Make Inexpensive Gift Baskets That Look Expensive

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Making inexpensive gift basketsThere are times that no matter how frugal, thrifty and money saving you are you know that you will have to splash out for a whole bunch of gifts. 

It might be a thank you for a group of people that went above and beyond what was needed to help you out, it might be a office thing where multitude of gifts are expected, or you really want to show a set of people that you are thinking of them. 

You want give everyone something really nice but the fact of the matter is that money is tight. 

Making gift baskets might be your ideal solution. They can be customized for every person that you give them to or they can be identical. With careful planning you can make them look like a million while still keeping you finances in check. Cheap gift baskets definitely don't have to look cheap.
It doesn't matter if you are making a gift basket for one person or twenty you have to decide from the beginning what is the maximum amount of money you are planning to spend (and if you end up doing it for less that's great!).  

Gift baskets are generally made around a theme, like food, bath items, gardening, or baby items.  The better you know a person the more fun you can have with the theme, such as a "Take Time to Relax" basket where you would fill it with a trashy gossip magazine, a variety of snacks and a bottle of foot soak. 

There can be five parts to a gift basket, the basket or container, the stuffing or shred (not always needed),  the transparent wrap or cellophane to wrap it, the bow/ornament and card to top it all off and of course the gifts that you are making the basket with. You might already have some of the items already on hand which will bring the cost down.

Metal looking glass bowls
When florist and gift shops are putting together ideas for gift baskets they do a lot of shopping at trade shows and gift shows. 

Since you don't have access to these venues you have to treat the places that you are getting your items with the same mind set as the professionals are. 

The containers that they are looking for need to be unusual for the season, so they are looking for the new and interesting that hasn't been seen before. One of the reasons they are doing this is so people can't judge the cost of things if they are not familiar with them. They are also looking for more bang for the buck. The initial impression of the gift basket is what they are selling so the fuller it looks the more they will be able to charge. (Small glass tray $1, large glass tray $2, glass bowls $2 each from Dollarama.)

Christmas stacking boxes
You can find containers and baskets everywhere from dollar stores, grocery stores, garage sales and thrift stores. 

If you are giving everyone the same gift basket then the dollar store would be a good place to look as they would have multiples of the same container or basket. But if you are making individual baskets then the containers that you use can come from a variety of different sources. 

Try to plan that the basket part will cost you $1 or less for a small size gift basket, $2 or less for a medium size and under $5 for a large gift basket. (Large boxes $2, medium boxes $1.50 or $1.25, small boxes $1 from Dollarama).

BasketsDecorative tins, flower pots, flower vases, plastic containers, bowls, platters, trays, wood boxes and of course baskets all make good bases for gift baskets. (Baskets 50 cents to $3 at various garage sales).

If the container that you have chosen is very deep then you will want to put a few layers of newspaper or tissue paper on the bottom to raise all the items up so they are displayed better. Florist will often make the bottom half of a basket "fill" so that the items rise above the edge of the container and it all looks fuller and lusher than it actually is.

FillerShred is generally used to tuck into all those small areas where there is nothing in the container to make it all look more full and to give cushioning to the individual items so the are not bumping and rubbing against each other. 

You can make your own shred easily if you have access to  a paper shredder or spend a bit of time with a pair of scissors to cut out the strips. You could use old tissue paper (shown to the right), brown bags, newspaper, glossy paper from adverting flyers  or coloured paper. Each type of paper would give a different effect. 

You can curl the shred by pulling it gently over the edge of a dull pair of scissors. This might be a bit time consuming if you are doing many baskets but the effect is pretty and it is such a mindless activity you could do it while watching television. You could also use Easter grass if it is available to you or you have some left over. You don't always need shred, you have to decide whether it will make the basket look better or not, ideally you should be  paying nothing for the shred.

Wrapped basketTransparent wrap (cellophane wrap) really gives a gift basket a great look and this is something you shouldn't scrimp on and try to do with plastic cling wrap or  just a clear plastic bag. 

Cellophane type bags can be bought at party stores, dollar stores and sometimes florist will sell them. You have to make sure that you get a size that is large enough to fit your basket into without ripping the bag. Often professionals don't use bags but will use transparent wrap from a roll and tuck in the side and tape them with clear tape to give the illusion of a bag. (Transparent Wrap 30 inches x 120 inches $1 at Dollarama). 

