Tag Archives: Debt Free Holiday

Personalized DIY Craft Kit Gifts

Personalized DIY Craft Kit Gifts for Kids Joy Makin MamasI love giving kids creative gifts. I even more love giving them open ended creative gifts. A kit that makes a particular item if you follow the instructions is great for introducing new skills or for skill building- but sometimes what they really need is encouragement to take materials and use them in a completely open ended way. And kids like things that are personalized with their own names, so, HUZZAH! I came up with these personalized, DIY craft kit gifts that are perfect for birthdays and holiday gifts- or “just because.”

Each of these kits was packaged in a dollar store organizer. They’re about half the size of a shoe box, but use whatever size you like. Apply the personalized labels with double sided tape or hot glue. (I also hot glued the catapult on top of the catapult kit.)

Peg people, if you’re not familiar with them, are dolls made from clothes pegs. One familiar version of this is the reindeer ornament, but they can literally be anything or anyone, with a little open ended creativity and some glue. Candidates for this kit are: Fabric scraps, glitter, beads, sequins, pipe cleaners, heavy gauge craft wire, and, of course, clothes pegs. Also called Doll Pins. Embroidery floss or fine twine would be great, too! 

As for the catapult kit, I included almost everything I mentioned in my post about building engines of minimal destruction, and then I topped the kit with one of our favorite designs. I created my kit labels to match the size of my containers. Lightweight card stock holds up well to being hot glued, and you can hand letter your label, cut letters from magazines, or use stickers or scrapbooking supplies if creating images or digital scrapbooking isn’t your thing.

More themes:

  • Gods eye/friendship bracelets can be created with craft sticks and yarn or embroidery floss and beads.
  • Gather old electronics and create a Robot kit for the serious tinkerer.
  • Build Your Own Rocket Kit (Some balloons, tape, string, rubber bands, cardboard toilet paper tubes, glue stick, foam craft sheets, glue, drinking straws, and Estes B4-4 Engine Pack (3-Each) will hook the recipient right up.)
  • Make a Rubbing kit- include newsprint paper and block crayons, colored pencils, chalk. Add a small thrift store frame to display the masterpieces- look for one with a plastic insert, or remove the glass.
    DIY craft kit gifts

Instant Gratification: The Honest Holiday Card Collection

Not Pinworthy Holiday Card Joy Makin Mamas 2014
We are keeping it real this year in our family holiday card. Note that I am gritting my teeth in the photo on the left, and that fifteen minutes into the family card photo taking experience, both of my children are so bored with the idea that they can’t even fake happiness for the season of joy and family togetherness. And THIS is why I wasn’t even on our card last year… Just kidding. As tempted as I was to actually print and mail this card, gritted teeth and all, I didn’t. And, like so many, many things, it only tells part of the story. We actually had a TON of fun taking pictures together. Since it was a DIY project, I grabbed everyone for about two minutes at a time with breaks for me to empty the memory cards and see what we had- and there was a fair bit of clowning and tomfoolery. And now you know why it took 109 images to get enough for one measly card.

Holiday Card Photo Shoot Outtakes Joy Makin' Mamas 2014

A professional photographer would no doubt have turned this silliness into technical perfection, but we are a bit too “on the fly” to actually nail ourselves down to a photography appointment during the busiest time of the year, so we fake it.

Print At Home Holiday Card made with Pumpkins and Posies Template
I customized a template from Pumpkins and Posies to create this print at home Holiday Card.

For faking it, we didn’t do too badly. I also missed the best photo card deals this year. (Pro tip: They come as early as the end of OCTOBER! I know this and I was still not ready.) Never fear! If you have a color printer and entirely too many office supplies (*ahem*) you can start printing your cards at home about five minutes after you upload your photos. You can create your own from scratch, particularly if you have a digital scrapbooking program like this free Craft Artist software from Daisy Trail, or you can use one of the many adorable templates and customize it. (You can use the Craft Artist program I just mentioned, which is intuitive and user friendly, or for extra credit, try Gimp. It has more features but also comes with a steeper learning curve.)

You might find these 5×7 photo Cards for your inkjet  With Envelopes {Aff link} helpful if you haven’t spent the last decade amassing printer supplies. I used full sheet photo paper and cut my cards down… these would have been faster. The good news is, these are still very budget friendly, even if you have to buy supplies. When I calculated the cost of printing these, I left out the ink because that equation is just not worth doing, but my cost WITH STAMPS came out to less than $1 per card. (Not as good as free, but still pretty good!)

