    • Mason Bee Starter Kit. Know a loved one who is concerned about the plight of the honeybee and our pollinators in general? Here's a great idea for anyone with a garden or a love of bees. For only $23.95 you can get them started with a bee starter cottage, a book and reference chart. Visit WestCoastSeeds for more information. 

    • 22 Aquabuck tickets for the False Creek Aquabus. Everyone loves scooting around in the Aquabuses! They conveniently connect Yaletown (say, brunch at Provence) to Granville Island (brewery tour or shopping in the afternoon), and everywhere inbetween including Monk McQueen's at Stamps Landing. $22 gets you 20 Aquabuck tickets - pretty sweet deal! 

    • Greenpeace Stainless Steel Water Bottle. $16 - it's green and mean! Support the original hard-core environmentalists and go all the way green by showing your support. You could even buy the eco-timber reusable chopsticks and still come in under $25!

      • Cruiser Bike Rental at Stanley Park. Rent a 1-speed cruiser for half a day to explore Stanley Park! Bring a picnic (cheap and fun!) and check out the cricket schedule to catch part of a match (they take quite awhile...!). $21.43 for 6 hours from Spokes Bicycle Rentals. Alternatively, go rollerblading for 4 hours with rentals from Bayshore Bike Rentals - I will recommend against an 8 hour rental if you're not experienced enough to own your own pair of blades. 4 hours ($14.50) is plenty and gives you enough time to cruise around the park on the seawall. Don't forget - if you can't buy rental gift certificates, you can make your own for your recipient to cash-in through you.

      • Vancouver Island Marmot Stuffie. Buy a stuffed replica of the endangered Vancouver Island Marmot - cuter than MukMuk and there's even a ski or snowboarding version (see them here) starting at $9.95 and up to $19.95 only! Support the Vancouver Island Marmot Foundation and get a really cute plush with local relevance - they're so unbelieveably cute I had to 'borrow' a picture from their website:
      How awesome are these marmots?!
      • Local Honey Sampler. Whoa, 3 bottles of locally produced honey for $12.99 from the Honeybee Centre! I've tried this stuff - their raspberry honey is awesome! Pick up some of their gorgeous pure beeswax candles to go along with this gift. You can even swing by the Honeybee Centre and have an education in apiaries and beekeeping while you're there - 176th St and Fraser Highway (Fry's Corner) in Surrey. Who doesn't love honey?!

      • 49th Parallel organic, fair-trade locally roasted coffee. Ah, the brilliant Michael Piccolo (who started, then sold, the Cafe d'Artigiano franchises . . . did you notice the quality suffered?! I did!) kept 49th Parallel on 4th Avenue. It really is the best coffee in town, and a bag or two of the delicious coffee beans makes wonderful gifts! 

      • Wine. Yep, it's a safe bet! There are good-intentioned wines out there (like White Bear, which gives money towards bear & habitat conservation) that are absolutely foul. I don't mean to be rude, but White Bear was one of the all-time worst wines I've ever sipped. I left my glass sitting at the MOV (Brian Harris's exhibition on urban food production). It was horrible; don't give it as a gift! Buy something else and donate some money directly to conservation efforts instead! Here's two of my personal picks: Gazela Vinho Verde (about $12 only!) - a refreshing, slightly fizzy vino verde from Portugal that's cheap and doesn't suck. If your recipient likes white wines and a little bit of fizz, try this one. I love it. For red, the best affordable wine I've had this year ($25) was Cru Bourgeois Chateau La Gorce 2004 (Medoc). Thanks Jen for the introduction!
      (Cell phone image). A delicious Medoc (Bordeaux region)

      Maybe it's not for everyone, but I think this is the best cheap wine out there!

      At the time of this post (October 16, 2010), there are only 69 more shopping and DIY days before Christmas! It sneaks up on you quickly, doesn't it? Blink and it'll be December....

      Hope these ideas help! I know it's difficult to be broke at Christmastime, and my hope is that some of these ideas will be fruitful for you. If not, please remember the 'intangible' charity gifts - it is so in the keeping of the spirit of Christmas and will warm the heart of your recipient like no other!

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