How I Wrap Gifts, Christmas and Otherwise

Melanie writes in:

Between the wrapping paper, ribbons, bows, tags, and other things, I’ve often spent $20-25 on just wrapping the gifts at Christmastime. This seems silly. How do you wrap presents? I’m sure you’ve got a less expensive way.

To me, the purpose of wrapping paper is simply to disguise gifts from the receiver while at least looking moderately visually interesting – nothing more, nothing less. I don’t see the purpose in spending lots of money on the “perfect” wrapping paper or on elegant ribbons when they’re going to wind up being a big pile of trash on Christmas morning.

Instead, here’s my Christmas wrapping strategy. All told, I’ll spend about $4 on materials and those materials will provide more than enough for several Christmases.

The gift

In the picture above, I’m about to wrap a copy of the video game Nintendogs for my eight year old niece (her parents might read The Simple Dollar, but I’m pretty sure she does not). I’m going to wrap it in plain brown paper, the type you would use for packaging things to mail via the Postal Service or UPS.

You can get an enormous roll of such paper for just a couple dollars. Even better, you can get brown paper at the store by requesting paper bags and trimming off the bottoms of the bags. Starting in about September, I start requesting such bags at the store so that I can give the bags a second life.


Here it is, all wrapped up. A little secret: I took pictures of several presents being wrapped and this one turned out the best – I’m not exactly a gift-wrapping expert, even though I’ve done it many times.

This looks fine, but it is a bit drab. Surely, there’s something we can do to color it up a little…


Yarn is what I use. You can buy an enormous amount of it for a very low price (the depicted roll cost less than a dollar) and it adds a certain homespun flair that just isn’t captured with ribbons.

It’s very easy to use yarn to add flair to your package.

About seven times

To measure the length of yarn, I wrap it around the gift about three and a half full loops, or about seven times the average length of the package. It might be a little long, but you can trim off excess. I prefer to go longer than I need than to go too short.

After I cut off an appropriate length, I spread out the yarn in a straight line on the table, then set the package face-down in the middle of the piece of yarn. I pick up the two ends and…

The back

… loop them together like so. Then, I turn the package over, tie a simple bow on the front (one that can be opened with a good tug, basically the same knot as is used to tie shoes), and I’m finished with the wrapping.


I like the big, floppy bow look – you may not. If you want a shorter bow, just tug on the ends of the bow until the loops are as short as you like, then trim the long ends. You could also use very long ends to make a lot of loops for a more decorative bow, if you’d like.

I personally really like the aesthetics. It calls to mind the old Rodgers and Hammerstiein tune … little brown packages tied up with string / these are a few of my favorite things.

What about the name?

Final gift

I simply write it on the package in black marker, no fuss, no muss. You may also choose to write it on the back so the front looks undisturbed by the ink – whatever you’d like.

If you use paper bags from the store, the cost of such wrapping is approaching free – you’re using a tiny fractional amount of a roll of tape and of the yarn bundle and that’s all. Even if you’re using a roll of packaging paper, the cost is still far below what one might spend on typical wrapping paper.

Other ideas to consider:

Have grandchildren decorate packages for grandparents. Give them some markers and have them decorate such a package to their heart’s content.

Use the comic pages from the Sunday newspaper for children’s presents. Just save them for a few weeks and you’ll have plenty.

Print your own designs on the brown paper. Measure off a size that your printer can handle and print a design right on the brown paper. This works really well for smaller gifts.

Good luck!

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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