7 DIY Holiday Gift Ideas

Last Updated Nov 19, 2010 3:34 PM EST

Do-it-yourself gifts are a terrific way to budget around the holidays. But to do it right, you'll need effort, thought and novelty; the days of overwhelming your gift recipients by throwing an old picture into a frame and slapping a red bow on it are long gone.

Here are seven out-of-the-box DIY ideas to get your creative juices flowing.

Regift in a Positive Way
Can't find anything at the mall for your sister? Wrap something of yours that she's always admired, something that you and she both honor. Examples could include an heirloom vase, a certain doll from her childhood that she thought she'd lost (you may need to go through your mom's attic to find it), a piece of art from your art collection, your childhood Polaroid camera you never let her play with, etc.

The Gift of Time
Your best friend, aka superwoman, has no time for herself. Between working full-time, driving her kids to afternoon sports and taking care of her parents on the weekends, she could really use a day to herself. Offer to take over parental duties starting one afternoon through the evening so that she can pamper herself and go to dinner with her husband ... or even just use that time to catch up on sleep! It's a generous gift that costs nothing but your time and patience.

Unique Calendars
I got inspired by this Christmas Advent Calendar I found on Etsy.com. All I need is a mini muffin pan and some stickers or I can buy the artist's DIY kit for $6. Canon also has these free downloadable triangular desk calendars on its website - a great gift for co-workers.

Vacation Getaways
If your second home at, say, the Jersey Shore is vacant, you may wish to treat one of your very trustworthy family members or close friends to a weekend getaway there. Wrap up a local souvenir, for example, a box of saltwater taffy, and in the card mention that the real gift awaits them this summer - at your beachfront address.

Secret Recipes Book or Cards
Your daughter-in-law is pleading to know the secret ingredients in your pumpkin spice cake, your spaghetti and meatballs, or your hot chocolate. Her marriage to your son depends on it! Reveal what you're willing to reveal in a handmade recipe book just for her. Martha Stewart has a free recipe card template you can download from her site.

Cook Up a Food Gift
The trick with food is to make it surprising and fun. Part of the magic is in the packaging: Use a colorful tin from the dollar store, instead of a paper plate with Saran Wrap. With more commitment, you could add a hand-written note that reads, "Welcome to My Cookie of the Month Club. To start you off, here is a batch of homemade dark-chocolate oatmeal cookies. More to come in 30 days!" It requires a little more effort on your part, but your college-age niece will appreciate it throughout the year - far more so than a Gap gift card.

Other ideas: Surprising your coworkers with a tray of chocolate-covered strawberries; give your cousins a few jars of your exquisite homemade jelly. (You can find inexpensive jars from Ikea here.) Delish.com also has some great homemade holiday gift ideas. One of my favorites is the gift of tea - put peonies and green tea in cellophane envelopes, and present them along with ceramic teacups.

Swap Skills

Your nephew needs help with Spanish. His dad (your brother-in-law) doesn't want to spend the $50 an hour it costs to hire him a tutor. You happen to have a second degree in Spanish. Offering five free tutoring lessons (an hour each) in exchange for your bro-in-law's legal expertise (as you're starting a business) comes out to a win-win. Just make sure that you still get your nephew the Xbox game he really wants.

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    Farnoosh Torabi is a personal finance journalist and commentator. She is the author of the new book Psych Yourself Rich, Get the Mindset and Discipline You Need to Build Your Financial Life. Follow her at www.farnoosh.tv and on Twitter at @farnoosh.

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