When I was in the US last month on a work related trip, I was on a pretty tight budget. One of the biggest ways I saved money on my trip was by not staying at hotels or going to (many) restaurants, and instead, eating and sleeping at friends' houses (and the occasional stranger that my work contact set me up with) while there.
I live in a community where people gladly host people all the time, to sleep over and for meals, without expecting a hostess gift in return. Sometimes, guests will offer to bring something, but if they don't, we don't think they're rude- we host because we want to do good deeds and help people out, not because we expect or want anything in return. And when we do go out in my community, like to a dinner at someone's house, the standard "hostess gift" is to offer to bring a dish to contribute to the meal, and even that is generally offered in advance, and many hostesses will turn down the offer.
So yes, hostess gifts aren't a big deal to me.
However, I don't want to be a rude guest, and I know customs vary from community to community, and I definitely wanted to show my hosts that I really appreciated the efforts they made to host me. I knew I definitely needed to bring hostess gifts with me.
At the same time, I was on a tight budget, and had limited space with me to bring hostess gifts. So I was trying to figure out what nice hostess gift I could give that wouldn't cost me too much money, but would be appreciated. I couldn't bring any delicious home cooked foods, like a plate of cookies... But was at a loss...
Facebook to the rescue.
When I posted on Facebook, looking for ideas of what to give for hostess gifts that would be nice, would be appreciated, and wouldn't break the bank, nearly all of them had the same thought- give them homemade, specialty, "artisan" soaps. Because while making soap doesn't cost me too much money, it is worth a lot more, if I compare it to other homemade artisan soaps sold by crafters, etc... And they are compact and don't take up too much room in a suitcase.
I decided to give gift baskets, filled with 2 different types of artisan soaps, as well as a bottle of hand cream made with a specialty local ingredient that can be bought relatively cheaply here, but is expensive and hard to find in the US. A friend even directed me to a shop that sold these at the lowest cost.
I settled upon making two types of soap- one goat's milk, oatmeal, and vanilla soap (all really nourishing ingredients, which make the soap even more "special" and beneficial), as well as a turmeric lemon soap (turmeric is also a natural food coloring, as well as being used to treat heal skin conditions such as eczema).
Unfortunately, despite my hard work, my two batches of soap did not come out. My vanilla in the goat's milk soap caused it to change color and become a dark brown, and the fat in the goat's milk soap made it not solidify as it should. And for some reason, the turmeric lemon soap didn't either harden up nicely.
Instead of throwing them out and starting from scratch, I researched how I could fix up these flops.
I ended up remelting each of the soaps- I added some chopped previously made plain old white soap to the goat's milk, and melted some of it in, and left the rest in chunks. This time it thickened nicely, and I tried to make the tops "fancier" by making a design on it.
Once cut up, they looked decent, like white chocolate chip chunks in oatmeal cookies... :-D I decided to name this soap "Cookies and Milk".
The lemon and turmeric soap I also remelted and mixed with plain old white soap, plus some table salt- this helped harden the soap up as well as make it more exfoliating. I did something funky with the top, and this soap ended up with a white and yellow swirl. I named this soap "Lemon Meringue Pie".
When dry, I wrapped them in plastic wrap, and then added white labels that I bought (20 for 1 dollar) at the dollar store. On each label, I tried writing in as fancy writing/drawing as I could, the name of the soap, a little picture representing the name, as well as a list of the ingredients and what it was good for. I also wrapped each soap with some gold ribbon (another dollar store purchase).
Those I put in baskets I bought from the dollar store- 50 cents a piece, together with the hand creams, and wrapped them with cellophane (another dollar store purchase) and tied with some more ribbon. I took this pic at home before I left, but for the sake of saving space, etc... I assembled the baskets at each place I stayed, before giving it to my hosts.
I think they came out looking nice, were special, didn't cost me too much to make, but didn't look cheapskate. I don't mind investing energy in gifts- its the money I don't have...
For the last leg of my trip, I stayed with my sister in law, Michelle, and brother in law, David, for the weekend. They have two little kids- a 3 year old boy and a 5 year old girl, and I had never met my nephew, and hadn't seen my niece since she was 2, so I really didn't know what they were like, but did want to bring them gifts, since I was the aunt coming from overseas...
In the end, I got my sister in law two big bottles of specialty hand cream made with a local ingredient (that I bought at a discount store), and picked out 4 small cheap "boy themed" coloring books for my nephew, and another 4 cheap girly coloring books for my niece. (Total for all the coloring books was $5.) I also got my nephew a nice button down shirt that I saw with a terrific price, and got my niece a little purse that was hot pink and had a giant frilly flower on the front. (Each, again, super cheap- a little more than a dollar a piece.)
My niece and nephew absolutely loved their gifts!!!
Altogether I did not spend a lot of money on preparing gifts, I think I ended up doing a good job. It is possible to give nice hostess gifts without breaking the bank, or coming across an ungrateful cheapskate.
In your circles, are hostess gifts given/expected? What are the standard hostess gifts? What do you do to keep down the costs, or do you not try to keep down the costs when it comes to gifting, because it feels like a lack of appreciation to you, or for some other reason?