Prepackaged gift sets are popular at holiday time. By bundling related products, retailers supply shoppers with convenient gift options — and maybe sell a few more items than they otherwise would have. DIY gift baskets are more personal and often cheaper than store-bought. Careful sleuthing through clearance racks and discount bins can turn up bargains, and the dollar store is a likely source for attractive containers, from boxes to tins to pails. The beauty of a gift basket is that even small or mundane items become gift-worthy when combined under a common theme. Here are a dozen ideas.
Tip: In a basket of consumables, include at least one item that's not disposable (the container counts) so the recipient will think of you long after the holiday.
CANDY AND COKE GIFT BASKET
Filling a holiday gift box or basket with assorted candies and sweets is probably the easiest route to take. A highly rated Coca-Cola gift pack selling for more than $50 on Overstock would be easy to DIY for a fraction of the price. Start by picking up a six-pack of glass-bottled Coca-Cola Classic (about $10), then add some convenience-store treats and a red bow.
CHEESE GIFT BASKET
For someone who loves cheese, assemble a basic basket with a cutting board, a cheese knife or slicer, a package of crackers, and, of course, cheese. Cutting boards and utensils are easy to find at Dollar Tree and other discount outlets, and individually wrapped blocks or wedges of cheese are supermarket staples. Look for cheeses that can be stored without refrigeration. More exotic flavors might require a trip to a specialty shop and would raise the total cost.
ICE CREAM SUNDAE KIT
Giving frozen ice cream as a gift is a non-starter, but a good selection of toppings is another matter. Grocery store dessert aisles stock a wide selection of hot fudge, caramel, butterscotch, and fruit-flavored toppings. Add to the basket a couple of decorative bowls, such as the Parlor Ice Cream Dish from Crate and Barrel ($3), and a jar of chocolate or rainbow sprinkles to sweeten the treat.
TEATIME GIFT BASKET
In Victorian days, tea was so valuable that people stored it in lockable tea caddies. Stroll the aisles of a grocery or specialty store today and you'll spot plenty of affordable choices, many sold in reusable decorative tins. Add a bit of whimsy with unusual cup-and-saucer combinations from the local thrift store; garage sales and flea markets are likewise worth checking. To tie everything together, choose tea tins that match the colors on the cups.
DRAWING AND COLORING GIFT BASKET
An artfully displayed collection of art supplies will get the recipient's creative juices flowing. To assemble a drawing kit, start with blank sketch pads available at art and office supply stores. Add a box of pencils (the traditional No. 2 is fine, but look for the softer No. 1) or black sketching pencils, plus a box of colored pencils or markers. For additional inspiration, include a coloring book for grown-ups. Collections of intricately detailed, and sometimes hilariously profane, line drawings start at about $5 on Amazon.
SPA GIFT BASKET
A home bathroom can become a day spa with aromatherapy soaps and a few other luxury bath items. Every department store stocks such merchandise, but clearance bins at specialty stores often contain a wider array. Stick with the fancy stuff — bars of floral, glycerine, or milled-oat soap make a pleasing gift, while a bar of deodorant soap from the drugstore may be taken as an insult. Include scented body lotion and an accessory such as a loofah or shower sponge ($4.50 in seasonal colors at Bath & Body Works), or bath oil beads and a scented candle.
WINDOW HERB GARDEN KIT
Traditional gardening requires a plot of land, but apartment dwellers can grow a small herb garden on a windowsill. A standard-size garden pail is the right size for a gift basket, large enough to hold a bag of potting soil, a few inexpensive planters, and packages of seeds. Home Depot sells hanging glass capsule terrariums starting at less than $10. Not all plants are suitable for growing indoors, but herbs known to thrive include basil, chives, oregano, rosemary, thyme, and parsley.
HOT COCOA GIFT BASKET
Who doesn't love a mug of steaming cocoa on a cold winter night? This gift set can be as simple as a couple of hot cocoa packets inside a decorative mug. Individual packets of Swiss Miss Classics milk chocolate flavor, which finished tops in a Cheapism taste test of hot chocolate mix, start at just a few cents. Although Ghirardelli's double chocolate premium hot cocoa is slightly more expensive, the packaging seems more gift-worthy than the usual white paper wrappings of grocery store cocoa. For a more elaborate gift, put two mugs inside a larger container, along with multiple hot cocoa packets and a bag of marshmallows. A few individually wrapped peppermint sticks or candy canes for stirring are a sweet flourish.
CANDLE GIFT BASKET
A gift set with a candle theme can be assembled in several ways. The basic candle garden calls for free-standing pillar candles and a flat, fire-resistant surface or "foundation" on which to burn them. A dinner plate or wall mirror from a secondhand store serves the purpose. For candles, check dollar stores and overstock outlets, or head to Ikea for an inexpensive selection of block candles (starting at $1) and scented candles in glass (starting at 79 cents). Assuage concerns about safety with an old-fashioned metal candle snuffer ($3).
WRITING GIFT BASKET
Even in today's electronic era there's room for old-fashioned pen-on-paper writing supplies. Start with several attractive pens in a variety of ink types, including ballpoint, fiber tip, and gel. Add a couple of blank-book journals or standard notebooks with pretty covers to complete a basic diary-writing kit. A three-pack of classic portable memo books costs $10 at Field Notes. For a stationery set, pick up a tablet of writing paper with matching envelopes and a few sheets of "forever" postage stamps. Present the gift in a basket or large decorative folder.
MOVIE NIGHT GIFT BASKET
A quiet night at home with a favorite movie or two can be a memorable occasion. Assemble a couple of DVDs, some popcorn, and large boxes of movie candy such as Milk Duds and Jujyfruits. A bottle of good, cheap wine would add to the atmosphere. You can also include a set of reusable plastic popcorn boxes ($6 on Amazon) and use them as containers for some of the other items.
COLLEGE-THEMED GIFT BASKET
Amping up your favorite co-ed’s school spirit is easy with a basket built around campus life. T-shirts, collegiate blankets, snacks, and posters are good places to start. Consider putting the items in a small laundry basket, along with some detergent and other dorm-living essentials for when the recipient heads back to school after the holiday break.