Christmas on the Cheap: Mix it up

Last post of my Christmas on the Cheap series. Anyone else feeling the mad Christmas rush yet?

If you don’t have time to bake or make sweets for gifts, this is the next best thing – gifting baking mixes! It’s still homemade goodness, just without the cooking time. I would call that a win.

Making giftable baking mixes is beyond easy. Take the dry ingredients for any recipe, place in a container with an attached card for cooking instructions, finish with a ribbon. Boom. Done.

What I like about making baking mixes is that you can customize the ingredients for the person. If you have a gluten-free friend/relative, you can adapt a mix for that person. Someone watching salt or sugar? You can fix that too.

I made a chocolate chip pancake mix to give as a gift this year. I used my regular pancake recipe and left out the milk, egg and oil. I used the holiday Ziploc containers that are out this year, tied it with a pretty red ribbon, and printed out the recipe on cardstock using Microsoft Publisher. I used fancy scrapbooking edging scissors to cut out the card.

You can place your mixes in plastic bags, Mason jars, plastic containers, etc. If you have time, glass spaghetti jars with their lids painted in festive colors work well too (and you’re recycling!).

Mixes don’t have to be limited to baking either. Maybe you have a secret spice mixture you like to use for grilling. Maybe you’d like give homemade scouring powder or dishwasher detergent. Maybe you grow your own herbs and have a killer blend for tea. Maybe you’re a gardener and have a formula for homemade, chemical-free bug repellent. There are a lot of possibilities with this.

Here are a few recipes I’ve posted that you can use for your mixes, and I’ll link a few other handy ones as well. Just leave out the wet/perishable ingredients like milk, oil and eggs and you’ve got yourself a gift!

From me:

Chocolate banana bread

Caramel apple granola bars

Pumpkin pancakes

Strawberry bread

From other, smarter people:

Homemade Bisquick mix from Food.com

Pioneer Woman’s Knock you Naked Brownies

Simple Vegan Chocolate Cake from Joy the Baker

Gluten-free blueberry muffins from Gluten-Free Girl

Christmas on the Cheap: Quick knits

Invited to a party at the last minute? Need a stocking stuffer? Forgot to buy a gift for someone?

Poof! If you’re a knitter, I’ve got your back.

These are two simple projects I’ve made in the past that are both good for a beginning knitter, can be knocked out in probably two hours, and will be enjoyed by the recipient. When I make a gift for someone, I want to know that the person will both use it and enjoy it. These fit the bill.

You can make a coffee mug cozy like this (with scrap yarn, even!):

Buttons let you adjust the cozy to fit the mug.

Buttons let you adjust the cozy to fit the mug.

Directions at this post.

Or, try knitting a few dish cloths. They last forever and are great to have around the house. I made a few dozen of these for Christmas two years ago and they were a hit. You’ll need a cotton yarn for these.

Dishcloths are good projects for knitting newbies and can be completed in a few hours.

Dishcloths are good projects for knitting newbies and can be completed in a few hours.

Directions at this post.

I have one more Christmas on the Cheap post for you. Expect it early Saturday morning.

Missed the previous Christmas on the Cheap posts? Here ya go:

Just dip it in chocolate

Easy sweets

Hot cocoa mix

DIY gifts for bird lovers

Uses for cards

A homemade Christmas

Every year, my maternal grandmother has the ladies of the family make Christmas crafts while the men are passed out asleep in the warmth of the wood burner after a huge holiday meal. None of the crafts came from kits. My grandmother would prepare a lot of the items ahead of time for our use.

This is my absolute favorite Christmas tradition, and I think it’s one of the things that led to me being a crafter. If I ever breed minions, I will carry on this tradition with them.

What I didn’t realize when I was younger is that those crafts would make up the majority of my Christmas decorations as an adult. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. What decorations I haven’t made have been made my family members, which makes them even more special.

Here are a few of my favorites that I’ve made:

This wreath is on my back door. It started with a plain wreath and I decorated it with the gingerbread men (also hand made from construction paper and batting), covered foam balls with scrap fabric and glued in pine cones, ribbon and a twine bow.

This wreath is on my back door. It started with a plain wreath and I decorated it with the gingerbread men (also handmade from construction paper and batting), covered foam balls with scrap fabric and glued in pine cones, ribbon and a twine bow.

The Elf on the Shelf's got nothing on this guy!

The Elf on the Shelf’s got nothing on this guy!

If this isn’t the first “adult craft” I made, it’s one of the first. I believe I was 13 or so when I made this, so it’s been through a lot. I love hearing bells when people enter my home.

If this isn’t the first “adult craft” I made, it’s one of the first. I believe I was 13 or so when I made this, so it’s been through a lot. I love hearing bells when people enter my home.

