Thrifty Gift Giving Ideas

This is a variation on an earlier post. Gail often reworked a topic for publishing in other places. This appeared on Squidoo’s website.  Some of these gifts are ones you can get ready the day before Christmas using what you have at home.

Giving Gifts without Spending Too Much

Seniors can find gift-giving occasions difficult when their budget won’t stretch to buy one more thing. Here are some gift ideas that won’t put a strain that Social Security income.

Most of these I’ve tried out myself and can assure you were well-received. A little imagination and a lot of love will make your gift the one they treasure. With six children, eight grandchildren, and many great-grandchildren, the Christmas and birthday gift giving was a challenge. Seniors living only on Social Security must apply creativity in their gift giving to keep it affordable.

Give a Family Treasure when you can’t afford to go shopping

Think about things you have stashed away unused. We no longer decorate a tree at Christmas, but we still have boxes and boxes of special ornaments. I can give one to each person on my gift list. I’ll gain some storage space and they’ll gain a family heirloom for their Christmas tree.


 Give the Gift of Memories

Grandparents’ memories make a precious gift

Write down a special memory of the day they were born or about something you did with them or their parent. Print it out or write it by hand on nice paper to give them. Slip it in a plastic sleeve to preserve it. If you write a new memory for their birthdays and Christmas, eventually they will have enough to fill a binder.

Here’s One of My Grandchildren’s Family History Books

That I compiled with my writing over the years

A family history notebook created by Gail Lee Martin for her son, Owen.

A family history notebook created by Gail Lee Martin for her son, Owen.

Vintage Books Make Great Gifts

from a senior citizen

Look on your bookshelf. Is there a book there that has special meaning to you? Write a note explaining what is meaningful to you about the book and give it to someone on your list.Old Vintage Books iPad Case speckcase They will enjoy reading it, knowing that you selected it especially for them.

Lincoln biographies on bookshelf

Books on Clyde and Gail’s bookshelf.

Everyone Loves Grandma and Grandpa’s Baking

Food gifts to give when you’re on a tight budget

Make up a batch of your popular candy or cookie recipe and package it up to give to the children and grandchildren. Just a small amount on a paper plate (dessert size) and covered with plastic wrap lets them know you were thinking of them.

Attach the recipe to the gift.

To make it extra special, put them on a plate or platter that has been in the family for many years. They get a family heirloom, some of your great cooking, and you gain some space in your overcrowded cupboard.

What Do You Collect?

 Look at your collections. Chances are you aren’t adding to the collection anymore. It may be just one more thing to dust.

We collected Norman Rockwell mugs for many years. If we give one to each family member, they will think of us each time they use it. We also collected Feather Bird Pictures. They used to cover the wall of my dining room but now sit in a box in the closet.

Another thing I collected was vintage aprons. I used these when giving a talk to homemaker groups or at nursing homes.  At some point, you may decide not to keep a certain collection anymore. Consider giving them as gifts to family members.

Even if you are not on a Social Security budget, you might want to try some of these ideas.

Give Me Some More Thrifty Ideas

for gift-giving on a Social Security budget

  •  1angelsbestkeptsecrets Mar 27, 2014 –  What wonderful ideas! I think the sentimentality and specialness of gifts like this would please most all family members.
  • karendd123 Nov 26, 2013  – These are really good ideas. They are thoughtful and economical. Growing flowers from seeds or cuttings can make good gifts too.
  • ewyorkdude Oct 14, 2013 – I can’t remember the last time I bought a greeting card. Homemade greeting cards make a much better impression than the store-bought kind. Most people tend to keep them longer. I will never be a professional artist (my work is more like Picasso on a bad day). But no matter how awkward my drawings are on my cards, people appreciate them.
  •  rinMellor Oct 11, 2013 – These are wonderful ideas. A few handwritten family recipes would be a real treat too.
    knowledgetoday Oct 08, 2013 – I think the greatest gift from grandma or grandpa to family members or friends is memories brought together in a creative way. And if creativity is not available giving a gift of what the other person has wanted for many years means much to the receiver.
  • MarcellaCarlton Oct 01, 2013 – I loved each idea! This is a great lens for those of us who are experiencing the pinch at any time.
  • Cercis Sep 30, 2013 – What a wonderful lens! I like the memory book idea the best. Another thought is to shop at a thrift store – either neighborhood or one of the more established ones – to pick up almost new items for pennies.
  • WhyCleanCounts Aug 05, 2012 – great ideas, good lens topic for anyone that needs to stick to a budget around the holidays.
    dpgibble Jul 06, 2012 – I was exploring Squidoo for ideas when your page caught my eye. Curious, I stopped and found a direct connection to vallain who was the first or one of the first visitors to my first lens. Since our family survives on disability income along with a dollar here and there that we hustle up, celebrating Christmas on a budget piques my interest. We picked wild grapes last year and made pint jars of jelly from them. This produced about two dozen gifts with cash out at less than $25. People really liked this gift!
  • Gail-Lee-Martin Jul 06, 2012 – Homemade gifts are the best, in my opinion.
  • LiteraryMind Mar 16, 2012 – Good idea. Meaningful gifts are more special than anything money can buy.
  • MiddleSister Feb 21, 2012 – I like the cookies idea.