When you wrap the basket in the cellophane don't cut the wrap until you are sure the you have enough to make a nice gather at the top. Place the basket in the middle of the cellophane and lift the front and the back of the cellophane, hold that with one hand and with the other hand, from the side start gathering the cellophane. When it is all gathered use a long twist tie to temporarily tie it together. When you are sure that it is gathered the way you want use a bit of curling ribbon or strong string to tie it off. Any excess can be folded under the basket and taped, you don't have to use tape on the side or you can use just one small piece. You would then put on your finishing bow, ornaments and card to hide the ribbon or string.

Ornament toppersThe bow, ornament and card should all fit the theme of the gift basket. If you are making a seasonal basket full of treats including unshelled nuts then a Toy Soldier Nutcracker would  make an nice addition with the bow.

If it is a baby shower basket then a rattle or a silver spoon would make a sweet choice. Often you can find small items at garage sales and liquidation stores for under 25 cents that would make great bow additions. 

Ribbon A good quality satin bow can really change the look of a basket from nice to incredibly rich and sumptuous.  You can buy satin type ribbon from outlet stores for about 59 cents a yard for 1  1/2 inch wide ribbon. Two yards of this would be more than enough for a large gift basket. 

Don't slap on one of those horrible cheap store bought bows, it would be better to get curling ribbon and make a bow from that. Or you could use silk flowers instead of a bow. (Flowers removed from $1 bouquets from Dollarama, each flower 15 cents, ribbon from  Len's Mill Store 59 cents a yard).  


Water gift basketThere are countless items that you can fill a gift basket with. Decide on your theme and start looking.

The most common types of baskets sent during the holiday season are food baskets. (If you are making a fresh fruit basket make sure that not all the fruit is fully ripe, only the portion that is showing should be with the rest of the fruit at different stages of ripeness. 

If all the fruit you put in is fully ripe then most of it will go bad before they have a chance to eat it. You have to be realistic on how much fresh fruit one person can eat in a day). 

They can be themed like a pasta basket, where there would be a mix of interesting and unusual dried pastas and sauces along with a pepper grinder, Parmesan cheese grater and a good bottle of Italian wine. 

For someone  just learning how to bake you might do a baking basket that is filled with cookie cutters, an assortment of sugars and sprinkles, decorative muffin cups and a good baking book. 

Or you could do a snack basket where there would be a variety of treats like chocolates, nuts, cookies, pretzels, etc. 

The sooner that you decide on the theme of your basket the sooner you can start looking for deals on the items. If you were to decide to do the baking basket well in advance then you could pick up seasonal baking items after each holiday, like orange and black sprinkles after Halloween, and decorative muffin cups after Christmas. 

The basket above was a hostess gift   for a weekend at a summer home on a lake, there is a 

  • beach water toy for her 3 year old ($2.44 summer clearance) 
  • beach ball (88 cents)
  • water guns (3 for 99 cents) 
  • plastic drinking glasses ( 8 for $2 summer clearance)
  •  20 blow-pops (88 cents clearance)
  • mini rubber duck (25 cents) 
  • blue tray ($1.25 dollar store) 
  • transparent wrap ($1 dollar store)
  •  curling ribbon from a previously bought roll ($1). 
  • The total (without tax) was 10.69 (it would be $9.69 if not including the owned ribbon) which was almost the price of the water toy alone before it went on sale. There was a little something for everyone in this basket, toy for the 4 year old, beach ball, water guns and blow-pops for the older children, plastic glasses and tray for the host and hostess and rubber duck for humor. 

While it is often suggested that making your own foods, like cookies, fudge, or trail mix, to fill a gift basket is less expensive you have to be careful and really look at the price of what you are planning to make if cost is the only factor. 

Large food companies keep their cost down by buying the ingredients in bulk something that you might not be able to match. If you are getting your ingredients on sale then it probably is more cost effective and the quality could be considerably better. If you are baking to share your world famous, mouth watering, baking then you should realize that it will cost a bit more because you will be using quality ingredients.

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If you are making a basket where you will be including food like candy and nuts then look through the bulk food aisle at your grocery store and local bulk food store. 

Items like peanuts, salted nuts, jelly beans and jujubes often go on sale and you will be able to buy the quantities that you need. 

You can fill snack bags, which are the half sized plastic zippered bags that can be bought from dollars stores at 60 for $1, with your candy or nuts and then wrap these bags with a bit of cellophane wrap and tape shut then tie of each end with ribbon.  

These makes for a very smart presentation and if you can get the candy at a good sale price it can be as little as 20 cents to fill the bag. 

