Making gifts people will like

Learn tips on how to make your own Santa's workshop successful.

Tess Vigeland: So on my agenda this weekend is a trip to something called Unique LA. It's basically an indoor festival of locally-made, artisan goods. I figure that's as good a place as any to find some holiday gifts and support the smallest of small businesses.

But a lot of folks this season are going even more local -- as in their own homes and kitchens. A DIY approach to the holidays. Nice thought, I guess. I tried it. Once. And never again.

I'll tell you about it in a sec but first, let me introduce Meg Favreau. She's the senior editor with Wisebread.com, a great blog that's all about getting the most from your small budget. Meg, good to see you.

Meg Favreau: Good to see you.

Vigeland: So we wanted to bring you in, because it is the holiday season, of course. Happy holidays, by the way.

Favreau: Happy holidays to you.

Vigeland: Right about this time of year, you start seeing all these tips for making your own holiday gifts. And I just roll my eyes, because I did this once. You've seen the jars with cookie mix? Like the different layers of, there's brown sugar, then flour, then maybe M&Ms, I don't know, something like that. And unfortunately, instead of saying two teaspoons of salt, the recipe said two tablespoons.

Favreau: Oh...

Vigeland: And I realized it after I had given everybody gifts and made the cookies at home myself, and said, "Oh my God! What did I do?!" I have never done a homemade gift since then. Help me.

Favreau: OK. First of all, I actually really like the cookie jar gift.

Vigeland laughs

Favreau: No, I do! Because it's easy to bake, it's very festive. And also, the other thing that I really like is making cookie dough, put it in a roll, a log; you cut it into individual cookie slices and you freeze it. Then you give that to someone if they want just a cookie one day, they take one cookie out of the freezer. You have people over, you're entertaining, you can put all the cookies in the oven.

But when I talk about homemade gifts, a lot of what I talk about is what pisses me off.

Vigeland: Oh! Well, happy holidays to you!

Favreau: There's this sense that if you make something, then it's great. And it isn't always, because a lot of people will make things without any thought towards what the person would actually like.

Vigeland: Do you have any, perhaps, personal examples that you'd like to share with us? Any gifts you've been given?

Favreau: Well, the one that always sticks out in my mind: One year, my grandmother gave me this small monstrosity, two shells glued together with googly eyes and a tiny straw hat. I think anything that looks like it's supposed to some sort of a living creature, you shouldn't give as a gift.

Vigeland: Tip number one.

Favreau: Yeah.

Vigeland: Alright, so we're having a lot of fun here, but you know the whole point is that yes, you can save money, but you have to think about the person you're giving it to, because the waste comes in if they're never going to use it or if they're never going to like it.

Favreau: Right. I think that is the biggest thing in any gift-giving: You need to consider the person that you're giving it to. If you don't know people who like sweets, there are a lot of really nice savory food gifts.

Vigeland: Like what?

Favreau: Like homemade mustard. I'm a big fan of fridge pickles. You know, like a set of pickled carrots, pickled cucumbers. I mean, I think that's a really nice gift to give to just as a hostess gift. Similarly, infused liquor is really nice. That's one of my personal favorites.

Vigeland: Yeah, I'd be happy to get some of that folks.

Favreau: You just take a base spirit such as vodka and rum are two of my favorites. And then you put in whatever you want to use to infuse it -- hot peppers in vodka for bloody marys, rum with lime people and ginger in it. I did lemon gin; you put in some lemon peels

Vigeland: So wait, you just take the ingredients and you what, pour them all into some sort of container and you just let it sit for how long?

Favreau: It can be really short. It can just be three days. The longer you leave it, the stronger the flavor will get.

Vigeland: Presentation then? I mean, what's a nice way to present these, because you don't wanna just give them a mason jar, right?

Favreau: Well, you know, I actually think that a mason jar looks really nice.

Vigeland: With a little ribbon or something?

Favreau: You make a little ribbon, you make a handmade tag. I think with a lot of homemade gifts, the presentation is really important, because that's what shows that you really put the time into it. If we look at the old time and money equation, if you're not spending a lot of money, make it look like you spent a lot of time.

Vigeland: All right, so any other final thoughts on gift giving?

Favreau: Yeah. When in doubt, if you do not know what to get someone, I personally -- and I know a lot of people will disagree with me on this -- I think you should just give them a gift card.

Vigeland: Yeah?

Favreau: Yeah. That and the other thing I would say is if you have an opportunity to give someone an experience, 'cause that's what people remember.

Vigeland: So is that as simple as a trip to the movie theater or perhaps the local rose garden?

Favreau: Yeah, exactly. It can be that simple, it can be something you can share-in together.

Vigeland: Right. And the way to package that then is...? What, make up like a little gift certificate for them?

Favreau: Yeah, a gift certificate, a nice card. You know, that's all you need.

Vigeland: OK. Meg Favreau, thanks so much.

Favreau: Thanks Tess.

Vigeland: OK so you want some recipes, right? For pickles and potent potables? Meg shared her favorites with us!

About the author

Tess Vigeland is the host of Marketplace Money, where she takes a deep dive into why we do what we do with our money.

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