Make Rose Hip Extract for Tea or for Jelly Making

This is a very old family recipe, going back to Kansas pioneer days. They picked rose hips from wild roses and made this extract. The extract was then used to make rose hip jelly or to make a tea as well.


Rose hips (photo by Virginia Allain)


Things You’ll Need:

  • 1 cup rose hips
  • 1 1/2 cups boiling water
  • stone crock
  1. Pick the rose hips. These are the round bulb that forms where a rose bloomed.
  2. Remove the blossom ends, the stems, and the leaves.
  3. Wash quickly to avoid any loss of quality. If unable to prepare right away, chill them to prevent enzyme action.
  4. Bring the water to a boil in a pot, then add the rose hips.
  5. Cover and simmer for fifteen minutes.
  6. Put the rose hips and the liquid into the stone jar. Cover and let it steep for 24 hours.
  7. The next day, strain out the rose hips, then save the juice.

History of the Recipe

This recipe is from Mary Collins Black, (of Black Jack, Kansas) granddaughter of the earliest doctor there, Moses O’Neil. Dr. O’Neil’s wife, Eleanor (called Ellen) O’Neil was a sister to our great-grandmother, Elizabeth Jane (Rosebaugh) Kennedy. Elizabeth was the wife of David Greacen Kennedy, my husband’s great-grandfather.
oneil line mary black
Rose Hips Card
Rose Hips Card – Available from Zazzle

The recipe was first published on the eHow site in 2008 by Gail Lee Martin. Here’s a comment about it from there:

JackLTrades said, on 10/27/2008 – “I made this as a kid on the farm in South Dakota. Also catnip and nettle tea. We had plenty of stuff growing all over. I had forgotten how much I loved making tea on an open campfire.”


School Locker Pockets Made from Blue Jeans

Here’s an article that Gail Lee Martin wrote for the eHow site back in 2008.

“This easy craft using worn-out blue jeans will appeal to teens. I taught my granddaughter to make them for gifts for her friends in high school. The jean pockets with a magnet on the back make a handy storage pocket for a school locker. They stick right to a metal locker to hold pens or a notepad at a handy level.

Pocket full of daisies clipboard by deemac1

The locker pockets make fun gifts or can be used at home or in a work locker as well. Here’s how to make this easy craft.

I cut the hip pockets from my collection of blue jeans. I’d been saving them to make my son a blue jean quilt. We cut clear through the jeans to make an enclosed pocket with a front and a back. (photo by Gail Lee Martin)

You can get old jeans at yard sales or the Goodwill Store. Don’t worry if the knees are ripped, there are stains on them or the hems are frayed. All you need are the pockets. Check that the pockets are in good shape.

You can save the rest of the blue jeans to make pot holders, patchwork quilts, or even rag rugs.

Cut around the jean pocket (photo by Virginia Allain)

Cut around the jean pocket (photo by Virginia Allain)

We glued magnetic strips to the back part of the cut-out jeans pocket so they would stick to the inside door of school lockers.

You can use old advertising magnets to glue onto the back of the pockets. It takes several to hold the pocket onto the metal. Magnets are also available in sheets from Amazon. Just cut them to the size you want.

Choose Some Embellishments to glue onto the jean locker pockets

Rummage around the house to see what decorative bits and pieces you have on hand. We decorated them to fit the person she was going to give them to.
Pink bows and buttons were hot glued to the front for one girl. Seashells or small rocks to some for the boys. Paper clips, erasers and pencils were added to another one. Many jeans have logos on their pockets that make them special to start with.

Add Rhinestones to the Blue Jean Locker Pocket if you want some bling

If you’re making these with your children or grandchildren, turn them loose with a variety of “jewels” or sequins so they can decorate their locker pocket to suit their personality.

Fabric Paints Look Great for Decorating the School Locker Pockets

Well, these just make this craft project even more fun for you! And your kids or grandkids will really get into decorating their locker pocket with these fabric paints.

What to Put in a Locker Pocket made of blue jean pockets

Small pads of paper, pens, rulers, whiteout and pencils were placed inside the pockets. They could even keep their house keys in the locker pockets.Other ideas would be a small pocket mirror and a comb.

Make Blue Jean Pockets for Mom or Dad

These would make cute gifts for a child to give their mother for the refrigerator door or sewing machine. Decorate them to suit the person and place. They would be great also for fathers to put in their workshop and garden shed.
School Locker Pockets Made from Blue Jeans poll
You can watch a video on YouTube demonstrating making jean locker pockets.
Short version of the instructions (screenshot from Gail's original article)

Short version of the instructions (screenshot from Gail’s original article)

D is for Depression Era Cooking

Gail Martin wrote an article for the eHow site some years ago on how to save money with cooking methods from the Great Depression. She grew up in the 1930s, so this is first-hand advice.

