Cash Free Gift Ideas!

If your children are wanting everything they see on television and in the catalogs, ask them to make up a list of "CASH FREE" gifts; either to give to others, or to receive themselves.

Some examples:

  • For that extremely busy teenager, a coupon good for one thorough room cleaning, a coupon good for a basket of laundry washed, folded and put away in their room.
  • A coupon good for a home-cooked meal (for someone with limited cooking skills).
  • An evening of FREE babysitting for that young couple down the street with the two toddlers.
  • A coupon good for one day of leaf raking, one day of tree pruning, one day of putting on storm windows, garage cleaning, etc. for those who are a little ‘long in the tooth’. That’s called getting old, and having a hard time managing these things by oneself. (Grandparents come to mind, or the elderly neighbor who helps you at the drop of a hat.)
  • For that 10 – 12 year old that has every gadget known to man, a coupon good for a ‘Day with Grandpa or Grandma’ to explore the neighborhood, mountains, visit a museum, go horseback riding, go for a hike – the sky is the limit.

Have the kids put on their thinking caps and come up with ideas that fit into your family and lifestyles.

(idea submitted by TM, CA)


Shop Smart

For those of us on really limited budgets, this time of year can be totally frustrating.  The kids want ‘such and such’ and there is n0 way said item is in the cards.   The following ideas are from folks who have always lived on very limited incomes and have devised ways to ‘stay on budget’ and still satisfy their families.

Make your first stop the thrift stores, re-sale shops, flea markets, yard sales, etc. (some states are warm enough for year around yard sales; not so where I live!)

Sometimes, a group of people will get together in late fall, rent a convention center and have a "MOTHER OF ALL” garage sale before the holidays. Some people clean closets in late fall before the holiday season so they have room for the new things they are anticipating.

What amazes me is sometimes the price tags are still on the garments and the toys and appliances have never been opened! One child’s overabundance became my child’s Christmas at a bargain price.  We went to the re-sale shops when our children were in school and needed nice clothing for the Christmas program at school and church.  My boys were the blue jeans and t-shirt kind of kids, and to pay $30 for a white shirt to be worn just once? Not a chance! 

I would pay $2 for a nearly-new one at the thrift store and they looked just as nice as any of the other children.

We also bought tricycles for our little ones for just a few dollars at these sales and they rode the wheels off of them!


Little Tree for Cheap

I have a little friend that wants a ‘pink’ Christmas tree for her bedroom. The one at the store cost $20, plus the decorations that you need to add.

I had a small tree (green) that I got at a yard sale for 50 cents a few years ago. It came with a string of 10 lights and one little silver garland.

I bought a can of pink spray paint on sale for $2 and sprayed several coats of ‘pink’ paint on the green tree to make it pink. I put the lights back on the tree, wrapped the silver garland around it, cut some ‘christmas ornaments’ from old Christmas cards, used thread for the hangers and put them on the pink tree.

She will have her tree to enjoy for a couple of years until she grows tired of it, and then the branches will be recycled into a wreath for the door – all for $2.50!


Soap Crayons for Kids

To one cup of mild laundry soap, add food coloring by drops until you have the colors you want.  Then, start adding water a spoonful at a time until the soap powder turns liquid.  Dump the colored soap into an old ice cube tray and set it in a warm, sunny windowsill or on top of the refrigerator to dry for a few days.  The moisture will leave the soap and it will get hard enough to write with in the bathtub.

(submitted by CW, MN)


Kitchen Cleaner

A 50-cent bottle of rubbing alcohol is a great cleaner for kitchen appliances. It takes off smudges, fingerprints, and smeared chocolate frosting. It dries nice and fast, and doesn’t streak,

(submitted by HC, AZ)


Baking Hints (shared by my old neighbor, Laura)

When you bake bread, take it out of the pan as soon as it comes out of the oven and let it cool completely on a wire rack.  If you want a soft crust, brush the loaves with softened butter as soon as they come out of the oven

Remove muffins from the tins as soon as they come out of the oven.  I use a pair of needle nosed pliers to get mine out…otherwise, they get soggy on the bottom.

When making ‘butter cakes’ such as pound cakes, or any layer cakes – white, chocolate or any other flavor, soften the butter/shortening so it blends in easily with the sugar before you add the flour mixture.
If you have no toothpicks to use for cake testers, a piece of uncooked spaghetti will do nicely instead.

Let any butter cake stand for 10 minutes in the pan after removing it from the oven. Run a kitchen knife around the edge of the pan, put a cake rack on top of the cake and flip it. The cake will come out of the pan onto the rack upside down. Use a second rack to reposition (flip) the cake right side up to finish cooling.

Laura would offer a cake for any occasion and used this ‘double flip’ method to get her cakes right side up.  She also took cardboard boxes and cut cake trays from the bottoms, covered them with aluminum foil and placed the cake on the ‘tray’.  She never had to worry about finding the cake pan before she went home, and the remaining cake could be given to anyone who needed a little ‘extra sweetness’.


Christmas Ornaments

A neighbor of mine uses gingerbread cookies to decorate her Christmas tree. They are iced with a white icing and a few sprinkles. She hangs them with grocery twine and after Christmas, the tree, cookies and all, goes outdoors for the ‘feathered friends’ among us to feast on.

(submitted by DP, IA)


Easy Bird Wreath

This idea is easy enough for a grade school child to make for an outdoor decoration.

You will need a straw wreath, some wire, a large sunflower head with seeds, a couple of handfuls of other assorted birdseed, and a little peanut butter.

Wire a hanger on the back of the wreath with part of the wire, then thread lengths of wire through the sunflower head in about four places so you can anchor it to the middle of the straw wreath.

Now, take some peanut butter and smear it along the outer edge of the wreath and sprinkle with the assorted birdseed.

Hang outside a window and watch the birds enjoy their feast!

These work real well as gifts for folks in nursing homes. Hanging outside their windows, they can watch their little feathered friends enjoy the feast!


The Lists

I am a list maker. I always have been, because I tend to get sidetracked and need something to keep me organized a little bit.

I have daily lists, weekly lists, monthly lists and things I want to get done sometime during the year!

By having my lists, I can know at the end of the day that I did accomplish something!

(submitted by HM, IL)

(Paula says: I too make lists and my kids make fun of me, but I figure, whatever works!)


The Clipboard

I have 6 children in school and the paper blizzard is overwhelming at times. Our solution is an old fashioned clipboard for each child.  These are on the wall near the kitchen and every child is to put every permission slip or bit of paperwork that gets sent home with them on the clipboard as soon as they get home from school.

The rule is: Backpacks get unloaded at once and anything paper goes up for Mom and Dad to see.

My husband and I go through each clipboard every evening to see what/when/where needs to be done next, and if there is something that needs more than one day to accomplish.

These clipboards have truly saved us time/money and sanity! The clipboards were only $1 each and every child has a different color.

(submitted by AK, MD)



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