Festive Fivers

Top Christmas presents for under a fiver

Take inspiration from the MSE Forum and you'll find Christmas gifting doesn't mean spending big – all that's required is a little imagination, a bit of effort and a few quid.

Festive Fivers is a pre-Christmas contest we've run on several occasions in the MSE Forum. The aim? To come up with the cleverest, weirdest and most practical present ideas to make or buy, for a kid or grown-up, for around £5. Each year it was held, we sieved through heaps of ingenious ideas from Forumites and went on to pick a winning idea/s. You can see every suggestion in the Forum threads, which form a substantial database of inspiration. 

Here are the threads for each year the contest ran, plus the winning idea:

Festive Fivers 2005 – Tesco Deals Day Out suggested by afro_2
Festive Fivers 2007 – Take an Away Day for a quid suggested by jenny_hullock
Festive Fivers 2012 – The 12 dates of Christmas suggested by lil_liz

(Be aware that some costs will have gone up since the competitions.)

We've collated the best ideas from 2012, the most recent contest. You might also like our 40+ Xmas MoneySaving Tips.

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The top three

  1. The 12 dates of Christmas

    Date night package for someone you love

    Buy/make: Make it. 
    Cost: £5

    For a winning gift that will not only make someone's Christmas, but the whole year ahead too, try 'the 12 dates of Christmas'.

    All you need to do is plan a date for each month of the new year for you and your loved one, be it a picnic in the park, a late night at the free Natural History Museum or a candlelit bubble bath.

    Once you've planned your dates, write each activity on a card and pop it in an envelope (labelled for each month). Place them all in a decorated gift or shoe box with an explanation of how it all works.

    We did have reservations on this one, since the extra costs involved (such as, transport) could take you over the £5 limit, but it was such a lovely idea that we decided to crown it our winner anyway.

  2. The paint sample calendar

    A wipe-clean calendar made with paint sample cards

    Buy/make: Make it. 
    Cost: around £5

    If you know someone whose calendar is crammed with events (or crossings-out), this reuseable calendar made from free paint colour sample cards is the perfect gift.

    All you need is a collection of paint sample cards (try your nearest B&Q), a large glass picture frame (about £5 from Wilko or Ikea) and a bit of creative flair. Cut the cards to size and glue onto the back of the frame. See the example below for inspiration, and get collecting.

    Read the Cheltenham Road blog, where you can find a step-by-step guide on how to make your own.

  3. Santa sleigh bell

    (Kids' spoiler alert...) A fallen bell from 'Santa's sleigh'

    Buy/make: Buy it
    Cost: £2-5

    This is sure to make the kids' eyes as wide as their smiles. Simply buy a sleigh bell (£1 or £2 on eBay), then attach it to a piece of ribbon. On Christmas Eve, put it in the garden somewhere visible from inside the house. In the morning, 'spot' the bell and point it out to your child. They'll feel really special to find a bell from Father Christmas's own sleigh.

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Ideas for adults

  1. Hidden compartment book

    Hollow out a book and stash your valuables inside

    Buy/make: Make it. 
    Cost: £2-5

    Keep your precious items (anything from your iPad to your secret stash of M&Ms) concealed from prying eyes in this old-school hidden compartment book.

    To make it, buy a hardback book from a charity shop and hollow out the pages by following this tutorial.

    You could also use it to stow less attractive essentials, such as TV remote controls.

  2. Scrabble picture print

    Arrange Scrabble tiles into words. Take a photo, print, frame

    Buy/make: Make it. 
    Cost: £3-5

    Scrabble-related merchandise is fashionable but often way over-priced. However, you can make your own Scrabble picture print simply by arranging the tiles to spell the recipient's name (or kids' names, a cool quote etc), taking a photo of it and framing the print. Score.

  3. Homemade vinyl wall clock

    One clock mechanism + one old record = homemade vintage clock

    Buy/make: Make it. 
    Cost: £5

    A practical present for your music-mad friend or family member that takes a matter of minutes (time yourself if you don't believe us). Simply buy a cheap vinyl from a record store or charity shop and a clock mechanism (available on eBay for a few pounds). Enlarge the hole on the record if necessary and attach the mechanism.

