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From homemade to headache? DIY projects often seem like an affordable alternative to store-bought gifts, but can quickly become an expensive burden.
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TODAY contributor
updated 12/12/2012 12:01:29 PM ET 2012-12-12T17:01:29

It’s that time of year again: Those of us with a knack for baking or knitting consider making holiday gifts for friends and family instead of hitting the mall. The personal touch will show how much we care, and we’ll save a bundle, too. At least, that’s the idea.

“About three years ago, a childhood friend of mine and I got together because we wanted to make candy and cookie baskets for our children’s teachers,” said Jamie Clemons, a mom and full-time student from Goshen, Indiana. “I think we ended up spending around $75 on ingredients, and after about two days of cooking we had all of these goodies but I think we could’ve bought them for around $25.”

The teachers loved the baskets, but what usually was a $10 or $15 expenditure had snowballed. “We realized it when we went to the store and were putting everything in the carts, but by that time, we were committed,” she said.

It’s the dirty little secret none of the cute craft spreads in the magazines will tell you: DIY presents can be pricier than store-bought.

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“You see things like soap-making and candle-making, but once you start buying essential oils and honeycomb, it all starts adding up. You could’ve gone to a boutique,” said Beth McAfee-Hallman, founder of the frugal living blog OneFabulousMama.com. “Don’t kid yourself into thinking you’re saving a lot of money.”

“There definitely are a lot of times when those DIY gifts aren’t as cheap as you think,” said Julia Scott, who blogs at BargainBabe.com. “You need to budget just as if you were going to buy your family a new TV,” she said, and research beforehand how much the project will cost.

This was the mistake that tripped up Megan McWilliams, host of the radio show and blog Green Divas. When McWilliams decided to made photo calendars for her family, her assumption that it would cost around $20 to get them printed turned out to be way off.

“The whole thing that was supposed to be so low-stress and low-cost suddenly cost me like $500,” she said. Her family never found out how much her “fun little homemade gift” cost, she said. “It was embarrassing.”

Another no-no: tackling a project with a steep learning curve. You run the risk of having to buy supplies twice if the first version doesn’t come out right, and it’s likely to take longer — the last thing you need to add to a busy holiday schedule. “If you have baking skills and equipment, don’t decide to knit,” said Jeff Yeager, author of "The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches."

“People need to be honest with themselves about their expectations around the holiday season,” said Sara Tetreault, who blogs about frugality at GoGingham.com.

As a young lawyer with “a lot of student loans,” attorney Melissa Moore said she and her boyfriend at the time decided to make breakfast baskets for their families for Christmas. Since her hobbies already included knitting and canning, she said, “I figured I’m crafty. This will be so great. It’ll be so cheap.”

Do craft kits still count as DIY?

But Moore said her home-baked scones “came out looking like little blobs,” even after several trial runs. “I looked at it and I was like, this kind of looks a little too homemade,” she said. By the time she jazzed up the baskets with teapots, mugs and other extras, “The things must’ve wound up costing $60 or $70 each.”

It’s easy to overlook how much you’re really spending when you make gifts, so watch out for these five budget-busters:

Equipment costs: “Expense-wise, the big things people need to be careful of are tools and equipment. Even for simple crafts, they really add up,” Yeager said. “Anything that requires specialized tools, particularly power tools,” can get pricey quickly. If you absolutely have to invest in a stand mixer or a sewing machine, check thrift stores.

Pricey packaging: Jars, tins, baskets, baking cups, cellophane — it all adds up, as do high-end paper and bows. “If you get gold-embossed tissue to wrap it in, that’s not really frugal,” McAfee-Hallman said.

Too much variety: “The temptation is to go overboard,” Scott said. Limit the amount of colors, flavors or other variations, so you don’t end the holiday season with a bunch of half-used skeins of yarn or bags of beads. Already stuck with them? Try unloading them on Craigslist or eBay.