Free Printable Holiday Card Template Roundup

free printable holiday card templates Joy Makin' Mamas 2014
I know… more outtakes. I’m telling you, I have about 100 of these. I can do this all day!

Free Printable Holiday Cards by Joy Makin’ Mamas

Here are some free templates I’ve created for you. Click on the Honest Holiday Card Preview to get the full size, PNG file, and merry merry, jingle jingle, don’t let the light go out, and the yadda yadda, whatever that may be. Oh, and as a bonus, here’s a HO HO HO … or something overlay for your favorite outtake. (Click for full size image.)

ho ho ho or something holiday photo overlay Joy Makin' Mamas

Warm you up Homemade Chili Kit

Warm up with a Homemade Chili Kit Free PrintableThe popularity of mason jars is just a bit over the top, in my opinion, but Gifts in a Jar have been around for ages. These can be creative, attractive, and very, very budget friendly indeed. You don’t HAVE to use a mason jar- any attractive, quart size container will do. (Just make sure it’s food grade, if you’re doing a food gift.) You can even use zippered food storage bags and a basket to present your gift. One of my all-time favorite such gifts was the year I had cayenne peppers from the garden that I had dried. I made home made chili kits, and I was able to add two home grown, dried chilis to each jar. I’ve got for you today instructions for how to assemble your jar, a recipe for my personal Saltless Chili Powder blend to include, and a FREE printable recipe card to attach. The recipe includes instructions for the carnivore version AND the vegetarian version of this excellent and filling chili recipe.

Meghan's Saltless Chili Powder
Recipe type: spices
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Total time: 
this is my personal chili powder blend. I developed this recipe to go along with my first husband's famous chili recipe, so he could customize the "hotness" and flavor blend to suit his cooking style.
  • 2½ Tablespoons Paprika
  • 2 Tablespoons garlic powder
  • 1 Tablespoon black pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon onion powder
  • 1½ Tablespoon cumin
  • 1 Tablespoon cayenne pepper powder
  1. Blend well.
  2. Store in a tightly covered container in a cool, dark place. Use within 3-6 months.
Garlic *powder* really makes a difference in this blend. I've also used garlic granules, and I haven't been as pleased. I usually have to go someplace that carries bulk spices to find true garlic powder. For spice lightweights, substitute milder ancho chili powder for the cayenne. (Actually my preference.)

To create Chili In A Jar, you’ll need 4 cups total of dried beans. In a quart size jar, layer any six of:

  • adzuki
  • kidney
  • great northern
  • navy
  • roman
  • black eyed peas
  • cranberry beans
  • pinto beans
  • pink beans
  • red beans

Leave a small “head space” at the neck of the jar. Black beans are no good for this, as they turn the chili a very unappetizing color. Package 1 Tablespoon of Meghan’s Saltless Chili Powder in a snack size zippered bag, and squeeze all the air out. Fold it into the head space, and put on your lid, with or without a square of decorative fabric between the lid and the band. (In case you aren’t sure what I’m talking about: Canning jar lids come in two pieces. A flat piece called the “lid,” and a screw on piece called the band.) If you have dried cayenne peppers, add them along with the bow. Punch a hole in your recipe card and tie a ribbon through it to attach to your jar, and gift with love. If you’re feeling extra fancy, include a copy of one of our cookbooks.

Need more awesome DIY ideas for gifts or for any day? Visit our DIY pinterest board.

Follow Meghan Gray’s board DIYs on Pinterest.

Santa and the Three Rs

When my eldest and his cohort were very very little, the question that made the rounds among myself and the other moms I know is, “do you suppose it’s okay to buy my children’s Christmas gifts off Craig’s List?” or, “is it okay for Santa’s gifts to be used?” You see, we live in an area that has really high housing costs, and I’m sure you can imagine that this places a strain on the family budget, particularly during the early years of family life. My answer to this question is YES! I want to shout it from the rooftops. YES, while your kids are little enough to buy their gifts used, from Craig’s List or consignment sales, or by swapping with friends, YES! Give them gently used items. Put any extra money in the bank. (I know most of you are thinking, “ha ha! Extra money. What’s that?”) First of all, they probably can’t even tell if their gifts are used. But even if they CAN, so what?  What if they ask you, “Why does Santa bring me used toys?”Santa & the 3 Rs: A modern holiday tale by the Joy Makin' MamasLet’s break this down logically. Santa and his crew of artisan elves have reportedly been cranking out gifts for centuries. I do not think and I have never thought that Santa and his merry band have any interest in being factory workers. If Santa and his buds were working in a sweatshop 364 days a year, I seriously doubt they’d be feeling all that generous on the 365th day.

