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November 27, 2012 / RA

$5 and Under (Handmade!)

$5 and Under!

I am so excited to hop on with Janssen and Kayla in coming up with a total of 60 gift ideas for under $5! Last year, their lists gave me a lot of great ideas, and I hope this one is helpful for you, too.

I am hardly the craftiest among us, but when you have a big list of people to buy for, sometimes it’s just more economical to make something, especially in bulk. So, I found 20 gift ideas, intended to fit into an 8-ounce mason jar, that you can make for under $5 each. This project involved a lot of math, and I describe the limitations and parameters of my calculations in the Notes below. Within each category, projects are listed in order of increasing cost per 8 ounces, including the jar. Let’s do this thing!

$5 and Under (Handmade!)


1. Caramel corn ($0.84): This snack is by far the cheapest per serving because unpopped popcorn is 1) so inexpensive and 2) expands by volume by an enormous factor. Using one conversion factor, this recipe will yield at least 25 cups (!) of popped popcorn. That’s a lot of bang for your buck.

2. Chocolate pretzel bites ($1.51): These bite-sized, sweet-and-salty treats are always a hit, and you can get about 150 of them out of a typical 1-pound bag of miniature pretzels and 2 bags of Kisses. At Christmas, I like to use the red and green M&M’s and a mixture of Special Dark Kisses and white chocolate Hugs. It’s a great project for kids to help with, especially because the most time-consuming steps are unwrapping the chocolate and pressing down M&Ms. This price is based on an estimate of 10 chocolate pretzel bites per jar.

3. Granola ($1.69): This estimate is based on my typical granola recipe, and the majority of the cost lies in the dried fruit. You can change it up to suit your taste and budget, though. If you do use dried fruit, be sure to advise your recipient to store the granola in the freezer to prevent the oats and nuts from losing their crunch.

4. Granola-crusted nuts ($4.68): The biggest cost element here is the nuts; I used pecan halves for pricing. You can save money by buying them in bulk or mixing up the types of nuts to include some lower-cost varieties.


5. Pepita brittle ($1.34): I priced roasted, salted peanuts, so that makes this, uh, peanut brittle. But if you don’t have pumpkin seeds around, I’m sure this would taste just as good. Price based on an estimated yield of 6 servings per 12x16x1/2-inch sheet baking pan.

6. Apple cider caramels ($1.43): I was able to find pasteurized apple cider at my grocery store, but you can hit a local orchard for a really good, fresh flavor. Price based on an estimated yield of 5 servings per 8-inch square pan.

7. Caramels ($1.45): I have had a terrible history with making caramels, so take this tip with a grain of salt: I’ve heard that if you spray a pizza cutter with nonstick spray, it makes cutting them a breeze. So, if you are not a caramel failure like me, go to it! Price based on an estimated yield of 8 servings per 9×13-inch baking pan.

8. Coffee toffee ($2.09): My mother-in-law would love this stuff. Price based on an estimated yield of 4 servings per 9×13-inch baking pan.

Ice Cream Toppings

9. Salted caramel sauce ($1.60): Duuude, how good does that sauce look? And with how cheap most of these are, you could give a couple of them as a little homemade sundae party! Or maybe a jar of sauce and a little tin of sprinkles? Cute.

10. Hot fudge sauce ($2.07): I made this sauce for my dessert birthday party last year, and it was so good. Even better, it reheated like a dream in the microwave for subsequent leftover sundaes.

11. Butterscotch sauce ($2.40): I have no words other than that this looks so good.

12. Dulce de leche ($2.68): This is one of my favorite kitchen tricks, so thank you, David Lebovitz. You get about 1.5 jars of this stuff per tin of sweetened condensed milk (this price is an overestimate that assumes you will only get 1 jar), and it’s basically a hands-off cooking process. Dulce de leche is great on ice cream, but it is awesome swirled into brownies. Oh, yes.

13. Peppermint hot fudge sauce ($3.48): Perfect for the holiday season! Package it with a red ribbon and a candy cane, if you like.

Miscellaneous Food Items

14. Hot chocolate mix ($2.38): I didn’t price out miniature marshmallows, but I don’t think you’d break the bank with a little pouch of those to go with a jar of this stuff. Be sure to include a note on serving proportions (2 tablespoons of mix per 1 cup of warm milk).