And here are some favorites made by family members:

My aunt and great-uncle collaborated on these wood skates.

My aunt and great-uncle collaborated on these wood skates.

My sister made these cinnamon applesauce ornaments two years ago and they still smell amazing!

My sister made these cinnamon applesauce ornaments two years ago and they still smell amazing!

Cinnamon applesauce ornaments are really easy to make. The Frugal Girl has a great tutorial on her blog if you’d like to try it yourself.

Tips to save money in 2012

Happy New Year everyone!

If your goal is to be more financially stable in 2012, this post is for you. This is a roundup of some things I do that helped my pocketbook in 2011. Some projects are a little more difficult than others, but they’re all worth trying at least once.

Ready? Here ‘goes:

  • Make your own laundry detergent. I have been going DIY with laundry detergent since May. This recipe makes a five-gallon bucket worth of detergent concentrate and took me seven months to go through. It’s cheap, easy, great for dirt and gentle on clothes.
  • What to take the laundry two steps cheaper? Use a 1/4 cup of baking soda in the rinse cycle as a fabric softener and dry your clothes on a clothes line in the summer. You’ll be amazed at how clean your clothes will smell!
  • Clean with baking soda and vinegar. This is something I just started to do in December and it happened out of desperation. I’ve tried several formulas for DYI cleaners but was never satisfied with the results. I had been using either Bar Keepers’ Friend or Arm and Hammer Scrub Free Bathroom cleaner (still scrubbed anyway) but neither were cleaning as well as I wanted. Case in point was my bathtub; it had collected what I thought were blackish stains in the fiberglass basin and no amount of scrubbing would remove them. I decided to try a baking soda scrub. Turns out those stains were soap scum and they came right off! So much for commercial cleaners who claim to remove soap scum. Baking soda also works wonderfully on stainless steel sinks because it will not leave a film when rinsed away. Follow up your baking soda cleaning with a spraying from a squirt bottle full of vinegar to dissolve any leftover soda and to disinfect surfaces.
  • In the baking department, try making your own brown sugar. It’s quick, easy, requires only a fork and a bowl to make and tastes a million times better than the bought stuff.
  • Pack granola bars in your or your kids’ lunch buckets? Here’s a tasty recipe to make your own.
  • Try the oil cleansing method to wash your face. I’ve been using this method for a month and can honestly tell you my skin has never looked this good in my life. I’m always getting compliments. All you need are olive and castor oils.
  • This is a little more difficult and a little expensive upfront, but making your own bar soap in a Crock Pot is a great way to save money and your skin.
  • You can also try making your own dish soap. It’s very, very different from traditional dish soap because it doesn’t suds up at all, but it’s amazing on cutting grease.
  • If you like liquid soaps but not their prices, you can buy bar soap and turn it into liquid soap. I’ve only tried this with my homemade bars, but I’ve read on other blogs about successfully doing this. Caution – this supposedly does not work well with Dove soap, according to comments on the article I’ve linked to.
  • Use microfiber cloths in your Swiffer duster. Sweep, shake out the dirt outdoors, then toss in the wash.
  • Wash your plastic shower curtain when it’s dirty instead of pitching it and buying a new one. Wash it in your machine on the gentle cycle with a towel to help scrub off the junk. Hang back up on the shower certain rod to dry.

How do you save money in your own home? I’m always looking for more tips!

Christmas on the Cheap: DIY gifts for wild bird lovers

A downey woodpecker

My sister recently found a birdseed wreath in a big box home improvement store and read the label to see the ingredients. Know what it was made of? Seed and gelatin. That’s it – and it was priced at a whopping $15. I can buy a 35 pound bad of bird seed for cheaper than that.

She called me and we wondered if a bird seed wreath was something that could be made at home. I did some research and guess what – it can! There are quite a few little projects that can be made at home to feed our feathered friends for very little money for great holiday gifts.

The first project I found were bird seed ornaments made with coconut oil and shaped in a cookie cutter at Country Living magazine’s website. My only complaint is that one ornament takes a cup of coconut oil and that stuff isn’t exactly cheap. They are very cute though. Another possibility, and one I’ve tried as a kid, is to smear a pine cone with peanut butter then roll it in bird seed.

I found directions on eHow for bird seed bells, blocks and wreathes that use either egg whites, gelatin or corn syrup. You can find the directions for all of those at this page.

More detailed wreath instructions from a blog I found from a home improvement expert named Danny Lipford (with pictures!) can be found here. This is the one I want to try. It uses a bundt pan as a mold and requires no baking.

Anyone ever tried these or something similar? I’d love to hear how they worked for you.

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I hope you’ve enjoyed my Christmas on the Cheap series! This is the final post. Missed the first three? Check them out:

Hot chocolate mix

Ways to recycle Christmas cards

Easy sweet treats to make for gifts