DIY: Make your own sugar scrub

Shipping expenses: “You may think you can make it for free, but you can’t ship it for free,” said Kendal Perez, who blogs at HassleFreeSavings.com. “If you have to ship it, I think you’re better off buying something and taking advantage of free shipping."

Too many projects: “If you’re going to do DIY gifts, try to pick something that’s universal, something you can do for everyone,” Scott said. “The startup costs for each project are set. Try to come up with a product everybody would be happy to receive to keep your overhead low.”

So what is a good DIY project? According to these experts, one fairly safe fallback even non-crafty types can master is a homemade recipe mix. For example, find a recipe for brownies, fill Mason jars with the dry ingredients (layer them if you want to get fancy) and use ribbon to attach a tag that tells the recipient what wet ingredients to add and how to bake them.

What do you think is a good DIY gift? Share your DIY holiday projects with TODAY!

More from TODAY Style:
20 best beauty gifts for everyone on your holiday list
Chic coordinating clothing for moms, babies — and dads too!

Want from TODAY Style? Follow us on Twitter @todaystyles!

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Video: Holiday DIY: Give décor, gifts a homemade touch

  1. Closed captioning of: Holiday DIY: Give décor, gifts a homemade touch

    >>> on holiday's gift guide, how to do it yourself. three crafty bloggers ready to help us add that specialized personal touch to seasonal gifts and decor starting with brit, good morning to you.

    >> impressed but a little intimidated but we're doing trees.

    >> this year is all about the holiday diys. the first tree here is a wall tree, made completely out of this patterned colorful tape shaped into triangles and here's adhered on the wall, works on doors, walls, any blank space.

    >> where do you find this.

    >> craft store, target sells it, walmart.

    >> this is quite perfect actually.

    >> yes.

    >> do you get a ruler out to make it look that good.

    >> yes.

    >> the other thing with trees, can be expensive and need to pick up pine needles every other day another solution, a book tree. found all these books around my house and sorted them from widest to narrowest and you literally start stacking your books and turns into a pretty spree shape. put the star on top, one for my husband, recipes every man should know, halfway through it.

    >> and the base of it is just some books as well. takac took me maybe five minutes.

    >> kids should be able to do that, too.

    >> wreaths made out of cardboard, dig through your neighbor's recycling bin if you need to, some glue and all of your gift bows that you probably have lying around the house, extra gift bows, also like $1 at most dollar stores , discount stores , stock up after christmas, they go on massive sale. here's this creative, beautiful, colorful ornament garland, made out of streamed ribbon through a cluster of ornaments and hang it on your garland. took me less than ten minutes to do.

    >> looks beautiful.

    >> and a little stained glass effect. one of my favorite of the bench. stained class vases and votives, made into peppermint shape. never believe what we used. glue and food coloring .

    >> wow.

    >> you mix them together just like this, and to create this, we used electrical tape , and you just start painting away. once your done painting, do a couple of coats, spray it with shellac and when you are done, rip off the tape and voila.

    >> happy holidays to you.

    >> natalie.

    >> home to style, donna is behind the website and book "p.s., i made this." good morning. how to add sparkle to the holiday season , including the necklace around your neck.

    >> all like to sparkle and shine all year long. these are rings that i had at home. all have tons of jewelry, i know, you do. running out the door for a holiday party, all you need is a punch of rings rope or ribbon.

    >> no hot glue or sewing.

    >> slip them on, easy, breezy and tie it around your neck.

    >> cool.

    >> you can go to a flea market .

    >> vintage stores, can you find those rings.

    >> these are even from party city , these fun ones, nobody will ever know.

    >> it's great. i like the look. i love it.

    >> a quick fix for the holidays.

    >> over here, another big trend, pearls, lots of multi-strand necklaces.

    >> absolutely.

    >> chunky is in, statement necklace is the best statement to make over the holiday season . now pearls are something, you doesn't have a long strand of pearls.

    >> not as edgy as you would like them to be.