So, obviously, Santa and his pals have more traditional skills. They create handmade items, some of them one of a kind. They take pride in their work. That takes time! For Santa and his elves to have a workshop big enough to hand craft unique, high quality gifts for every child on his list every Christmas, they would need a workshop so big you wouldn’t need to see it from space, because it would probably take up part of your town, or actually be renting your basement. (THAT would surely spoil the surprise, wouldn’t it?) So, it’s logically impossible that Santa and crew hand make brand new items for every child who expects gifts from Santa. The resources just are not there. And there are a lot of mass manufactured items that they just aren’t equipped to make. There’s not room for that many pieces of industrial equipment, and they detract from the vibe.

The solution? (And I was delighted, years later, when I watched Polar Express, to find that Santa’s secret work process is leaking out,) Santa and his elves Repurpose, ReUse, and Recycle. They are the PERFECT skilled workforce to take broken or worn items and make them new again, to take things no one wants and make them into new and different things, or to clean and carefully match up gently used items with people who really, really want them. They know the secrets of lemon oil and mineral spirits and Mr Clean Magic Eraser (they love those things) for making something that’s been Already Loved look nice and shiny and new under the tree- for pennies on the dollar, and a much better outcome for our landfills, to boot. There’s no way Santa could have kept this operation going for this long without huge government subsidies unless he was frugal to the core, and fearfully clever.

And let’s be honest- if it’s good enough for Santa, it’s good enough for us. So go ahead. Hunt Craig’s List or your local FB yard sale sites or eBay. Arrange a swap of gently used items with other moms and keep your cash in your pocket. You can google “how to clean __________ off of _________” and make almost anything look practically new. Or paint and glue and fabric and staples and tape will turn that old thing into a brand new thing. Be not afraid! Frugal and fearfully clever can be outsourced. And besides… you know they will just play with the box, anyway.

Are you ready?

This year are you going to be ready or are you going to be presentWe are coming into that season where those of us who celebrate Christmas are constantly asking ourselves (and each other) “Are you ready?” Am I ready? Have I done enough, prepared enough, remembered everyone, BOUGHT ENOUGH? Are you done? Have you wrapped? Are your cards out?

This weekend, it was put to me that maybe we should ask ourselves a different question. Am I awake? Perhaps our To Do lists and our Not Done lists and our “I will beat myself up over this later because I do not have time” lists are preventing us from being awake and alive to the beauty of the coming year? It’s a whole new year. Anything can happen. Anything at all. It may be a great year or a terrible year or one of the many wonderful wonderful years that are neither.

I know every year I talk about this Debt Free Holiday thing, but I usually ignore our emotional debts. We think about being frugal with our money and using our time efficiently, but do we think about the way we spend our spirits? The constant struggle to “keep up,” to be “ready” is draining. It batters us, and it’s a burden we don’t share with our families. Every single woman I know carries this load alone, sometimes even with the added burden of criticism from a spouse who doesn’t understand why it’s important. It’s a bigger load at holiday time, but we carry it all year.

This year, I want to put that burden down. Let’s take shortcuts. Let’s delegate. Let’s have time for coffee dates and spontaneity and feeding the hungry and lending a hand. Let’s be awake and alive to the possibilities- because maybe, as my dear friend Holly has said, maybe the mistake we make is in thinking that it matters whether we are “ready.” There are times when all the preparation in the world is not enough. There are times when not being prepared is nowhere near as important as being present. What if, in the end, what we should have done is make sure we are there for each other? What if we declare this the year of the kitchen door? You remember, right? When I was a kid, real friends came and knocked on the back door- the one that opens into the kitchen. Because they knew that’s where they’d find you. In the kitchen, the heart of the home, where the memories are made. Where the love is. Not in the front room, or at the decked out front door. Our real friends all knew that we were in the back. In the cozy part of the house where the day to day happens.

So no, I’m not ready. But come knock on my kitchen door and let’s have coffee. We can be unready and alive and awake together. And it will be beautiful.

Debt Free Holiday: Science Kids Edition

Le "Glasgow Science Center"
Photo credit Jean-Pierre Dalbéra via Flickr Creative Commons

Science is amazing and, if you’re doing it right, loads of fun. It’s also EXPENSIVE. Or at least, it can be. If your kid’s favorite question is “how come?” then you’ve probably blown your mind more than once when you priced out gifts that would help her find out the answer… the good news is that there are fun, inexpensive science activities you can make or give as gifts. Your science kid won’t have to make do with theoreticals- he can get his hands dirty for real.

DIY science gifts for kids

“One Click” options your science kid will love


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