Care Package OBSESSION: 8 Great Care Package Ideas

care package

My soon-to-be husband deployed to Afghanistan for a year. Between planning our wedding and my career as a teacher, I became obsessed (and I mean obsessed) with care package ideas.

It was the first deployment for both of us. We weren’t exactly sure what to expect and I was rattled. Creating care package ideas gave me a mission — designing them, shopping for them, thinking up themes for them, figuring out what John and his co-workers would enjoy.

Military care packages were something tangible for John — they reminded him that someone loved him, missed him, and was waiting (pretty impatiently) at home for him.

In fact, I was so overzealous about the care packages that when John stepped off the plane in Afghanistan and his group was introduced, he was singled out. The commander shook his hand and said, “So we hear you’re getting married.”

They had been waiting to give him a very obnoxiously decorated care package … that had arrived a week before he had. And, yes, over the entire box, I had doodled “We’re getting married.” (Here’s the photographic evidence!).

Over John’s deployment, I sent him almost 40 boxes. (I told you, I was obsessed. I wasn’t kidding.)

Somewhere during that time, I began my blog “Jo My Gosh” to chronicle the care packages for anyone who wanted to see them.

Almost immediately they began drawing an audience from military spouses and significant others. I received a ton of questions asking for advice and help with ideas for what to create, what to put in them, and how to ship certain items.

Almost two years later, I’m back at making care packages for my youngest sister who has just started a service year in Europe. And again, I’m scouring Pinterest for awesome ideas. This time, military spouses and significant others have begun sending me their ideas, and I’ve begun featuring them on my blog. It’s been amazing to see how creativity and love intersects through these works of art.

Here are a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing

8 Military Care Package Ideas

1. I Love You a Latte : Send a little caffeinated boost with a care package devoted entirely to coffee. Throw in a travel mug, bags of coffee or instant coffee, sugar packets, powdered or non-dairy creamer, and whatever else you think your recipient needs for a coffee break (a hometown newspaper? magazine? devotional?).

2. The Bagel Box. And speaking of morning routines, with a vacuum sealer and a little luck (that your box doesn’t get rerouted all over the globe), you can actually send bagels. Really. I sent bagels from Panera to Afghanistan. And I love the story about my experience at Panera more than the actual care package idea –read the story and see more photos here.

Care Package OBSESSION: 8 Great Care Package Ideas

3. I oFISHally Miss You: Puns are definitely a staple of care packages! (It seems that the dorkier it is, the better it is.) Fill this box with snacks—Goldfish, Swedish Fish, single-serving tuna packets.

4. The Best Date EVER : Recreate your favorite date with your significant other through the care package. Include photos, memories, and mementos.

Care Package OBSESSION: 8 Great Care Package Ideas

5. Lego Care Package: This box is decorated so creatively, you don’t even need to see what went into the package to know that it delighted the recipient.

6. Vitamin Me : Need to send vitamins and health supplements to your loved one?

7. No Shave November: Possibly the best thing about deployment was that John was away for No Shave November. (That’s a joke. But seriously.) I still (possibly begrudgingly) sent him a box to celebrate the month since he really enjoys growing out his facial hair.

8. Tough Cookie : Since cookies travel pretty well, this is a great way to send your homemade or packaged ones. You can always write a note to encourage your loved one to share them with everyone else. I did that with John, but I think he conveniently didn’t read those directions sometimes.

Of course, there are tons of ideas all over the internet. You’re welcome to use any of the 800 plus care package ideas I’ve collected on Pinterest. And if you have a care package that you’d love to share, I want to see it, feature it, and celebrate it!

All photos courtesy of Jo, My Gosh!.

Jo is the author of Jo, My Gosh! a blog about her journey as a newlywed military wife. When she’s not working from home, she’s writing, reading, trying new recipes, watching sports or cross stitching. Catch her on Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook and say hi!

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  • guest

    so…40 boxes, 17 bucks a box for shipping, PLUS the contents and decoration materials….figure a minimum of 30–probably closer to 40 or 50, bucks a box is close to or over a couple of grand…in a year.