  4. Word cloud wall print

    A personalised 'word cloud'

    Buy/make: Make it. 
    Cost: £4

    Personalised 'word cloud' prints go for a pretty penny when bought from trendy retailers, but you can make your own for just the cost of the frame.

    Create a free word cloud on the website EdWordle by typing in words and/or phrases you associate with the recipient, such as special places, favourites things and in-jokes. Add as many words as you can, repeating words which hold more significance (the more times a word is repeated, the bigger it appears in the cloud).

    Once you're done, hit "go" and your word cloud will appear. Try out different formats until you're happy, then save to your computer and print. Now all you need is a cheap frame - try Wilko or Ikea.

  5. Antique teacup candle

    Melt old candle stubs into a pretty old teacup

    Buy/make: Make it. 
    Cost: £5

    These cost a pretty penny in shops, but you can make your own for less than £5. Follow these simple steps:

    1. Buy a pretty teacup (try thrift shops, car boot sales and eBay), a candle wick (at any craft store), a washer and some old candle stubs.

    2. Tie one end of the wick to a washer and the other around the centre of a pencil.

    3. Use a bain-marie (a bowl placed over a pan of simmering water) to melt the old candles, then pour into your teacup.

    4. Wait overnight for the wax to completely harden, trim the wick and remove the pencil.

    5. Pop into a cellophane bag and tie with a ribbon.

  6. Homemade herbal tea

    Posh tea recipes for homemade blends

    Buy/make: Make it. 
    Cost: £4-5

    Herbal tea can set you back quite a bit. So these recipes for homemade blends make fab MoneySaving alternatives.

    Sleeptime tea: camomile, lemon balm, passiflora, rosebuds.

    De-stress tea: camomile, lemon balm, passiflora, mint.

    Simply mix together 10g each of your desired ingredients (buy them from a health food shop) in a jar or a small plastic bag, and tie with a ribbon.

  7. Gardeners' plant marker stones

    To keep tabs on which plants, flowers and herbs are which

    Buy/make: Both. 
    Cost: £3.50

    If you know someone who can't tell their rosemary from their thyme, try making these cute little marker stones. Buy some flat stones (it's illegal to collect them from the beach) and paint pictures or write the gardener's fave plants' names on them. Once dry, varnish, so they're weatherproof.

  8. Fir cone birdseed feeder

    Have fun feeding the birdies

    Buy/make: Make it. 
    Cost: £1-2

    Give the gift of nature with a simple, cheap homemade bird feeder. Collect the biggest fir cones you can find (the best time to do this is after strong winds, and before the squirrels get them) and twist some wire around the bases. Dip in some melted lard, roll in mixed bird seed and poke some raisins in the gaps.

  9. Memory jar

    Photos, drawings & handwritten memories

    Buy/make: Make it. 
    Cost: £0-2

    What could be more comforting at the end of a long and difficult day than a jar full of memories from someone you love? Write memories, stick photos or draw pictures of the person the gift is for on business card-sized pieces of card and pop them in a jar.

  10. Plant pot surprise

    Unnamed herbs for a surprise recipe

    Buy/make: Buy it. 
    Cost: £4-5

    Choose a recipe or two which call for herbs. Then buy the seeds and a plant pot from a garden centre. Decorate the plant pot and attach the recipe, but don't say what the herb is (eg, ‘recipe for garlic and ---- foccacia bread').

    Plant the seeds in the pot and tell the recipient they'll have to wait for it to grow to find out what they can use the recipe for.

    Alternatively, you could do the same with flowers, but leave a cryptic clue instead of a recipe and see if they can guess what it is (eg, bovine error = cowslip; please remember me = forget-me-not, etc).

  11. iJoke

    Forget an iPad - an iJoke is way cheaper

    Buy/make: Both. 
    Cost: £0-5

    This makes for a fun joke present for the Apple fanatic in your life. Grab random items from around the house or buy some small items.

    Then use a marker pen to draw the Apple logo and then write the item's name underneath preceded by the letter ‘i' to create your very own Apple products. iComb, iSpatula and iSaw are but a few...

  12. Button/scrabble/lego magnets

    DIY magnets

    Buy/make: Make it. 
    Cost: £5

    For funky fridge magnets that cost next to nothing to make, buy a set of small magnets from eBay. Then simply superglue them to the backs of buttons, scrabble letters, bits of Lego, etc. Leave to dry before sticking them on the fridge.

