Family Finance: Budget-Friendly Gifts

Jennifer Wray

Holiday season is upon us, and if you're anything like me, you're finding both time and money are in short supply right about now.

What's a holiday-frazzled parent to do?

Exploit your children, of course.

Here are a few ideas for inexpensive, easy and thoughtful gifts that kids can make. They require some hands-on help from an adult, but don't require special skills, won't break the bank and might even save you a shopping trip on Black Friday.

A Classic

Chances are you made this one for your own parents way back when. I'm talking about the woven potholder. Best tackled by kids age 6 or older, these are a classic for a reason: They're fun to make, add a splash of color to the kitchen and last for ages. (My mom just recently tossed some I made 20-odd years ago.)

These definitely require some adult assistance, but your recipient will be delighted by these sturdy cooking accessories. And you'll love the price: Looms can be purchased for as little as $2.39 atDick Blick, plus $6.24 for nylon loops. Or get a loom with enough loops to make four potholders for $4.97 fromWalmart.

Something Sweet

Among my husband's family, one holiday gift reigns supreme: my father-in-law's peanut butter fudge.He's not divulging his recipe, but fortunately, celebrity chef Alton Brown is, (look for the aptly named “Peanut Butter Fudge”).

While the recipe requires some close parental supervision, it's simple to make. It requires only a microwave, containers and four ingredients you might already have on hand: unsalted butter, smooth peanut butter, vanilla extract and powdered sugar. For extra holiday flair, purchase seasonally appropriate storage containers, which are available inexpensively at most big-box and dollar stores.

Skip the Spa

The holidays aren't just a great time for putting sugarin your body. You can put iton your body, too—especially when cold, dry air wreaks havoc on your skin.

Sugar scrubs are a quick and easy gift that your child will enjoy making and your recipient will love having. While recipes vary (check Pinterest for a bevy of suggestions), a basic recipe calls for 1 cup of sugar; ¼ cup olive, almond or coconut oil; and a few drops of essential oil. Peppermint is a good one for holiday pep, while lavender can relax even the most harried holiday shopper. I like to start with five drops of oil and add more as needed (or omit it for those with sensitive skin).

Your child can help mix the ingredients and fill small containers, such as 4-ounce glass jelly jars sold onAmazon for $25.99 for 25. For an extra-special touch, pair the scrub with a wooden spoon, whichAmazon sells in a set of 100 for $5.66.

Best for Bookworms

If there's one thing kids seem to produce in seemingly infinite amounts, it's art. Unfortunately, your fridge is a finite surface. Find a new use for your child's drawings and paintings by repurposing them into bookmarks—just cut them down to the appropriate size. Have kids put their signature and/or date on the bookmark, and—if you're feeling super ambitious—get them laminated for longevity. Lamination services start at less than $2 per sheet at places such asStaples, or DIY it by picking up materials atTarget or an office supply store.

Picture This

Let's be honest: You have hundreds of smartphone photos of your children, each one more adorable than the next. Maybe you've shared them on Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat, but there's still nothing like an actual print. Stores such asCVS,Meijer and Walgreens (and online sites likeShutterfly andSnapfish) make it easy to get those images onto glossy photo paper for less than 50 cents each (even cheaper if you print a lot), often within hours of submitting your order.

If you have a bit more time (and money), you can customize items such as coffee mugs, reusable shopping bags, keychains and magnets. That said, I'm partial to simplicity: Print a pic of your kid flashing his best grin and then head to the thrift store, where you can find frames for less than $3.

Jennifer Wray is a freelance writer and new mother.