    >> pearls come in all different tone is and don't even need to be real, go and get the cheap strands.

    >> right.

    >> what we're going to do is gott this, fold this in half and i've got fun color ribbon. we've cut the ribbon and we're going to loop it three on both sides, knot, it one side. something anybody can do at home. this is a great gift to give people.

    >> a great idea, running out to a party and here's your necklace in seconds.

    >> sometimes you can add a broach.

    >> you're wearing one here, put it on a jacket, on a necklace, that's great.

    >> really quickly over here, we've got some other ribbon detail. you're adding some -- we're still keeping the sparkle. we've got some ribbon and fun gems that you can pick up at any craft store.

    >> got a hot glue gun .

    >> gem and glue, we'll dab it on, one more.

    >> this is going to be like a belt. convertible accessory, headband, a two for one.

    >> thank you. we're out of time. let me throw it over to you, willie.

    >> diy gifts for almost everybody on your holiday list. kate albrecht is the creator of the blog called mr. kate .com.

    >> good morning.

    >> you've given me permission to call you mr. kate .

    >> please call me mr. kate .

    >> old ratti t-shirt to beautiful necklace.

    >> either the t-shirt scarf or necklace depending on the climate you live n.

    >> we cut off the bottom of the t-shirt and you take your tube and cut one-inch strips and here's the fun part, are you ready. you pull this. get your aggression out, there you, and look, let go and it makes this cool tube and seals the edge and we end up with something like this.

    >> leave it connected.

    >> you gather that one side and decorate it with leather scratches or broaches.

    >> the old leather jacket came in handy.

    >> and on the theme of recycling, this is plaid shirt and we're making an iplaid.

    >> i get it.

    >> tablet case that you can put your other tablet, and these are glue guns for fabrics specifically, right, so we can glue it. i use the back of the shirt. cut it up into sections

    >> i want to use the glue gun which is why i really did the segment. just go crazy.

    >> what i love is this is no sew.

    >> while i'm doing that, wine glasses here. these are chalkboard wine glasses , and a really great gift for adults, maybe, obviously wirngs and the base of it, dip this into the chalkboard paint.

    >> get it in any hardware store .

    >> there you go, and then i figured out that here's a good little drip. you can try it by setting it on two pieces, don't want to put it down. we dry it by resting it like this and write the name with chalk.

    >> personalize it and flu season , no germs. everybody's glass is there and then you've got to wrap up the gifts, diy gifts and put them in diy wrapping. these are cardboard, not cardboard, but these are paper bags from the grocery store .

    >> and you stamp them out.

    >> this is a potato stamp, isn't that cool.

    >> mr. kate , awesome stuff and thank you for giving me permission to use the glue gun .

Photos: Coveted creations from DIY style bloggers

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  1. Coveted creations from DIY style bloggers

    By Rina Raphael

    Why buy it when you can make it? To kick off TODAY's DIY Style Week (Oct. 24-28), we rounded up the top DIY fashion bloggers and showcased some of their best projects. Got your own great DIY style item? Enter our DIY challenge for a chance to win a prize and post on TODAY.com.

    Glitter 'N Glue
    Kristen Turner of Glitter 'N Glue is a big believer in looking chic without breaking the bank. "I think the growth of the DIY movement can be contributed to two things: hard economic times and expanding creative social networks," she told TODAY.com. "We want to buy the latest and greatest in designer fashions, but we might not be able to afford them."

    Her homemade lucite cuff, a style taken from Tory Burch, DSquared and Vionnet, comes complete with a whimsical brooch.

    Find out how to make it: Tory Burch-inspired cuff (Glitter 'N Glue) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Honestly...WTF

    Erica Chan Coffman and Lauren Kolodny, the masterminds behind Honestly...WTF, boast an extensive archive of the most adorable and fashion-forward DIY items. From bowties to Miu-Miu-inspired sneakers, they have artfully captured the "it" items of the season.

