When I was (really) little my dad took me to a store just before Christmas and we bought a thimble as a Christmas present from me to my mom. And my mom took me to a store to buy with me a tiny leather coin purse in the shape of a mouse for me to give to my dad for Christmas. It was a lesson on giving within your means that has lasted until today. As a newly married many years later I was quite upset when my husband and I were coerced by his siblings to contribute to a new dishwasher for his mother, which was not within our means at the time and we had to scrape the money together. He comes from a family that believes in the direct relationship between the amount of money spent on a present and how much you love someone. I remember him telling me of selling his skates as a youngster to buy a present for Mother's Day, which still makes me sad.
I believe that it is the thought that counts. We all go through times where we have to watch what we spend. Nevertheless, it feels good to give and we want to express our love and appreciation. As a teenager I always made my own presents, needlework, crocheted items, sewn items. I love receiving homemade food items. Whether it's a jar of honey from your own hives, homemade bread, sausage, mustard, herb infused oil or vinegar, cookies - I so appreciate such a present. I like crafted items, too - a pillow, napkins, a table runner. When my children were little and went to a small Waldorf kindergarten they made candles with applied wax motifs - beautiful. My 14-year old daughter is learning to sew and has made aprons, pyjama pants, tote bags, and much much more - all terrific low cost gifts with a personal touch. I used to receive coupon booklets from my children, such as for sharpening knives, emptying the dishwasher, or folding the laundry, all tedious jobs to me. How about coupons for grown-ups for babysitting, cooking a meal, or running errands?
Lastly, the packaging can really make your gift shine and sparkle and makes it special. You can do so much with colorful tissue paper in a few colors, some sparkle, and some pretty fabric ribbon (I stock up whenever it's on sale at a crafts store). I have even wrapped presents in newspaper, which can look really cool, and I always recycle pretty ribbons and gift bags if they are in good condition.