    Kudos on the great ideas on the boxes, they are adorable. However, mine, and a lot of other husbands/boyfriends etc, would have preferred to see actual financial prowess and saving vs wasteful spending. Great ideas, but on a teachers salary, 40 boxes in a year just screams financially unaware.

    • Joanna

      Thanks for the compliments! For this post, maybe I should have also focused on the financial ramifications of care packages– this was supposed to be more about the creative side. :-) I actually wrote a few blog articles on my site about how I did save money and stretched my dollar as far as it would go. I’m not going to post my links here, but if you want to hop over to my blog, there are at least 3 articles that talk about how to save money and free programs that you can enroll your loved one (including one with StarKist tuna). In another comment further below, I explained my rationale for spending money on the care packages, so I won’t go into that. However, I do acknowledge that everyone’s budgets and finances are different as are our priorities. John and I acted independently of one another when we were dating and engaged– our finances were separate and I was frugal about other areas of my life so that I could send him care packages. Because we had no travel expenses because we couldn’t visit each other, we actually both saved money during his year of deployment.

      • Susie Pierce

        I think it a good idea, you have plenty of time to save Money when you are not a newly wed. Love this…

    • USAF Wife

      Wow, Debbie Downer. God forbid an excited fiancé send themed care packages to someone she’s excited about marrying. Just because that’s how she chose to spend some of her money doesn’t mean that she isn’t good with finances. When my husband and I were dating and engaged and long-distance, he sent me flowers every month which is around $50. He is very good with his money, has no debt, ect. Spending some cash to do something nice for someone you love isn’t flushing money down the toilet. You don’t have to do that of course, but if both parties are on board and appreciate it, then go for it. Bitterness disguised as some sort of financial prowess is transparent and easy to spot.

  • Angela

    I once did a New Years box and I took a mason jar and filled it with shrimp and vinegar, sealed it and sent pickled shrimp

    • Joanna

      Wow! I would never have thought of that! So creative!

  • ken

    cooked shrimp and vinegar? I would have never thought it.

  • guest

    Admin sure is deleting a lot of comments on this article. Like the one where I pointed out she spent over 2k on care packages on a teachers salary.

    • guest

      and my husband would kill me if I spent 2k on packages when we could be saving for a wedding, house, car, retirement etc.

      • Guest

        So you’re not only going to impose your own ideas of what’s acceptable/what you and your husband would do on a complete stranger, but you’re also somehow privvy to her checkbook and bank balances.. because you’d have to be to be able to judge whether or not she could afford to send care packages (or, indeed, how much she actually spent on them).

        Way to put a price tag on someone’s worth to someone else. (highfive)

        • guest

          No worries, any time!. The numbers are based off of the fact that the box ALONE costs 14 bucks to ship. The contents are easily another 30-40, plus the decorations. The ideas are ingenious but lets face it, outside of a major city a teacher (and most of the ones I know in metro areas) earn AT MOST 60k a year, with experience. New, starting out, they are earning about 35k, and many have student loans or credit card debt etc. That money would be better spent shoring up a solid future with said husband…together.

          • Tater’s Momma

            Why chastise this poor woman’s experience and insult her creativity? And “that money would be better spent shoring up a solid future with said husband…together,”…..thank God he came home alive for their wedding and their future together.
            You could put a tea bag in an envelope with loving words of encouragement to someone you’ve never met….something very simple and frugal. It would be a priceless gift to that military member knowing people back in America appreciate their sacrifices.
            I pray your bean counting, cynical, and bitter mind may open long and wide enough to understand what kindness and gratitude.

          • guest

            Oh I fully get kindness and “gratitude” all I am saying is that she probably should have discussed the cost of these things with her future husband first. Most guys have no idea how expensive these boxes are to send over. And are we are bean counters…to a degree, but then again we have no debt, a full emergency fund, paid cash for our wedding, cash for our cars, large down payments on our houses etc. We started out in spendy stupidville like many young couples because we didn’t discuss future plans. Then we grew up and started planning our future together. ESPECIALLY in a time of draw downs, sequestration, government shutdowns etc these things need to be on everyone’s mind.