    One of our favorite projects? The dynamic duo experimented with bleach to tie-dye a shirt that was effortlessly cool.

    Find out how to make it: Bleach tie dye (Honestly WTF) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. P.S. I Made This

    It's impossible to discuss DIY fashion without mentioning Erica Domesek of P.S. I Made This. The energetic and constantly innovative DIY designer somehow manages to transform everyday items with extremely accessible tutorials. (It's amazing what she can do with a Sharpie marker.) With her infectious enthusiasm, you'll have no choice but to give in to her genius.

    "I encourage all forms of inspiration. From runways, red carpets, magazines, or a shopping trip – keep your eyes open," she told TODAY.com. "Dive into DIY! It's truly infectious, exciting and empowering."

    Her adorable hair comb, inspired by the Thakoon runway, makes us want to solely wear buns this season.

    Find out how to make it: Woven hair comb (PS I Made This) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. I Spy DIY

    Jenni Radosevich of I Spy DIY works in fashion, so it's no surprise she spends her time recreating trends. "The feeling you get when you tell admirers you did it yourself is beyond gratifying," she said of her stylish projects, which range from Kanye-inspired denim shirts to sparkly cat eye sunglasses (as spotted on J.Lo) .

    She recently updated the casual chic waist purses seen on the Diane von Furstenberg runway with a some leopard print, a chain and, of course, a glue gun.

    Find out how to make it: DVF-inspired waist bag (I Spy DIY) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. ... love Maegan

    Maegan Tintari of ... love Maegan manages to cover all areas of DIY: clothing, hair, home decor and more. The stunning and talented blogger regualry posts fun, interesting projects as well as photos of her amazing signature style. (How does she do it all?!)

    Maegan pays homage to old Hollywood glamour with a sexy, vintage-inspired bustier made of lace and sating ribbons.

    Find out how make it: Lace haltier bust (lovemaegan.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. A Pair & A Spare

    Geneva Vanderzeil of A Pair & A Spare is all about recreating the most coveted trends off the runway. "It’s also about people wanting to feel a greater sense of individualism in what they wear," Vanderzeil said of her work. "People want to make something that feels unique and special – even if it’s just embellishing it slightly."

    She recently put her spin on the Sass & Bide necklaces with a little help from spraypaint. Like graffiti for your jewelry collection!

    Find out how to make it: Neon yellow collar necklace (A Pair & A Spare) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Bobbie Thomas

    While TODAY style editor Bobbie Thomas believes that "style is the way you speak to the world without words," it doesn't have to be store-bought.

    "You don’t necessarily have to sift flour or break out a sewing machine," Thomas said. "You could also consider a creative semi-handmade alternative." From opting to wear a dress backwards or inside-out, or using a safety pin to alter its shape, Bobbie's unique philosophy centers around the idea that you don't have to do it (all) yourself, but you can do it your way.

    Need some metallic shine? Inspired by the Cynthia Rowley Spring 2012 runway, Bobbie updates the LBD with some foil glue.

    Find out how to make it: Foiled fashion (Bobbie Thomas) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Stripes & Sequins

    A self-described "human magpie," Grace Atwood of Stripes & Sequins has a love of "shiny old-lady jewelry" and admits she has "a little neon obsession."

    The Cape Cod native explains how to make these Tom Binns-inspired statement earrings with nail polish, glue and some pre-set rhinestones. Who knew your Essie collection had so many uses?

    Find out how to make it: Tom Binns-inspired neon earrings (Stripes & Sequins) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Studs and Pearls

    Kirsten Nunez of Studs and Pearls is "convinced DIY is the best form of self-expression." The New Yorker's blog archive stretches across all style categories, from leopard glam manicures to geometric lace tops.

    Her DIY galaxy handbag and heels offer an affordable option for those coveting Christopher Kane's most recent intergalactic-inspired collection.

    Find out how to make it: Galaxy handbag and heels (Studs and Pearls) Back to slideshow navigation
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