Northern Division: Serving every county in Minnesota and North Dakota
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Thrift Gift Guide: Low cost, big meaning

Added on Monday, November 27, 2017

Written by Haley Earley, manager of donor offers at The Salvation Army Northern Division

Have you ever considered visiting a Salvation Army Store for your Christmas shopping? Whether you are looking to stay within a budget or need a gift idea for the person who has everything, the items that line our stores’ aisles run deep with potential. Below you’ll find meaningful gift ideas for your loved ones that won’t leave you short on cash, and can be easily found or created using items at most of our stores.

Start by finding the skill-set that describes you – the crafter, the maker, the shopper or the traditionalist – and we’ll share tangible ways you can put that skill-set to use in finding the perfect gift.

For the crafter

If you’re good at being crafty and have time for a DIY project, this list is for you. You can update a gently-used item to meet the specific style or needs of the person you’re shopping for. Here’s a few examples of what others have done:

  • Give a lamp a facelift – Find a lamp that you like the share of, recognizing that you can paint over any cosmetic blemishes the piece may have. You’ll then be able to select paint to match a friend’s living room and create a truly one-of-a-kind gift. Either cover the current lampshade with a fun or neutral fabric, or splurge for a new shade to complete the look. Here’s an example of one way you could style your lamp.
  • Personalized mug – Wandering the aisles of your local Salvation Army Store, and you’re bound to see a shelf full of coffee mugs. Search for a white mug or one in a solid color. Use a paint pen specifically designed for porcelain to write an inside joke, favorite quote, or their name surrounded by descriptors that will encourage them with each sip of coffee. Be sure to follow the paint pen’s instructions to set the paint properly.
  • Clothing redesign – Whether you’re a talented sewer or new to the skill, there are numerous tutorials online to redesign an old shirt into something fresh. You can create a new piece of clothing, or go an even simpler route and use the fabric to create an apron, dog-collar bandana, baby bib, or basic handkerchief.
  • Vase with a pop – Looking for a quick project? Pick up a few vases and dip them in a paint color of your choice. Fill with fresh flowers to make a great gift for your holiday hosts.
  • Frame of mind – Picture frames are expensive when you’re purchasing them brand new, which is why it’s a great idea to snag a few the next time you’re at a Salvation Army Store. You can insert a photo memory, create a special framed quote for a custom gift, or make a gratefulness frame. To create a gratefulness frame, simply use a fun piece of paper and hand-write the words, “I’m grateful for…” Then place behind the glass. Pair your gift with a set of white board markers and an example post like “I’m grateful for… YOU!”
  • Kitchenware planter – Think outside the box when you walk around the store. As shown in the picture, an old kitchen pan can become a rustic and stylish planter.

For the maker

If you are lacking in artistic ability, have no fear! Here are a few ideas that require simple instruction and the ability to combine ingredients. All of these require you to purchase are mason jars from your local Salvation Army Store. Not only are mason jars trendy, there always seems to be an abundance of them at our stores.

  • Bath Salts – Creating your own bath salts requires two basic ingredients: essential oils and Epsom salts. From there you can customize your recipe with dried lavender, oatmeal, dried flower petals, and more. A quick search will bring up endless options to find a most relaxing and skin nourishing options.
  • Recipe in a jar – For you bakers out there, you probably already have many of the ingredients to make a few recipe jars for loved ones. A few favorite recipes include hot chocolate, soups, and cookie mixes. Be sure to attach a recipe card with instructions.
  • Baked goods – Instead of including the ingredients, go ahead and have a day full of baking. Whether it’s homemade granola, cookies, biscotti, or chocolate covered pretzels, your yummy gift will be an immediate crowd-pleaser. Fill out a recipe card as a delicious bonus.
  • Plant starter kit – Fill your mason jar halfway with small rocks, place a bulb of your choice on top (Amaryllis is a classic option), finish off with a nice ribbon and watering instructions. Here’s a great example if you aren’t able to imagine the beauty of this gift option.
  • Candle – Who knew making your own candles was so easy? Pick up some wax chips, essential oils, and candle wicks to melt, mix, and fill your mason jar with scented long-lasting goodness. Attach a book of matches for an added touch.

For the shopper

Don’t really feel like you’re a crafter or a maker? No problem! Here are a few wrapping-inspired options that can be found at most Salvation Army Stores. A little shopping, some nice tissue paper, and you’re good to gift. No wrapping required.

  • Baskets – Create a themed meal for the family to enjoy. For example, make an Italian meal by including pasta and sauce, a loaf of French bread, some fun utensils, and a spoon rest. You might even be able to find some kitchen decorations or a new set of dish towels to add a final touch to your basket.
  • Popcorn bucket – Create an activity-based bucket, such as a movie night theme. Include popcorn, a blanket, slippers, a classic movie, a few favorite candies, and some local sodas in the classic glass bottles. Still some room? Add in a few card games to help bring the family together.
  • Large jar – Large jars are the standard for any gift set or survival-themed gift. You can fill your jar with bathroom basics, baby toys, or nail care items for a mani-pedi theme.
  • Bag – Whether it’s a casual bag or a fancy purse, you can fill it with plenty of fun items. Create a beach bag by filling it with beach towels, sand toys, a beach ball, and a pair of sandals. Snag a purse and add some little make up items, like nail polish, lip gloss, and eye shadow for a gift some little girl will love.
  • Suitcase – Look for a suitcase, then take another trip around the store. As you go,  look for fun clothing items to create a kids dress up kit. This is such a simple way to engage their imagination. Thinking of an older crowd? Try filling the suitcase with road trip items, like a map, travel blanket and pillow, snack foods, a disposable camera, and car games.

For the traditionalist

On occasion, the Salvation Army Stores will receive donations of new items. This is a great opportunity to purchase a gift that only needs wrapping. If you like to keep things simple, here’s your best options when available.

  • Hand towels – Every so often, you can find new hand towels available in seasonal designs. Purchase one for each holiday and you’ll leave your mark on their home year-round.
  • Books – New or like-new books are donated frequently. Look around for an option that suits your friend’s taste. At such a low price, you might as well grab a few to set them up for a winter of hibernating by the fire…or a heat duct!
  • Clothes – Know your loved one’s clothing sizes? Peek through the clothing racks and you might find some new-with-tag items just ripe for gifting.
  • Kitchen appliances – Duplicate weddings gifts often end up at our donation door. Here’s an opportunity to pick up a new crock pot or a rice maker for the holidays.
  • Furniture – This is your chance to get a bargain deal on new or slightly used furniture items to help the recent college graduate, the new homeowner, or someone in the throes of a home decor redesign.

The Gift that Gives Twice

When you shop for a present at one of our Salvation Army Stores, your gift gives twice! While your loved one will enjoy the present, the proceeds from your purchase will go on to support Salvation Army programs that are improving livings.

Feeling inspired? Visit one of the Salvation Army Stores in Minnesota and North Dakota. Take a walk around with an open mind as you look for inspiration. Come up with a new idea? Feel free to share it with us by using the hashtag #ThriftGift on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Before you go, check out this related story on about why our stores are an untapped goldmine.

Poverty is an everyday battle. People experiencing poverty are not without hope – their lives are just harder than they should be. The Salvation Army is helping to make their lives a little easier, thanks to your gifts of time and money. Join us in the fight for good by giving online or donating at a red kettle, becoming a volunteer bell ringer, or recruiting your own army as a fundraiser on Learn more about how The Salvation Army fights poverty in your community.