  13. Fizzy scented bath bombs

    These are da bomb!

    Buy/make: Make it. 
    Cost: £5

    Mix together 1kg of sodium bicarbonate and 500g of citric acid in a large bowl until they're well combined. Add a few drops of any food colouring and flavouring you like, such as vanilla extract, cocoa powder or coffee granules.

    Gradually add a few drops of water whilst continuing to stir until the mixture resembles damp sand. (Squash a small amount together in your hand. If it holds its shape, it's ready.)

    Mould the bombs using anything you have to hand, such as cookie cutters, small paper cups or cake cases, then decorate with sprinkles. When finished, leave to dry for 48 hours, then wrap in cling film or Cellophane bags.

    They look good enough to eat, so it's always a good idea to attach a 'do not eat' warning, just in case.

  14. Festive fleece pet bed

    For the pet owner in your life

    Buy/make: Make it. 
    Cost: £5

    A practical gift for a pet lover (and their pet).You'll need an old fleece (not V-neck), some stuffing, wool/yarn, a large needle, and very basic sewing skills.

    Extra large jumpers will make a bed to fit a smaller dog, standard sizes suit cats and little dogs. Kids' fleece jumpers can make beds for smaller pets, such as rabbits, guinea pigs and rats.

    Just gather all the materials and follow this online tutorial.

  15. Student/bachelor 'cookbook'

    Collate all the best takeaway menus for this joke present

    Buy/make: Make it. 
    Cost: £1-5

    Buy a ring binder and decorate the front with 'student cookbook' (or bachelor/lazy man/lazy woman). Gather heaps of takeaway menus local to the recipient and display them inside.

    You could even write the following 'recipe' on the first page:

    1. Choose food

    2. Phone number

    3. Pay delivery man/woman

    4. Eat food.

  16. Kids' homemade movies

    A great gift for Gramps/way to embarrass your kids later on

    Buy/make: Make it. 
    Cost: £5

    Record footage of your children at birthdays and on family holidays, then download it on to cheap DVDs (available at pound shops) to give as gifts to their grandparents for Christmas.

  17. Personalised e-reader case

    A book jacket for the digital age

    Buy/make: Both. 
    Cost: approx £5

    The art of sewing meets the digital age. There are lots of ideas for different styles of homemade e-reader case over on the All Womens Talk blog.

    You'll need nice fabric for the exterior, plain fabric for the interior, some cotton quilt batting, a piece of elastic, a sewing machine (or needle and thread) and some faith in your ability!

  18. Homemade jam

    Kirstie Allsopp, eat your heart out!

    Buy/make: Make it. 
    Cost: £1-2

    Here's a present that's fun for the maker and the recipient. Go for a nice walk and hunt for some blackberry bushes (or another fruit, if you prefer). Collect 500g, buy jam sugar, and a lemon and use a simple recipe from the internet. Recycle old jam jars and decorate the lid with some nice material.

  19. Personalised calendar

    Turn your snaps into a practical present

    Buy/make: Buy it. 
    Cost: approx £5

    A personalised calendar is a great gift idea, as it's practical and bang on budget. Check the Cheap Photo Deals page for the latest calendar offers and follow the simple steps to create one.

  20. Cinema sitting

    Send your friend to the flicks and babysit their little'uns

    Buy/make: Buy it. 
    Cost: £5

    Perfect for a friend/family member with young children, this is a double-sided present that includes cinema tickets and a babysitter for the night (you). A night at the flicks isn't cheap. Yet find a cinema deal and you might be able to get a ticket for less than a fiver, or two tickets for around £7 - leaving spare change for a packet of wine gums.

    Also see the Meerkat Movies trick for how to get a year's 2for1 pass for a few quid.

  21. Button canvas/hearts

    Be the next Damien Hirst for less than a fiver

    Buy/make: Make it. 
    Cost: £5

    Create your own minimalist art by sewing buttons on shapes on to a blank canvas.

    You could also make stylish button hearts by threading vintage buttons (buy from eBay) on to a length of wire and twisting into the shape of a heart. Tie a bit of vintage lace around and you have a lovely decoration.

