I save money throughout the year to spend on holiday gifts — and yet I still feel like I’m always shortchanging some relative or other when it comes time for the exchange.
The reality is there’s only so much I can feasibly save each month without sacrificing other financial needs, and with an ever-growing list of people to buy for, it’s getting harder and harder each year to stretch the holiday budget.
So I wondered: Would it be cheaper if I made some of my gifts this year? Thanks to Pinterest, there’s no lack of craftable gift ideas tagged with enticing terms like “cheap,” “fun” and “easy to make.” Few of these posts actually have a cost per unit, though. So to see if I could actually save money, I decided to explore the DIY route.
After an hours-long rabbit hole of browsing photos of mason-jar candles, cookies and other Martha Stewart-worthy concoctions, I decided to harness my non-existent crafting skills for three homemade presents: lavender soap, bath salts and hot chocolate jars — and track what I spent on each to see if it saved me money in the end over buying a similar product in the store.

Lavender Soap

Not too long ago, I strolled through a natural-foods market and noticed an array of colorful, homemade-looking slabs of soap for $5 a bar. My first thought? I could probably make these for *way* less money. So I chose a simple “melt and pour” lavender soap recipe to follow, which involves melting cubes of soap base and pouring them into molds.
Right away, the upfront costs surprised me: Buying essential oils, soap base, dried lavender flowers, a silicone soap mold, soap glitter and a four-quart measuring cup set me back almost $80 — and that didn’t even include packaging (most Pinterest soap is wrapped in some kind of complex yet delicate combination of herb stems and burlap).
On the plus side, the project was as easy as promised and took 15 minutes, and my 3-year-old son enjoyed helping me do it.
The author and her son making homemade lavender soap.
Cost Breakdown: Lavender essential oil (1-ounce bottle): $7.83
Honey pour and melt soap base: $14.95
Lavender buds (1 pound): $12.70
Silicone soap mold: $5.99
Pyrex 1-quart measuring cup: $10.75
Gold mica color cubes (pack of 6): $16.83
Washi tape (one roll): $4.99
Total: $74.04 for 10 bars of soap
Cost Per Bar: $7.40
Prep Time: 15 minutes (per batch of 6 bars, so I made one batch of 6 and one batch of 4)
Results: Pretty good — especially if I say the soaps were made by my toddler.
Gift Worthy? The soap will do nicely as a stocking stuffer from my kids, but considering it was at least $2 higher per bar than the ones I scoffed at in the store, I don’t think it ultimately saved me money.

Bath Salts

My friend Julie made it sound so fun and easy to create little jars full of sugar and salt scrubs for my baby shower, so I didn’t expect to run into any issues mixing salts and oils, and putting them into store-bought jars.
The tricky part was how to make this craft look holiday presentable — not just like a kindergartener’s science project. The Pinterest pic I saved featured an elaborately decorated mason jar filled with white salt and lavender buds. It was trimmed with gold ribbon, customized gift tags and printed sticker labels. To keep labor and costs down, I opted to embellish more simply, with a pretty tape encircling the jar’s rim.
Cost Breakdown: Lavender essential oil: $0 — I had leftovers from the lavender soap, but would have been $7.83
Lavender buds: $0, again I had leftover, but would have been $12.70
Epsom salts (5-pound bag): $14.99
Baking soda (13.5-pound bag): $6.59
Mason jars (4-ounce jars, pack of 12): $9.99
Washi tape: $0, also had leftover, but would have been $4.99
Total: $31.57 for 12 jars, but if I’d had to buy the lavender oil, buds and tape, the total would have been $57.09
Cost Per Jar: $2.63 ($4.76 if I’d had to buy all items)
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Results: Very good. With a pretty bow, washi tape and something to cover the label on the lid, they could easily pass for store bought.
Gift Worthy?: I was really happy with how the jars came out, and with store-bought bath salts costing at least $15, I think this was worth DIYing. Making these was definitely cheaper than buying them.

Hot Chocolate Jars

I’ve always been on the fence about making edible gifts, not only because of allergies, but also because of packaging costs. Take the traditional cookie tin, which typically retails for $10 to $20. After forking over my hard-earned cash to purchase ingredients and a tin can, I would probably only save a few dollars — and lose hours of time in the baking process.
But when I saw jars filled with cookie mix ingredients stacked on top of each other like those colored-sand jars I used to make as a child, I was intrigued. After doing some more digging on Pinterest, I ultimately opted to make some yummy-looking hot chocolate jars filled with ingredients for my favorite winter drink.
Cost Breakdown: Mason jars (4 count): $5.99
Hot cocoa mix: $10.99 for three 10-ounce canisters of Trader Joe's hot cocoa mix
Marshmallows (one 10-ounce bag of mini marshmallows): $3.83
White chocolate chips: $2.49
Dark chocolate chips: $0 — I had some on hand, but they would have been $3.66
Washi tape: $0 — again, thanks lavender soap project! — but it would have been $4.99
Total Cost: $23.30 for four jars; $31.95 if I’d had to buy all items.
Cost Per Jar: $5.83 ($7.99 with all ingredients)
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Results: Excellent. They looked Pinterest-perfect, and I felt like a crafting rockstar.
Gift Worthy?: Yes, these are perfect as gifts for my kids’ teachers. If I’d bought some type of gourmet hot chocolate jars with stackable ingredients (which are at stores like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods), it would have cost about the same — but it would seem a little ridiculous to present something store-bought that attempts to pass as homemade. The fact that we made these jars is part of the charm. Plus, in the future, I plan to look for other ways to lower the total cost, such as by purchasing bulk hot chocolate mix (a 54-ounce canister of Swiss Miss is $14 on Amazon Prime).
I had a lot of fun making these gifts, although I learned the hard way that crafting comes with a learning curve and upfront costs. My advice is to research the costs before committing — and if it’s your first time crafting, pick a project with fewer raw materials (for example, the bath salts or hot chocolate) so it’s less expensive. I absolutely plan to do all three of these next year, perhaps with variations on the flavors and essential oils I select — and I bet my end results will be even better.