It’s been 18 years since we published the very first reader-tip for Sand Art Cookies in Debt-Proof Living Newsletter. Basically, this is a canning jar layered with the dry ingredients required to make a batch of chocolate chip cookies. The layered effect is very attractive. Topping the lid with a holiday embellishment or round of calico fabric plus a tag giving the recipient instructions on how to prepare the cookies is the final touch.

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It took a few tries to get the recipe and the portions right. But I have to tell you that those Sand Art Cookie Jars were a major hit for me that year and many years since. Since then, we’ve published dozens of other ideas for “jar gifts” for everything from edibles to journals, sewing kits to emergency kits. Just about anything you can stuff into a canning jar has the potential to be a unique and practical gift.

General Instructions: Jar gifts are prepared in a wide-mouth, one-quart size canning jar unless otherwise noted. We recommend you get new jars for food items, or if you’ll be recycling jars be sure they are sterilized and always use new lids.

It is important that you measure the ingredients in a jar gift very carefully whenever a specific amount is given, erring on the side of scant. There will be occasions when you’re sure all of the ingredients will not fit, but they will. Read more


Whether your family tree is a small sapling or a mighty oak, it can get spendy to buy an individual Christmas gift for every person on the tree. One way cut costs and at the same time bump up the quality of your gift is to start thinking “whole family gifts”—a single gift that every member of a family will enjoy.


Here are six whole family gift ideas to help you get started early—all the way from high-tech gadgets to low tech tickets: Read more


Don’t panic. Father’s Day is a week from Sunday. You still have time to get ready but you need to move quickly. To help you out, I’ve compiled a handy resource list of 16 different gift ideas, starting as low as $5, for that special Dad in your life.

Each of these gifts can be purchased online at Amazon, however that may not be your only resource. I am giving you links to make it as simple as possible for you to shop and compare in the little time you have left. And just so you know, no companies, retailers or manufacturers provided any of these products to us in exchange for an endorsement. My husband and I have purchased these items on our own and created our own reviews and recommendations.

So let’s get started. This first group of gift ideas will appeal to your man …


1. Cordless Drill. There are cordless drills and then there’s this Black & Decker 20-volt Matrix Drill. This thing is amazing. With a 20-volt high-performance motor (serious power for a handheld drill) it’s anything but wimpy and more than able to carry out even the most challenging home improvement and maintenance jobs. Your man will love the quick-charging lithium battery that comes with a charging unit. This baby is is quite a bargain, too. About $60. Read more

Dear Mary,

What percentage of our monthly income should or can be allotted to Christmas gift giving? Michele, Florida

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Dear Michele,

Because gifts are a non-essential expense, I can’t give you a number. You can do this by first determining how much you intend to spend on Christmas. Let’s say it’s $600. Divide by the number of paychecks you will be getting between now and then. If it’s only a few, you’ll need to save a big chunk from each check. But if you’re thinking of Christmas 2013, you have the entire year to save. If you get paid say, twice each month, then as little as $25 from each paycheck will reach the goal of $600.

Read more

There is no way I can list all of the various family situations and dynamics that come into play around the holidays. But a common family angst springs out of the matter of gift-giving.

We are faced with unreasonable expectations, guilt and hurt feelings. The solution? Courage. Courage to give as you want to give, not out of guilt or expectation; courage to spend what you are able, not what others say you must. Courage to get creative and to try something new.

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My family has a tradition that has been going on for more than thirty-five years. When our boys were toddlers, we and our best friends—who have three children about the same ages as our boys, decided to have a family Christmas party early in December. We had such a great time we decided to make it an annual event.  Read more

If you’re looking for a unique gift—one that will have a great deal of meaning for both you and your recipient—I have an idea. It’s called “Journal in a Jar.”

The idea is to assemble in a glass canning jar (or a box or other creative container) everything your recipient needs to write the story of his or her life: journal and pens, or fancy computer paper and a notebook. Possibly the most fun element of this gift is the year’s worth of specific questions that will act as daily idea starters for your recipient’s journal writing.

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Questions like: Why was your name chosen for you? What was happening in the world when you were born? What is your personal secret to happiness? You can include as many questions or prompts as you like, however 365 insures a very complete journal that touches on all areas of a person’s life.  Read more

If you’ve been reading this column for any length of time, you know we’re celebrating Christmas in July. And I’ve got a great idea for turning summer’s bounty into gifts for the holidays.

Given how easy it is to grow basil, this year I’m making gifts of pesto—specifically Pesto alla Genovese (peh-sto geh-no-VEH-zeh).


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Whether you grow it or buy it, basil is the main ingredient in this gourmet food item that is sure to please just about everyone on your gift list.  Read more