    Make enough and you could use them as wedding favours.

  22. Chilli oil

    For those who like it hot

    Buy/make: Make it. 
    Cost: Around £5

    A firm festive favourite, oils and vinegars are a cinch to make for pals, especially if making in bulk.

    Save a nice bottle (or buy one) and put in one tablespoon of chilli flakes, 10 whole peppercorns and a whole dried chilli inside. Fill with olive oil (stock up when on half price) and leave to infuse for a couple of months.

    Lastly, make and print a homemade label for the front of the bottle and tie festive ribbon round the neck.

  23. Alice in Wonderland treats

    Take your recipient down the rabbit hole

    Buy/make: Make it. 
    Cost: £5

    Make your own 'Alice treats'.

    To make, fill a gift box with the following items:

    • A paper rose (you can make this)
    • A teacup and saucer (from a charity shop) filled with chocolate mice and foam mushroom sweets (from a sweet shop)
    • A pocket watch necklace (from eBay)
    • A bottle of red nail varnish (try pound shops)
    • A deck of cards (try pound shops).

    Attach a luggage tag containing a quote from the book to each item:

    • "Eat me" to the mushrooms;
    • "Drink me" to the nail polish (obviously don't!);
    • "Who's been painting my roses red?" to the rose;
    • "You've no right to grow here!" to the mice chocolates;
    • "Not me, your grace! The ace, the ace!" to the cards;
    • "I'm late! I'm late! For a very important date" to the pocket watch necklace and
    • "How about a nice cup of tea?" to the cup and saucer.

    Decorate the outside of the box with pictures or pages from the book.

  24. A chance to win the jackpot

    A once-a-year flutter

    Buy/make: Buy it. 
    Cost: £1-£5

    Lottery scratchcards or tickets make great gifts. They're something people might not buy for themselves and could just be the best gift they ever receive. Who knows, they might even share their winnings if they're lucky enough to win!

  25. Family photo

    Frame an old favourite or take a new one

    Buy/make: Make it. 
    Cost: £4-5

    Often, everyone's too busy having a good time at Christmas to get together for a family snap. But giving photo frames to the whole clan is a great reminder and allows everyone to remember a happy time together.

  26. Homemade recipe book

    Easy reci-peasy!

    Buy/make: Both. 
    Cost: £3 for an A6 notebook

    Grab a pretty notebook (Paperchase has some nice ones) and line its pages with a few of your favourite recipes.

    If you're any good at art, you could add some illustrations (or cheat by cutting some nice pics from magazines). You could make a date to cook one of the recipes together.

  27. Personalised framed family tree

    A gene-ious prezzie idea

    Buy/make: Buy it. 
    Cost: £4-5

    Spark your child's creativity by getting them to help you make a personalised family tree, perhaps to be passed down the generations. There are loads of family tree templates online you can print off and fill in. Or you could try drawing your own. Frame it in a cheap frame from Wilko or Ikea.

  28. Dress-up napkins

    Necktie napkins for dishevelled diners

    Buy/make: Make it.
    Cost: £1-2

    Give your men-folk a subtle dressing-down while simultaneously dressing them up, with homemade paper necktie napkins. Sadly these don't appear to be available to buy in the UK anymore, but you could attempt your own by purchasing a pack of white paper napkins and another of black. Cut out a tie shape with the black and pin or lightly glue the tie in place on the white.

  29. Scented sugar

    A girly gift that's cheap and sweet

    Buy/make: Make it. 
    Cost: £5 for three

    Jars of scented sugar go for at least £5 a pop in shops, but you can easily make them at home for a third of the cost.

    All you need is three clean jars, a bag of granulated sugar and one or more of the following scents/flavours, all of which you can either buy from a supermarket or forage in the kitchen:

    • A vanilla pod
    • Fresh lavender sprigs
    • Cinnamon sticks
    • Orange, lemon or lime peel (dry for a day first)
    • Rose petals

    Once in the jar, screw the lid on tight and leave for 1-2 weeks. These can be made up to two months in advance, but make earlier to give them a longer shelf life.