15. Lemon curd ($2.85): Janssen posted this great recipe, and it was so much easier than I expected lemon curd to be. Your recipients will feel so very fancy.

16. Fresh cream honey butter ($3.04): How impressed will your friends be when you give them a jar of freshly churned butter? Very.

Home and Beauty

17. Grapefruit bath salts ($2.18): Buying the supplies for this project might seem steep at first, but you only need the teensiest bit of essential oil.

18. Carrot coffee scrub ($3.25): Another fun option for my mother-in-law; have I mentioned that she loves coffee? Yes, yes, she does.

19. Lemon sugar scrub ($4.27): Ah, bright and citrus-y! Perfect for wintertime.

20. Mini sewing kit ($4.47): For this little sewing kit, I included fabric and stuffing for the pin cushion, 2 needles (you can thread them through a piece of leftover fabric for storage), 10 pins, 8 safety pins, a small spool of thread, and a needle-threader/thread-cutter.

Before you head to your kitchen and craft room and get cracking, check out 40 more great ideas from Janssen and Kayla!

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  • All images are used with permission from their owners. Thanks to Kayla for the awesome header and collage!
  • I have not personally tested all of these projects and can not vouch for their accuracy or success.
  • Food safety: Please be wise in giving perishable food items as gifts and advise your recipients for conservative storage durations. Most products will keep in the refrigerator, but defer to each recipe as necessary.
  • Pricing: All prices are based on what I found at my local stores, or online when I could not find it locally, prorated for the 8-ounce “serving size.” I live in southeastern Pennsylvania, so your cost might differ. I did not account for tax or shipping.
  • Mason jars:  I found 12-packs of 8-ounce mason jars at my regular grocery store for $8.25, or $0.69 per jar.
  • Equipment: I did not account for a mixer, a glue gun, scissors, wax paper, or similar items.
  • Excluded ingredients: I did not price out ingredients in quantities of less than ¼ teaspoon (eg, a pinch). The following ingredients were disregarded when listed in unmeasured quantities: salt, pepper, and cooking spray. When an ingredient was listed as optional, I did not account for it. I did not price out water as an ingredient.
  • Standardized ingredients: In ingredient lists, I interpreted all brown sugar, regardless of darkness, to be the same. Ditto for all cocoa powder, regardless of process. I assumed that all butter was unsalted.
  • Packaging: The price listed reflects the quantity intended to fit into an 8-ounce mason jar for packaging, and the cost of that jar is included. Other embellishments, like ribbon or labels, are not included.
  • If you have any questions about the assumptions and calculations associated with a particular item, feel free to e-mail me or ask in the comments, and I’ll do my best to clarify for you.


  1. Tamara / Nov 27 2012 11:32 am

    Love all the ideas, and love how cute they would look in the jars!
    One of my favorite gifts to get, and give, is bread. Like banana, pumpkin, etc or a simple pound cake would be easy to do a large batch of and fun to wrap all cute!
    Thanks for the great post!

    • RA / Nov 27 2012 1:40 pm

      Yes, I love this idea and have done it in the past! Bread is especially good to break up all of the sweets (that I have listed above, ahem, sorry!), and it is SO cute as a mini loaf. Wrap in plastic, throw it in a brown bag, tie it up with ribbon, and you’re good to go.

  2. Heather / Nov 27 2012 1:48 pm

    These are fantastic! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Saskia / Nov 28 2012 9:09 am

    I love how structured you are.

  4. merrick / Nov 29 2012 12:24 am

    Love all these ideas! For some reason Pinterest is not letting me pin this, but I’ll keep trying because there are some majorly awesome ideas in here!

  5. Chrissie / Nov 29 2012 5:41 pm

    This is so great, and I am in awe of how detailed you are (love it!). But my biggest takeaway is your comment about unsalted butter: do you use unsalted butter in your baking? I ask because we were debating this on Thanksgiving with my grandmother, who was firmly in the unsalted butter camp for pie crust (my mom, who makes the crusts these days, uses salted, and I always bake with salted butter myself).

    • RA / Nov 30 2012 9:26 am

      Yes, I only use unsalted butter, and then I can control how much salt goes in to the final product. That said, I grew up using salted butter, but then Alton Brown converted me. :)

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