            Do you remember the freak outs everyone had about the potential for military paychecks to be frozen for a month last year? All these spouses etc were screaming about how dare they, and how are we going to pay the bills or feed the kid? Why? Because they had no plan, little to no savings, and little concern to the actual realities of the government mess. Boom…right here 2k in care packages could have covered the rent for a couple of months in most cases.

            As you said, a letter from said individual above would have been just as priceless as a 60 dollar box of stuff.

          • Joanna

            I did write letters to my fiance (who is now my husband). 366, actually– one for every day he was gone. :-) (Just had to point that out– it’s something that I’m actually very passionate about.)

            We all deal with deployment and being separated differently. Some people go on vacation. Other people smoke cigarettes or go shopping or binge watch seasons of TV shows. Some people move home to be with their families. Other people cry in the shower or go to the gym every day. I made care packages, and really, quite honestly, I wouldn’t change that. A year after deployment, and we are not financially destitute because of my care packages– again, we actually both saved money over the year because we were not traveling to see each other.

            And just as a note–my husband was also in Afghanistan during sequestration when they cut back dining hall hours. He was working shifts that didn’t always allow him to eat when it was open, so I was trying to send him healthy, prepared food that he could eat (tuna, nut mixes, canned veggies and fruits, etc.)

          • glenda

            Good for you, I think this lady is awesome with great ideas and the enthusiasm is priceless. keep your negativity to yourselves….this world needs pride and honor for those who do good and support the others that are watching our backs. I too have a son, who’s out there, doing his job and keeping self minded people safe.
            Keep sending those parcels….you go.!!! Think people, before your type, how would you like to have a response.

          • David

            And if that said future husband is killed in the war zone then you saved all that money for what…stop being a complainer…don’t be a hater… beinmg on the receiving end of all of this love is the greatest. I know I have been there….

    • Joanna

      I totally own that I spent a lot more money than I intended on care packages. Everyone has different priorities and different financial goals. What works for one person doesn’t always work for someone else. I justified it because it was a fraction of the cost of money we would have spent traveling to see each other during the year he was deployed– we were in a long distance relationship. I was also being frugal and cutting back on other places in my budget and still continue to save for our future. Thanks for pointing it out since I didn’t: care packages aren’t cheap– you have to have a plan if you’re going to send a bunch over a long period of time.

      • Cherrisse

        You do NOT have to answer or explain to anyone how you decided to spend YOUR hard earned money. And I am sure your husband’s friends enjoyed the packages and attention they received from you. You were spending YOUR money on guys who obviously were neglected or not as blessed as your husband.

      • David

        Joanna… you did great! Don’t let any of the nay sayers steal your Joy away… your husband is one lucky and blessed person and he knows it by the love you shared. You gave him the vision of what he had waiting back in the states at home. Thanks for your support you are going to make a GREAT career military wife, so keep sharing your thoughts and ideas with others. My Girlfriend and eventually became my wife was very creative in sending me her love and support and made it all worthwhile. Last month we celebrated our 39th Wedding Anniversary…. and 40th year with the USAF ! 21 military and 19 years as a Air Force Civil Servant.

      • Cindy

        Don’t defend yourself to internet strangers on how you spend your own money. Negative people will find a crack in everything to pick it apart. You can be frugal and smart with your money, but some of these comments reek of bitterness. We’re a two income household with no kids, but I still get the side eye from the stay at home moms in the wives groups because I shop at Whole Foods. The irony is, we’re probably contributing more to our retirement and savings than they are since we’re both contributing to 401Ks and IRAs. But to them I’m not frugal because I shop at Whole Foods. Wish I could say I’m sorry, but I’m too busy enjoying this delicious grass fed filet. :) Sounds like these care packages not only help to perk up your guy but also gave you a creative outlet to keep your spirits up while he was away. Good on you!