The judging panel

With all the great entries, the MSE judges (Archna, Helen S, Debs B and Martin, of course) had a tough time choosing winners. But after lengthy deliberation, discussions and some hard and fast defence of our favourites, we finally agreed on our top picks. And remember, cheesy as it sounds, any idea that comes from the heart is a winner.

Ideas for kids

  1. Activity scrapbook

    A homemade pack full of activity ideas & materials

    Buy/make: Both. 
    Cost: £3-4

    This is a great gift for children, but parents will be grateful too, come a rainy day. Just gather activity ideas from books and the web, such as scientific experiments and how to make your own jewellery.

    Pop the instructions and materials into an envelope bearing a picture of the craft/project on the front.

    It takes some time and effort to find suitable activities/projects, but once you get started, you might find you have fun in the process.

  2. Chocolate slab

    Hotel Chocolat, eat your heart out!

    Buy/make: Make it. 
    Cost: £2-5

    Chocolate slabs cost £7+ in posh chocolate shops, but irresistible homemade equivalents are super-easy and cheap to make.


    • A silicone cake or loaf tin (£1 from pound shops)
    • 2 x 40p(ish) bars of cheap milk chocolate (this doesn't work with high quality chocolate)
    • 1 x 40p(ish) bars of cheap white chocolate (try Lidl)
    • Chocolates to decorate, eg, Maltesers
    • A clear bag and some ribbon (try Card Factory)

    To make:

    1. Melt the chocolate, either in a bain marie or in the microwave (if using a microwave, melt in 30 second bursts and leave 20 seconds between each go).

    2. Pour into the silicone tray and decorate using the 'extras'.

    3. Leave in the fridge overnight and once set, pop out of the mould.

    4. Package in cellophane and tie with a ribbon.

  3. Reindeer droppings

    AKA delicious balls of fudge

    Buy/make: Make them. 
    Cost: £4

    Don't worry, they're made of fudge. Use one of the many recipes on the internet to make the mixture, then when almost set, roll it into little balls to resemble reindeer droppings. Pop them in cellophane bags, sprinkle on some 'snow' (icing sugar) and label them "Fresh Reindeer Droppings".

  4. Ingredients for Eton Mess

    Yummy treat for sticky little hands

    Buy/make: Make it. 
    Cost: £5

    This is cheap, easy to do and will delight any nippers who love to make a mess and enjoy sugary treats (pretty much everyone under 10).

    Buy a cheap whisk and bowl, plus a box of ready-made meringues. Pop the box of meringues and whisk in a bowl. Print and include the easy recipe below, then tie the lot with some ribbon or festive wrapping.

    This is my promise to spend time with you to make this easy peasy Eton Mess. We just need strawberries, a small pot of double cream and a tablespoon of sugar.

    When it comes to making the Eton Mess, cut the strawberries in half, sprinkle with sugar and mash together. Add this to the double cream you've whipped until thick, and crumble in the meringues. Pop in the fridge for half an hour before eating the delicious mess you've created.

  5. Personalised selection box

    All their favourite chocs in one box

    Buy/make: Make it. 
    Cost: £3+

    Selection boxes are synonymous with Christmas. But chances are you won't get all their favourite choccy bars in one set. What if they love Crunchies and Maltesers equally?

    The solution: make your own for roughly the same cost of buying one, with a personalised touch to boot.

    Get an old shoebox, cover it in festive paper and line with tissue paper or straw. Nestle in the choccy bars and tie with a nice, big bow.

  6. Story cubes game

    Dice with pictures on each face to spark story ideas

    Buy/make: Make it. 
    Cost: £3

    Foster would-be writers' imaginations with a story cube, a dice with pictures used to make up stories. They're flying off the shelves this Christmas, but the good news is you can make them for next to nothing.

    Buy some card and use this die template to make five dice. Print pictures of animals, objects, people - anything that will spark a story idea - and stick one on each face.

    Now get creative. Take it in turns to throw the dice and create a sentence or story based on the pictures that come up. It's simple, cheap and fun for all the family.

  7. Hot chocolate cones

    Cute hot chocolate gift sets

    Buy/make: Make it. 
    Cost: £5

    Take some nice hot chocolate (look out for offers in supermarkets) and spoon it into a cellophane cone (you can buy these on eBay) until half full.

