The Best Personalized Gift Under $5

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At the end of a year that saw inflation reach a 41-year high, there may not be much (or anything) left in your annual budget to spend on holiday gifts for friends and family. If that’s the case, and you haven’t already done so, now would be a good time to talk to loved ones you usually exchange gifts with, and come to some sort of agreement about limitations—at least for this year.

Whether that looks like a Secret Santa or white elephant arrangement, or a price limit on gifts, it’s entirely possible to give someone a personalized, thoughtful present for under $5, using a cheap picture frame and some creativity. Here’s what to know.

What to put in the frame

This gift involves framing a photo, print, image, or other piece of artwork or ephemera specifically tailored to that person that you know (or at least suspect) they’ll appreciate. There are so many options, you may not know where to start. Here are some suggestions:

Something you already have

Depending on who the gift is for, you may already have something at home that would be perfect to frame and give to them, ranging from the obvious (family photos) to the more creative. A few other examples include:

  • Kids’ artwork (perfect for grandparents, aunts/uncles, etc)
  • A piece of ephemera from the person’s life that you’ve saved (e.g. a program from their wedding, petals from the bouquet you carried as their bridesmaid, a picture of you and the recipient from years ago, etc)
  • A postcard from a trip you went on together

Something to download and print

A gift can also be highly personal if it features (or at least references) something you know they enjoy, and/or holds meaning for them. And thanks to the availability of public domain images, art, and designs—which are free to download—you have a lot to choose from.

Simply search or browse public domain databases, like the ones listed below, find something you think you’ll like, download it, and then have it printed at your local pharmacy, big-box store, FedEx Office, or, if you have time, through one of the many online services (though you might need to place a bigger order to get the lowest prices).

Examples of public domain databases include:

How to find a frame

The first place to look is your own home. Do you have a box of framed photos in the basement or attic that you’ve been meaning to go through? Or at least one that you were gifted but haven’t used yet? Take inventory, and see what you can find.

Next up: Thrift stores and dollar stores. As with anything else, thrift stores can be hit-or-miss, so if you’re short on time, you may want to head straight to the dollar store, or other deep-discount retailer. Dollar Tree usually has a decent stock of frames in a variety of sizes, all of which cost $1.25. No, they’re not exactly high-quality products, but they get the job done, and the price is right.

Go prepared

If you have a particular piece in mind for the gift, take measurements so you can find a frame that will work. Obviously, it’ll have to be big enough to fit the item, but don’t be afraid of getting a frame with any dimensions that are larger than what you need. This is usually an easy fix. (More on that below.)

You can make adjustments, if necessary

Don’t be turned off by frames that already contain photos or art: As long as you’re able to open them up and replace what’s inside, it’s the price that counts.

Also, if you’re coming across frames that are in decent shape but hideous, consider buying some cheap paint (either at the dollar store, or a can of spray paint at the hardware store) in a neutral color and giving them a quick makeover, if you have the time.

How to put it together

Sometimes it really is as simple as popping a photo or piece of ephemera in a frame and wrapping it up. Other times, it may require a tiny bit more effort for the entire gift to come together.

Quick DIY matting

Cut a piece of black construction paper (or any color, really) to fit the frame, and then place your piece in the center—keeping it in place with a glue stick, or double-sided tape.

A note

In some cases, the person receiving the gift may not immediately know what they’re looking at, and why it was framed. If you suspect that might be the case, include a brief note to clue them in.

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