No Cash Or Time? 10 Last-Minute And Homemade Gifts

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Christmas gift
No gift says "from the heart" like a homemade item. Here are 10 holiday ideas.

According to a recent study, 84 percent of people will be looking for ways to save money this holiday season, and 34 percent say they plan to spend less than last year. Given those figures, homemade gifts should be on everybody's giving list. What's more, homespun gifts show your special someone (or his family) that you took the time to create something just for them. The downside to DIY gifts is that they can easily slip into tacky territory, and they certainly don't come with a gift receipt.

We put our craft and cooking hats on and came up with 10 DIY gifts that are not cheesy and are sure to be loved. And for those who are allergic to the phrase "do it yourself"—or those who are simply too busy—we've found a last-minute version of each that doesn't reek of "I totally forgot to buy you a gift and just picked this up at the drugstore."

1. Mulling spices. Here’s a gift that will warm the heart: homemade mulling spices. The possible spice combinations are virtually endless. You’ll definitely need cinnamon sticks, cardamom posts and cloves, but the rest is up to you. Some people add orange rind, ginger and even peppercorn. We like this simple recipe, but a quick internet search will yield many more.

Make individual packets by placing a small amount of the mixture in six-inch rounds of cheesecloth (webstaurantstore.com, $4.29) and tying with twine (muslin tea bags also work). The wrapping can be as simple as a tin (papermart.com, $17.30 for 24) with a pretty label. The recipient can place one sachet into a mug of hot apple juice (or wine, if they wish) and steep for three to five minutes, or heat a larger batch in a large saucepan and add two to three sachets.

All you lazies out there are in luck: Pre-made mulling spices still make a great gift and are pretty easy to find. Williams-Sonoma's tin is lovely (williams-sonoma.com, $18), and you can pick up the spice ball to go with it (williams-sonoma.com, $9.95).

2. A tote bag. In an age where green is the new black, a tote bag is the perfect thing to have on hand. Even manly men aren't afraid to use them. Add your own design and it's that much more special. You can buy canvas totes of various sizes at Jo-Ann Fabrics for as little as $4. While you're there, pick up some iron-on transfer paper ($5 - $10). There are myriad websites with free iron-on designs (we found great ones here), or you can create your own. Simply print your design on the transfer paper, iron it onto the fabric and voila: lovely tote bag, thoughtful gift!

Don't even have the time for an iron-on? You can still pick up a plain tote from your friend Jo-Ann. For extra character, fill it with some goodies: cookies, notebooks, some gourmet coffee... pretty much anything goes. If you're too pressed for time to shop for goodies, you can find cute, pre-decorated totes just about anywhere. We like this market bag (target.com, $9.78).

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