3 Fantastic Gifts that You Can Easily Make at the Last Minute

We talk a lot here about the value of handmade and heartfelt gifts, but the truth is, not all homemade gifts are made equal.

What makes a handmade gift special is not just the fact that it was created instead of bought. The gift has to be something that the recipient values.

If she doesn’t like to decorate with crafts, if she doesn’t wear wool scarves, or if candy wrecks his diet and perfumed soap makes him itchy, then a homemade version is not any better than store-bought.

The most effective gifts tune into the recipient’s wants — not the giver’s. And homemade gifts are perfect for the person who has everything he needs, because almost everyone wants more attention, more good food, or more time to do what they love.

Last Christmas I was completely overwhelmed with work that I didn’t have time to compile some of my traditional handmade gifts (like the year-end photo book that requires culling thousands of photos).

So I took a shortcut. I gave “month club” gifts which spread my time over the year, instead of cramming all the effort into the holiday crunch.  Here are my ideas, and one more at the end that you might want to forward to your sweetie.

Homemade Cookie of the Month Club

Last Christmas I gave my dad a Cookie of the Month Club. He loves fresh cookies so much that, even though he doesn’t cook, he will actually get out the flour and oats and raisins and make batches for himself.

So in his box under the tree was a tin of our favorite toffee cookies and a promise that my kids and I would make a different kind for him every month. I knew this gift would mean much more than any gourmet cookies I could put on auto-pilot.  Homemade cookies just taste better, and I’m sure one of the reasons why is that they are baked with love, not money.

Kids’ Art of the Month Club

For my mom, I chose an Art of the Month club where I promised to send her samples of her grandkids’ art and schoolwork every month. The package under the tree included a picture frame that could be opened and closed like a cabinet to change the art inside.

Of course sending schoolwork to my parents is something I should have been doing anyway, as I told Meagan Francis in our podcast chat on The Kitchen Hour about simplifying the holidays.  But I know myself by now, and unfortunately I am not great about keeping in touch this way. So the structure of the month-club gift also helped me be more of the daughter I wanted to be.

Hand-Delivered Wine of the Month Club

When I was looking around for a wine-of-the-month club last year for my husband, I was shocked to see how expensive they were. Since most of the cost seemed to be in the shipping, why pay for delivery, I thought, when I could simply pick up a bottle at the liquor store? To make the bottle more special, I promised to serve it with a candlelit dinner for two while the kids watched a movie.

These gifts, born from a lack of time at the holidays, actually became some of the most meaningful gifts I have given.

Whenever my dad called to thank me for the cookies, I could feel his happiness even through the answering machine. My mom looked forward to seeing report cards, preschool crafts, and self-portraits. And even though I confess that I fell behind on my wine-of-the-month job, the few dinners alone that my husband and I enjoyed were probably the best quality time we had all year.

Tips for Doing Month Club Gifts Well

The hardest part about homemade monthly gifts is following through. If I were to do this type of gift again, I would help myself be successful by planning ahead, setting a schedule, and batching tasks in January. For example:

  • Be realistic about what you promise. If your two-year-old can’t sit through a movie (like mine), and your older kids can’t be counted on to babysit, then instead of a dinner maybe choose a late-night romantic movie with popcorn and hot chocolate.
  • If your gift involves sending packages, gather boxes and envelopes for every month ahead of time — stamped, addressed, and even dated — and set a fixed day to go to the post office.
  • If you plan on going somewhere or doing something, get out the calendar in January and pencil in a date every month.

Just as with most tasks, following a schedule and doing as much as possible ahead of time helps ensure we get it done.

More Ideas for Monthly Gifts — Including One for Mom

There are so many possibilities with month-club gifts and variations on the theme. My friends in New York got the three of us subscriptions to a local theater for my birthday. Even though we lived in the same city, life would get busy, and we would look forward to the night of “our play” and our time together.

While experiential gifts aren’t always inexpensive, they take the focus off of Stuff and onto relationships. For a child I could see giving a standing Sunday date of one-on-one time, a trip to the rock climbing gym, or monthly free event together. (Here’s how to make a coupon favor book to give to the kids.)