In the above photo the licorice and chocolate cost 20 cents per bag, the jelly beans cost 50 cents per bag and the peanuts cost 69 cents per bag. The chocolate was bought on sale in January and stored ( read our article Storing Chocolate). 

Christmas gift basket
The candy gift basket here (and also shown above on a blue background), started with 

  • a glass tray (pictured above $1 Dollarama) 
  • a bag of peanuts 
  • a bag of jelly beans 
  • a bag of licorice 
  • two bags of chocolates ( $1.89 total)
  • transparent wrap 30 cents
  • ribbon 25 cents for the candy bags
  •  the bags cost 8 cents for 5 
  • candy canes were from a clear-out last January and stored in a cool dark place, 260 candy canes were 88 cents.  We used 30 which cost 10 cents
  • 1 yard of transparent wrap and 1 yard of ribbon (30 and 56 cents)
  • the card was free since we made it by cutting down an old Christmas card 


The total cost for this basket with out tax was $4.41 but the total supplies for this basket (60 bags, 10 feet of transparent wrap etc.) would be $9.52 but with these you have parts to make several other baskets.

We could have kept the cost below $4 if we used ribbon we already had and not bought the small ribbon for the bags and used sandwich bags we already had instead of buying snack bags and used only the sale chocolate. 

The total without tax than would have been  $3.29 for the basket and $5.45 for all the supplies (we also didn't include the cost of Scotch Tape since most people already have this).

Boxed gift basketUsing boxes as the base for your gift basket can give you a huge bang for your buck. 

These three boxes (also shown above) cost $4.50. 

They were stacked on top of each other and the lid of the smallest one was put upright on the back of the box. 

Here we filled the smallest box with a variety of lotions and soaps that we had bought on sale during the year and stuffed some white and gold shred around them. 

The nice thing about this presentation is that the items in the other two boxes can be more private (like lingerie or a racy novel) or something that would be appreciated but not necessarily attractive to look at ( shoe inserts). 

Because the top box is so small you can easily fill it to overflowing with just a few gift and the overall effect is lavish. If you are going to make a basket of bath and beauty products then look for these items in different places. 

Dollar stores tend to have a lot of these items but unless it is a product that you are familiar with you might want to stay away from it. You don't want your gift to be the cause of a skin allergy or some other unpleasant effect. 

These boxes were wrapped in cellophane tightly enough so they would not shift, if you are worried about them moving around then you could either tie a bow from top to bottom to secure them or tape the lids to the boxes and then tape the boxes to each other, but then the boxes might get damaged when the tape is removed.


Thumbnail image for Luxury Gift BasketThis luxury food basket cost just a fraction of what you would pay in a store. (This basket is shown in the very top photo finished with cellophane).

  • the basket was bought at a garage sale during the summer for $3 and thoroughly vacuumed till it looked new again 
  • the biscuit tin was bought on sale at a large grocery store for $10 and the lid was removed and placed behind it so the delicious and pretty biscuits could be seen (the biscuits came sealed in plastic wrap)
  • the box of chocolate was bought at a preseason sale for $4
  • the package of candles in the back are $1 from the dollar store
  • there is a pair of brass candle stick holders that are not visible that cost $1 from a garage sale
  • what appears to be a bottle of Champagne is actually a bottle of sparkling wine that cost $12.50 (read our article Champagne Alternatives Great Bubbly at a Great Price
  • there are 6 vintage champagne glasses (only two are showing) that were bought from a yard sale for $3 
  • a mix of nuts in cellophane wrap for $6 (only two are visible)
  • we used a whole roll of cellophane to wrap the nuts and to wrap the basket $1 
  • a yard of ribbon 59 cents
  • the pine-cones were ones we had collected during the summer 

The total for this basket with out tax was $42.09. If we removed the sparkling wine and champagne glasses the total would be 26.59.
 
You can use a mix of store bought and homemade items to make up a basket,  it does not have to be one or the other.  If you give them a book in the gift basket then include a bookmark that you made yourself ( see Making Bookmarks from Paint chips) or make Spirograph cards (see our article Spirograph Cards). 

If you plan well in advance you could grow items in your garden that you could then later use in gift baskets such as herbs, flowers for pot potpourri or berries that you could make into jams.

With a little bit of planning and effort your gift baskets will be the talk of the town and no one will ever guess how little they cost to put together.


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Copyright Ingrid Talpak 2009
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