But a little creativity can help cut holiday costs, says Dani Beckerman, the CEO and founder of dessert company Jars by Dani, who turned her handmade desserts into a profitable business. "Making a gift actually saves you time and money, and it's just as — if not more — thoughtful," she says.
For Beckerman, a little creativity went a long way. After the dessert company CEO graduated pre-med from the University of Maryland in 2012, she switched gears to pursue her passion for baking and attend the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City. In 2013, when she got the idea to layer cakes in Mason jars, she pivoted again, leaving culinary school to focus full time on her business. It took off as she began posting her creations to Instagram.
Her winding path taught her that playing by the rules doesn't always serve you and in fact can cost you, she says.
In the spirit of the holidays, Beckerman offers a recipe for a personalized $5 "cookies in a jar" gift that's inspired by her signature cake jars and takes less than 10 minutes to make. She also shares tips to keep from overspending on gifts in general.
"Personalization can trump how expensive a gift is," says Beckerman. "Anyone can go out and buy a nice scarf, but making something homemade will not only set you apart, it shows you care."
If you're going to a holiday gathering, instead of spending $12 on a bottle of wine or picking up a store-made pie, bake something, Beckerman suggests: "It can cost less than $5 ... and it shows you put thought into it."
Add a note to whatever you bake to make your DIY gift stand out. And think about who you're baking for, she says. What makes the person unique? How can you show your gift was made with them in mind? It can be as simple as making the dessert their favorite color, she says.
Beckerman credits her personal touch for the success of her business. When Jars by Dani was just starting out, she hand-delivered each personalized cake jar to her customers in their New York City apartments. Her effort helped her earn loyal fans: "Those people that I delivered to by hand at the very beginning ... they still root for me the hardest," she says.
Now that Jars by Dani has grown into a 16-person business that sells desserts nationwide, hand delivery is no longer an option. Regardless, she says, "I still try to make the experience personal. Customers can upload a photo to create their own label and add their own meaningful message."
While buying boxed baking mix might seem like a time saver, "it will actually end up costing you more than buying the dry ingredients," says Beckerman. "And in the time it took you to go to the store to buy that box, you could've been creating something unique and thoughtful from scratch."
While the initial investment in baking basics like flour, vanilla, sugar, baking soda, and baking powder might be seem to make baking from scratch more expensive, those ingredients have a long shelf life and can be used over and over again to save you money.
Take flour, for example. Buying in bulk can save you as much as $10, Beckerman says. And if you're worried that your flour will spoil, you can extend its shelf life by storing it in a airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer. To keep bugs away, add a few bay leaves, since those can act as a natural insect repellent.
In addition to saving money, you'll save time when you DIY. If you multiply Beckerman's "cookies in a jar" recipe by 10, you can cross that many people off of your gift list pretty quickly. "It takes a lot longer than an hour to buy something for 10 people on your holiday list," she says.
In general, DIY doesn't have to be daunting, say Beckerman. Try it for just one party and see how many Brownie points you earn for your effort: "It really goes a long way, both in business and in life," she says. "Making something homemade will not only set you apart, it shows you care."