    • Amy_Bushatz

      Hi guest — Your comment wasn’t deleted — it was sent to moderation and I hadn’t had a chance to approve it yet. Our moderation system (which captures comments based on settings from our webmaster) saw something in your comment it didn’t like … I’m not sure what. It’s been approved, however.

    • NavyWife

      There is no cost to great to let my husband know I love him and am thinking about him.

      He is fully aware of the cost of the packages but has told me on several occasions that the payout and morale boost is well worth the cost. This being said 40 boxes is a bit excessive.

  • Pat

    I do not have a service member. But I would like to send care packages. Does anyone have an address that I can send to?

    • Ann

      I send boxes via you can sign up for a soldier and they give you his/her email and they can tell you what they want. It is wonderful

    • Proud Marine Mom

      Check out I belong to this group and it is wonderful. I send a care package each month (don’t have to do every month if you don’t want to) to someone deployed. In fact, my son was just recently on the receiving end of this group. I can not tell you how appreciated all the things were that he and his fellow Marines received. If you go to the website, the cover photo is of him and his buddies enjoying some of the goodies they received.

    • Dee

      Check out Molly’s Adopt A Sailor – a non-profit organization that sends care packages to all branches of the military.

  • Linda

    I would also like to send a care package even though I have no one overseas. If anyone knows where to send it to, I would appreciate it. Just think if alot of people sent one, there will be no one who goes without!

    • Ann

      I send boxes via you can sign up for a soldier and they give you his/her email and they can tell you what they want. It is wonderful. You can also check out OperationCookieDrop and sign up to send cookies.

    • Proud Marine Mom

      Check out I belong to this group and it is wonderful. I send a care package each month (don’t have to do every month if you don’t want to) to someone deployed. In fact, my son was just recently on the receiving end of this group. I can not tell you how appreciated all the things were that he and his fellow Marines received. If you go to the website, the cover photo is of him and his buddies enjoying some of the goodies they received.

    • Dee

      I belong to and Molly’s Adopt a Sailor. Molly’s adopts a group to send care packages to each month and also has smaller individual groups listed on her website.

    • Alma

      There’s also Operation Gratitude that sends out care packages. They could use some help, if you guys want to check it out.

  • wendy

    Look up your local USO they could help with sending packages for those that don’t have a service member over seas

  • ArmyWyf

    I decorate care packages for my husband all the time; I bought a pack of colored card stock ($5 at Hobby Lobby – 1/2 off sale), and I cutout everything out of that. Oh- I also spent $3 on a TON of glue sticks (back to school pricing is so awesome). So… The cost to DECORATE the package, is probably less than $1 a piece. Now, if people just don’t want to decorate, that’s perfectly fine… I believe this article was just an “FYI.” However, if people aren’t decorating (or can’t) because they think it “costs too much,” then…. I don’t know what to say about that. $1 a package isn’t really going to break the vast majority of people.
    As far as someone spending 2k on care packages… The soldiers are the ones earning their deployment pay; if my husband asks me to send him something, I do it. I always throw in a lot of extras for him… But I also know that my grocery bill, electric bill, and gasoline bill are next to nothing while he’s gone. We still come out “ahead” at the end of the deployment. All I can really say is that he LOVES his care packages… He even saves the boxes and brings them home (he breaks them down, of course); another thing worth noting is that all the guys on his team that don’t get packages like his, always comment on how “awesome his wife is.” My man isn’t a materialistic, needy guy… But he appreciates knowing that he’s loved and missed… He loves that I spend so much time on something that could easily be thrown together in less than 5 minutes.
    To each their own… And while people have their reasons for not decorating care packages, other people certainly have their reasons for wanting to do it.
    One last thought… As awful as this may sound, it’s a reality… I don’t care how much I spend on my husbands care packages, and neither does he… After all, he is at WAR. Nothing in life is guaranteed… Not even his return.

