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A cool and inexpensive gift may be right under your nose.

Christmas is a time to share joy, kindness, and generosity, but that doesn’t mean you need to spend a lot of money and end the holidays with a debt hangover. It also doesn’t mean you need to buy cheap useless goods just to have them discarded after a few months. Let’s make this Christmas a green Christmas – both environmentally-friendly and wallet-friendly! Here are my top ten meaningful green Christmas gifts:

  1. Plants – Of course, plants are at the top of my green Christmas list! While most girls enjoy getting cut flowers as gifts on special occasions, I’m a big fan of plants because I don’t have to see them wilt or throw them away after a week. Potted plants may not be as colourful as flower bouquets, but there are some really cool plants that win hands down over flowers any day! My picks include

Herbs. You can buy these already planted in a container for about $3 (NTUC), or you can take a sprig of an herb (say, basil or mint) and just stick it in moist soil and it should take root.

Carnivorous plants. These are my default housewarmings gifts. The Venus flytrap is especially popular with kids. They are more expensive than herbs, but I can usually buy one plant and separate them into two once the plant gets large enough (a process called leaf-pulling).20141204_193113

Unique plants. One such unique plant that is a common “weed” here is the mimosa plant (look for it near larger trees as it likes the shade). These are very special plants as they produce a unique response to touch.

You can pretty up these gifts by putting the plants in a nice pot ($2 at Daiso) and decorating them with a ribbon or other ornaments. If you really want to put some heart into it, you can gift a plant that you personally sowed as a seed. For your brown-thumbed friends, who might not have the time or interest to take care of a plant, a terrarium might be a good alternative since they only have to be sprayed once every few months).

  1. A Photo Slideshow Video – With iMovie and Windows Movie Maker, it’s relatively easy to turn a set of images into a slideshow complete with captions and music. I did this once for my mother-in-law using one of her favourite songs and a collection of photos of her family over the last 4 decades. It was so touching and meaningful, that not only did she cry when she opened the file, but she played it again and again, and shared it with her friends. Of all the gifts I’ve given to her, including ones that were quite expensive, this was her favourite.
  2. A Donation in Honour of Another Person – For the person who already has everything, why not make a donation to that person’s favourite charity? Everyone has a cause that they believe in or feel strongly about. Your recipient gets the public recognition and a boost in well-being and pleasure, and you get the tax deduction – it’s a win-win for both parties.
  3. Volunteering – Because my family did not celebrate Christmas (this was not due to any religious conviction, rather, it was because my family was quite detached), I was free to define my own Christmas tradition. Every year, I would spend Christmas day serving food to the homeless. Some people would bring their entire family on that day to volunteer. There would be little kids helping to wrap gifts for other less fortunate kids. It was really a heartwarming event and I would look forward to it every year. They say that volunteering together as a family to serve the less fortunate really helps to strengthen bonds and rekindle gratitude and appreciation. This year, perhaps instead of making it about what you or your loved ones want for Christmas, why not make it about what you can share with others? Maybe you and your family can volunteer at Willing Hearts or Touch Community Services. These organizations are always in need of more helping hands. You can also give blood and save lives this Christmas. What can be more meaningful than that?
  4. An Emergency Kit – Make your own emergency kit, which can include things like a torchlight, glow stick, plaster, antiseptic wipes, bottled water, rain poncho, can opener, some canned and shelf-stable food, and some batteries. You can also include a printout of the SCDF handbook and place that in the kit. I’ve personally experienced a variety of natural disasters and can attest that these kits really come in handy. I’ve lived through several high magnitude earthquakes, fires (in which my family had to be evacuated – twice!), and a record-setting storm that knocked out the power grid of an entire region for 4 days in the winter (that means no electricity for 4 days at a time when the evening temperature was around 1°C).
  5. Goodies in a Jar – Although there is a bakery (or two or three) inside every shopping mall or plaza in Singapore, most people (if given the chance) really do enjoy and take pride in making something themselves and calling it their own. BBC Good Food has several recipes for mixes that can be beautifully placed in a jar and given as a gift. From brownies to muffins to cakes, you can even personalize it for the recipient, such as having it vegan or gluten free, for example. Include the preparation instructions on a tag and tie it to the jar. If your recipient is not confident with baking, you can always bake the cookies yourself and pack them nicely in a jar as a ready-to-eat alternative.muffins brownies
  6. A Pedometer – Yes, I know that your smartphone already has an accelerometer and hence can be used to track your steps, but a pedometer is much more accurate since a lot of people (especially women) don’t always have their phones on their bodies (and for safety reasons, I personally wouldn’t recommend it since even the fine print warning labels say to keep the phone at least 2 cms away from the body). I wore a pedometer for nearly half a year to track my steps. It provided instant feedback and encouragement on those days which I didn’t meet my goals. Sitting all day is just damaging to the body. Why not tell someone you care about their health by giving them a pedometer for Christmas ($2 at Daiso).
  7. Spa in a Jar – I’ve heard of people going to spas and spending a lot of money getting their skin exfoliated with a body scrub. I could never figure out what was so special about this procedure because it can be easily done at home. Better yet, you can make your own exfoliating scrub and put it in a nice fancy container as a gift. Tell your loved ones to save their money and use your spa-in-a-jar scrub instead. Most recipes I’ve seen involve sugar, coconut/olive oil, and some extracts/essential oils for frangrance (e.g. vanilla extract, lavander oil, lemon oil, etc). Sure, you can buy a scrub from Watsons or Guardian, but it will cost you more and may come with other unnecessary ingredients like parabens.body scrub2
  8. A Personal App – You don’t need to be techie to make an app. With App Inventor 2, developed by MIT, anyone can make a simple app in under an hour – really! They have several tutorials and will walk you through them step by step. I made the “HelloPurr” app in a matter of minutes. Of course, you can customize the apps to your preferences. There’s a “Whack a Mole” app that I customized so that instead of a mole randomly popping up, it was a photo of my troublemaker dog that I had to “whack” in order to get points. Impress your friends and loved ones with their own personal app developed by you!
  9. An LED Wand – Head down to the Singapore Maker Festival (from now until 14 December) and build your own LED wand or other cool gadget/craft. There, you’ll get to take part in workshops and talk to experts and hobbyists who will introduce you to the Makers movement. Although the festival is free, the workshops cost anywhere between $25 to $110. The LED wand workshop (intended for a parent and child to participate together) is on the high end. You might not think spending $110 to play Harry Potter in the next cosplay festival is frugal, but I see much of the fee going toward not just the materials but to the cost of education and the hand-on experience of building something electronic. Not to mention, the feeling that you made your cool gadget instead of just buying it like everyone else, is just priceless!

 

For other frugal gift ideas, check out some of my blog posts for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

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