Depression Era Cooking by Gail Lee Martin: 

If you want to cut food expenses, consider preparing meals like they did during the Great Depression. There’s even a TV show called Great Depression Cooking with Clara, so low-cost meals are gaining in popularity. Here are my memories of Depression cooking from my childhood days.

Grow your own food. It’s cheaper and tastes better than store-bought food. My parents always kept a big garden, not just during the Depression. We had chickens too and a milk cow. My 84-year-old husband remembers they raised rabbits during those hard times.

Pick wild foods. You can gather wild onions, mushrooms and garlic. Mother picked gooseweed, dandelions, and lamb’s quarter for cooked greens that took the place of spinach. When poke first came through the ground, we gathered the stalks that resembled asparagus and we would boil it in water, then drain and add more water to finish cooking until tender. By adding a white sauce it was very good on toasted homemade bread. Both Mother and Clyde’s mother, Cora used a yeasty sourdough starter they kept on their stove top to make biscuits, bread and pancakes.

Go hunting for wild animals. We had fish that we caught and the crawdad tails that my sister, Melba, and I would find in the creek that ran between the camp and the school. Maybe in your area, you can hunt wild turkey or deer. We heard that some people ate possum and rattlesnakes but we never did.

Store up extra food. Cora made sausage links and wrapped them around and around inside the stone crocks and poured melted lard over them, then stored in the cellar. You may not want to make your own sausage, but stock your pantry with staples when they are on sale.

Consider bartering for food. They did barter with neighbors and family that had other food that we could trade for with our eggs, milk and butter.
Do you have a skill that you can trade to a neighbor in exchange for their home-made bread? How about trading excess tomatoes from your garden for venison that your friend has in his freezer?

Use more fillers in meals like pasta, rice, potatoes and bread. I do remember Mother stretching canned stewed tomatoes by adding a jar of them to cooked macaroni. Her macaroni and cheese doesn’t taste like they make it now. Probably the difference in cheese. Rice was used as a cereal or pudding.

We ate a lot of potato soup with onions cooked with the potatoes like Clara cooked hers on the Great Depression Cooking with Clara show. Mother would make a white sauce and add it as a thickening or made dumplings with flour, baking powder, salt and an egg. Then she dropped them by the spoonful on top of the potato soup covered with a lid and a low fire until she thought they were done. She would never let me lift the lid for a peek. Soups are filling and inexpensive to make.

This is typical of a kitchen from the 1930s. I don't have a photo of my grandmother's kitchen from that time.

This is typical of a kitchen from the 1930s. I don’t have a photo of my grandmother Ruth’s kitchen from that time.

F is for Family Historian

Most families have someone who’s interested in genealogy. My mother carried it beyond the names and dates that are usually collected. She became the family historian.

Collector of family stories, keeper of the memorabilia, family archivist. Those are better descriptors of my mother than genealogist. When some of her aunts and uncles died, their photos and family pieces passed to her. She cared for her aunt’s photo album from Bertha’s time teaching Indian children in the 1920s. She treasured Bertha’s grandfather‘s diary from the Civil War era. She preserved her uncle Albert’s WWI helmet and his pocket diary.

Some had no children for these things to pass to or her cousins did not want the responsibility. She gathered and preserved the family history from that generation and then from her own early days of the 1930s and 1940s.

Mom liked to write, so she meticulously researched and merged the family stories into articles to share with the world. At first these found an audience in the magazine Kanhistique. Later I helped by collecting them into self-published books.

Here are a few of Gail Lee Martin's articles that were the cover story.

Here are a few of Gail Lee Martin’s articles that were the cover story.

A Country Girl

As an author, my mom, gave people the impression that she was a simple country girl who in her old age jotted down her memories. Her book won an award, the Ferguson Kansas History Book Award.  Hey, that was easy…. anyone could do it.

The reality was that she honed her writing skills with many years of attending workshops with the Kansas Authors Club (KAC) and with critiques from the local group, Prairie Prose. She took a class at the community college to develop her computer skills.

She entered writing contests held by the local museum, the Wichita newspaper and the annual contests held by KAC. She took the judges’ criticisms to heart and reworked the pieces many times. She shared them with her daughters who checked her grammar and gave input on the flow of the stories.

I’m finding umpteen versions of her stories among her papers. It shows how much work she put in to end up with the seemingly simple memory pieces that resulted in her book. Yes, she was a simple country girl, but her writings are carefully crafted and honed through much effort.

Kids at the old camp in Greenwood County, KS

Kids at the oil camp in Greenwood County, KS
Gail McGhee in front, Melba McGhee on the right, with cousins Buss and Wanda.