    • Proud Marine Mom

      Very well said! I have two sons on deployment as well as two nephews and two friends of my sons that are all in the Marines. In addition to those six, I belong to a group where I send a care package every month to someone deployed. Is it a big expense? Absolutely, but their service is worth every penny! So I don’t go out to eat as much as I would like to or I cut back some where else, so what. I want them to know they are loved and appreciated.Besides, I like teasing the ladies at the post office that I am doing my share to keep them in business!

      • ArmyWyf

        Thank you for all that you do! It’s just so sad how the “almighty Dollar” has consumed some people’s lives. What good is money if you’re bitter, miserable, condescending, judgmental, and alone? I don’t get people, sometimes; Jesus was a poor man because he gave all that He had… Saying that those of us who would rather give than “receive” (hoard our money) are “financially unaware” need a wake up call. apparently “guest” has it all figured out…

        I pray for all of your Marines safe return home.

  • JennyOJ

    I am absolutely flabbergasted at the fact that we are at it again, spouses! Who in the world would decide to project their own debt or budget requirements onto someone else’s idea of support? If a spouse, loved one, stranger, fiance’, or friend decides to send a care package, can’t we stop for a minute and say, “Good job!” and still just let it be a gift of love and support, which–last time I checked–don’t have a real pricetag? I sent a letter every day my spouse was deployed, we paid for our own wedding which was coming up after he returned, I sent a care package almost every other week…so there were lots of them! And, that was in the days when Priority Mail was a bit cheaper but the Internet was not working reliably yet. We did morale calls, via radio, as well as calls free via the chapel and we did regular phone calls weekly, but it was expensive! And, people said things that were nasty and out of turn, because we were paying our bills and in love with each other and deciding what “price” we would pay for that long-distance time apart. I don’t know if anyone has ever really respected others, stopped projecting their own ideas of “what worked or works” on others’ lives, and stop the madness and criticism of others! This is a wonderful tip, an uplifting message and blog, and it’s supporting others who are defending and serving our country proudly. Really unbelievable that this is what is being written online, to attack someone about what they decide is in their budget or priorities to spend. My husband and I saved money through talking less, and we weren’t together during the entire year, which means we were both eating a lot of hot dogs and ramen noodles, too…so what we decided to spend on phone calls or stamps is really NOBODY ELSE’S business! And, if someone asked and I decided to reveal about my ways of support to encourage them to do what they like for their brave loved one or acquaintance or care package sent to an anonymous Soldier/Sailor/Airman/Marine/Coastguardsman/woman, then I would expect them to take it as “advice” and not decide it’s their place to attack. We can all support in the ways we feel work for our budgets and priorities, but saying someone who is a “teacher” isn’t making enough money to send 40 care packages in a year, well, that’s just sad and not what this site should be for. I say it again, “Let’s support each other!”–come on, folks!

    • ArmyWyf

      AWESOME post! :)

  • Stephanie

    These are such amazing ideas thank you so much! Making care packages and knowing how happy my boyfriend is when he gets them makes deployment so much easier! I wouldn’t listen to anyone who has anything negative to say I’m on a STUDENTS salary (3 part time jobs that pay for college, housing, groceries, etc.) and still find some money to send my soldier care packages. It helps me get through the months without him and gives me something to focus on. All the more power to you and I love your blog so many great tips! Thank you!

  • Guest

    Not saying anything about the decorations or money spend… I would just keep in mind that anything with personal information sent over there had to be destroyed so if you were like me and put his name on there more than 2xs. It will cause your hubby or future hubby a bit of grief destroying it… Great ideas though…. I didn’t do themed boxes but I made sure my hubby had about 17 boxes in a 6 month deployment….

    • ArmyWyf

      Hmmm… My husband has never had to destroy a box; maybe it depends on what unit they’re in.

  • Lisa

    While my nephew was deployed, I discovered that will ship to any APO/FPO address for free if you purchase over $25.00, or if you are a Prime member. Plus, my nephew told me he always got those packages a lot faster than Priority Mail. So, if any of you are concerned with shipping charges, try Amazon. It’s also sales tax free, and they sell almost anything you can think of! Of course, you can’t put anything personal in there, but, write a letter!