As a mom who can’t think of what she wants (and would never dare ask for this), what about a “day off”? This free gift made The Happiest Mom’s list of 20 Holiday Gifts for Moms:

A Day Off.  No kids. No responsibilities. For many moms, it just seems like a pipe dream; but it’s a gift anyone, with any budget, can give. Schedule a day that you’ll take the kids off her hands, and shoo her out the door to the movies, antique store or even just to browse shelves at the library. No dishes, no laundry, no diapers? Heaven.

Amazing how some of the most precious gifts can cost nothing at all.

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  • Vanessa December 30, 2013, 11:19 am

    These are GREAT ideas! Why am I just now discovering these after Christmas?! I actually wanted to tell my mom the only thing I wanted for Christmas was a “day off” but felt inappropriate even thinking it. But it’s so true – that would have been my favorite present this year! Thank you for the cookie of the month idea. My grandfather has a major sweet tooth and my grandma never bakes, so I am thinking next year this is going to be the gift for them! :) I love your website and always find great ideas and information. Thanks again!

  • Monica January 24, 2013, 4:26 pm

    Hi! This is such a great idea. Since, I missed Christmas I think I’m going to start on Birthdays. I might need to upgrade to the “Art of the Week” club, since my kids make so many darn projects!!

    • Amy February 3, 2013, 3:08 pm

      Hi Monica,

      So glad you liked the idea. I know what you mean about the volume of art projects that kids produce — at home and at school. I’m sure grandparents would love a weekly update!


  • Beth December 13, 2012, 10:00 am

    Amy, your blogs are the best. They always make my day!

    Another idea that helps me at Christmas time or anytime is to can bread & butter pickles in August & can a bunch in 1/2 pint jars which make the best little gifts for a hostess, a friend’s birthday,to take to a recovering friend….just so handy to grab a little jar off the shelf and tie a ribbon around the top.

    My canning for gifts used to be peach preserves and they are easy,too….but the pickles are now my favorite. Another fave for years was my special cranberry conserve…I could make it any time of the year as long as I kept some bags of cranberries in the freezer, so it could be made ahead for Christmas. (Maybe it’s not to late to make some this weekend!)

    • Amy December 13, 2012, 2:30 pm

      Hi Beth,

      I love your ideas about keeping homemade jars of stuff ready. It really is a time that we naturally feel generous and we are visiting a lot, and so it’s perfect to have yummy things at the ready to give away.

      Your cranberry conserve sounds delicious, and I love that you can make it any time of year!


  • Amy's mom December 12, 2012, 9:37 pm

    Your dad and I really do appreciate those special packages that arrive in the mail. They shrink the distance between our households and keep us current with the subjects the children are studying in school. And we are always amazed by how well the cookies endure the trip.
    They are wonderful gifts for grandparents who need no more things.

    • Amy December 13, 2012, 10:00 am

      I’m so glad you feel this way, Mom.

      Love you,

  • Jen @ Jen Spends December 12, 2012, 11:49 am

    I love these ideas, Amy! I’ve always thought those gift of the month clubs sounded great, but for some reason it never would have occurred to me to do something like that myself. I think the art idea would be great for my in-laws in England. I struggle every year to think of gift ideas for them, and contending with the holiday shipping deadlines is stressful.

    • Amy December 12, 2012, 12:55 pm

      Hi Jen,

      Yes, the art club sounds perfect for your in-laws, especially given they are so far away. I too love that the burden of shipping and the other efforts are spread throughout the year.

      Let me know if you end up doing it!

  • Meagan Francis December 12, 2012, 11:41 am

    Love this, Amy! I thought your idea for the “____ of the month” club was so clever when we chatted. I’m thinking of doing something similar for my grandma with the kids’ photos or letters since I’ve grown very lazy about sending things by mail, and she doesn’t use Facebook!

    • Amy December 12, 2012, 12:58 pm

      Exactly, Meagan — mailing stuff is especially appreciated by people who aren’t getting regular online updates. Heck, these days, I think anyone appreciates getting stuff in the mail that isn’t a catalog.