    Twist and tape the top closed and trim any excess. Slip this into another cone (of the same size) and sprinkle mini marshmallows on top.

    Twist and tie the top with ribbon and stick a candy cane to the front. Print a label with instructions on how to make hot chocolate.

  8. Freebie friendship bracelets

    Make DIY kits or just DIY

    Buy/make: Make it. 
    Cost: free

    Finally, a great use for the little ribbons sewn into women's clothing (designed to help you hang things). Either plait them into bracelets yourself and give to children. You could even make up do-it-yourself kits, complete with instructions. A great way to keep children and adults alike occupied on Christmas Day.

  9. Finger fairytale tattoos

    Temporary tattoos for your little ones' fingers

    Buy/make: Buy it.
    Cost: £1.49

    The temporary tattoos featured in this entry no longer exist, although there are lots of different variations now available online. We found 100s on Amazon. They are usually suitable for children aged 3+, but check before buying.

  10. Treasure hunt

    Hide the presents for a fun Christmas morning

    Buy/make: Make it. 
    Cost: £5

    Christmas brings out the inner child in most of us, making this treasure hunt great for children and adults alike. Hide mini chocolate bars around the house with clues attached to each one, eventually leading to the recipient's Christmas present.

  11. Bake-it-yourself kit

    All the ingredients for a great bake

    Buy/make: Buy it. 
    Cost: £5

    The great thing about this baking kit is that it can be really simple or more involved, depending on your skill, time constraints and budget.

    For a simple set, buy cheaper baking items, such as cake tins, cookie cutters and tea towels from pound shops. Pop them in a nice bag/box along with some handwritten recipes.

    If you want to go a step further, add handmade oven gloves, treats you've baked yourself or ingredients for one of the recipes you've written out.

  12. Paint-your-own bird box

    A DIY present for twitchers young and old

    Buy/make: Buy it
    Cost: £5.59 via Amazon Prime

    These mini bird boxes are designed for children to personalise with brightly coloured paints and would make great Christmas presents for other children and adults alike. What a tweet!

    (Since 2012, this item has jumped up in price so slightly breaches the £5 limit. But keep an eye on Amazon, eBay and charity shops as prices and products change all the time.)

  13. Give a bar of life saving soap...

    For charity

    Buy/make: Buy it
    Cost: £5 including delivery

    For a fiver you can teach your child about charity giving by buying a bar of life saving soap. The donation to Oxfam will not only help keep people clean, but it can reduce the incidence of life-threatening conditions like diarrhoea. If you like that, you'll love our rundown of wonderful and weird Charity Gifts, which includes how much goes to good causes.

  14. Personalised magnetic scene

    Stick it on the fridge for hours of fun

    Buy/make: Make it. 
    Cost: £1-2

    These personalised magnetic games are great fun for kids to play with. (Due to the small pieces, they’re not suitable for under-threes.)

    All you need is:

    1. A pack of magnetic paper (try a pound shop)

    2. Photos of the recipient and family/friends

    3. Picture of a scene (eg, underwater, prehistoric, Victorian)

    4. Pictures of suitable objects (eg, fish, dinosaurs)

    Print the scene onto one piece of the magnetic paper and the photos or pictures on to the other. Present them in a little pack for little ones to open. 

    Wrap it up as desired (best to keep it away from electronic items though) and watch them have hours of fun as they stick the pictures onto the background and create different personalised scenes. This can be displayed on a fridge or put away afterwards. Please keep them out of babies' reach.

  15. Wooden toys

    Traditional toys kids will love

    Buy/make: Buy it
    Cost: £5

    Traditional toys can still make great gifts. Check out the wooden toys available for under a fiver at The Wooden Toy Catalogue (delivery's £4.99).

  16. Balloon surprise

    A winning entry from 2005 we still love

    Buy/make: Make it. 
    Cost: £1-2

    Young children don’t value your gifts based on the price - often being more interested in playing with the wrapping than the gifts - so don’t shell out big bucks without need.

    A perennial favourite of the contest is the balloon box. Get a huge box, fill it tight with blown-up balloons, then wrap it. It’ll be the most adored few quid you’ll ever spend – though carefully supervise it so burst balloon-bits stay out of little mouths.

    Please keep them out of babies' reach as balloons can choke young children.

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