    • JennyOJ

      Hey Lisa, that is SO true! I wrote what I did above because the attacks of this wonderful woman’s support and her blog, criticizing what she decided is in her budget to spend, is ridiculous. And, you are right, there are ways to send which are free. I remember some of the APO/FPO, if you were living in an overseas location, were also free to send to anyone else in those PO Box zones, so I used to have friends also send “free” boxes because they were living overseas while my husband was deployed to an overseas APO/FPO. And, so many places will discount or ship for cheaper or free now, especially to military addresses. I think I even remember there are discount boxes at the Post Office for use to deployed addresses that make the flat rate cheaper, too, at least for certain times of the year, and a lot of the USO and chapels or family support networks on the base also allow for some free or cheap shipping options for care parcels. Anyway, we found a way to make it work, and I was substitute teaching while my husband was away and we were engaged then (I had been living overseas so I took what job I could get while we waited for him to return Stateside and join me), and I wasn’t making much money at all. It’s all in the priorities, and I find it weird that some will criticize about something loving and NOT that expensive in the long run! What I guess is that people who see the posts about this may even be floored, or they realize they didn’t do this same gesture for a loved one and feel “guilty” reading about how nice it was for this person to have done, and instead of just complimenting and taking note for next time, they find ways to justify their own actions or something like that…so unnecessary! Good for you for finding ways to make it work!

  • Jen

    I love the ideas, when my husband was deployed I shipped a box once a week every week. I loved getting ideas from other wives. One of the things my husband loved was the local newspaper he said it would get passed around many times (the online version does not show everything). We had 3 kids at home so they were always putting pictures, drawings or letters in the box for him. We also did movie theme (dvd’s), pictures of the pets. One wife figured out how to ship a loaf of bread without it getting totally smashed. Soldiers love getting things from home and knowing they are remembered.

    • JennyOJ

      Hey, yeah, reminds me of what I used to do, so hilarious to look back now: I would buy a series of postcards in some theme or place we’d been, then write part of the note on each one, then mail them out but not exactly on the same day, then let him receive them over a week or more and read the “whole thing” together…or I’d cut something up into a puzzle, a picture I’d printed, put a message on the back, then put that in an envelope and have a picture AND a note to read together…and then he could paste it up in his bunk area or by his “desk” or work station, or at least have something personal to enjoy that cost me practically nothing but love, a little time, and postage. Crazy stuff…but it made the mundane letters a little more “exciting…”

  • navy mom x2

    Care packages are an absolute necessity in my heart for our service people. They can be very inexpensively done and or very costly. WHO CARES WHAT IT COSTS ! Our service people are away from home and family , and SOME DON’T EVEN HAVE FAMILY ! Bite your tongues if you have the audacity to criticize how people express their LOVE for their military loved ones!
    I personally love all these cool ideas. I’ve sent numerous care PKGS myself at all different costs, and I didn’t care. One of my service members has spent the last 6 years AWAY from home for their birthday either in training or deployed. THANK YOU USPS AND MILITARY TRANSPORT FOR DELIVERING SAFELY ALL MY CARE PKGS TO MY LOVED ONES, my loved ones appreciate all we do!
    YOU GO GIRL and all military families , support is the best thing you can do. God bless you all !

  • Michelle

    You don’t have to justify anything. There always has to be one negative person making comments. I am sure they spend money on things you or I could see saving dollars on. It sounds like you enjoy making the care packages as much as he probably likes getting them. Keep your priorities on happiness!!!! Money isn’t everything.

  • Rene’

    I did it for my husband over 20 years ago and I will be doing it for my new son-in-law beginning next week. There will never be a cost to big to let someone who is willing to put their life on the line for mine, how much I love and appreciate them. Just as I did 20 plus year ago, there will be more than enough to share with buddies.