Monday, September 1

Some thoughts on frugal gift giving

Well, I've passed my first month of blogging. Hooray and all that!

I want to thank everyone who has joined up so far. Your readership and comments are what keep this blog interesting -- and from meaning that I'm talking to myself.

I hope you'll all continue to read. I've gotten a lot of great feedback, and I think of this as a kind of conversation with all of you.

Okay, sappy stuff is over. On to today's business:

Well, it's September. Which means stores (and frugal people) are getting ready for Christmas.

Almost Frugal had a really nice piece on frugal gift-giving that caught my eye.

Kelly breaks down frugal gifts into seven categories: homemade, on sale, experiences, gift certificates, useful (cue ominous music), secondhand and donations.

She then asks the thought-provoking questions: What are your favorite frugal gift ideas? Do you have another category to add here? How would you feel if somebody gave you a gift that obviously came from a thrift store?

It's not secondhand, it's pre-loved

I latched on to Kelly's last question, because I am fully planning on going a'huntin' for 50% off gifts tomorrow at Value Village's Labor Day sale. I love thrift store hunting (when I have energy) for the same reason I love garage sales: The thrill of what you might find.

You never know what you'll find at these places. I've found kids' toys with the tags still attached (make for great new-baby gifts), I find strange items for funny gifts (for $1 at Goodwill I couldn't pass up buying "Yachting" the card/peg game for my mom) or even great finds (I once found a pack of old Magic the Gathering cards at a Goodwill and am eternally on the hunt for another such score).

My hope is that I can find a few things that are like-new or (better) still tagged/wrapped for Christmas/birthdays. Granted, it'll be tricky to shop for my mom, since sh'ell almost certainly be with me. (This helps me save energy by not driving; also, she'd probably kill me for going without her.)

I made it all by myself

I will, of course, also be doing the homemade gift thang this year. (Yeah, I said "thang." Deal with it.)

I am working on some beading projects. I think I have a reasonable chance of actually getting one or two items done before Christmas -- even given my sporadic attention.

I also crochet relatively well and knit reasonably okay. So if I see a small project or two, I might endeavor to take those on.

My mom doesn't do the crafts, but then this means her gifts actually get finished. She's been picking local blackberries, which grow in random patches around here, and making jam. She did a batch of strawberry, as well, but the fruit had to be purchased, so the batch was much smaller.

Her last set of jam will be plum. She made a deal with some nearby homeowners, who have a plum tree in their yard. After noticing that the fruit was falling off and rotting, she left a note offering an exchange: she gets to pick the fruit, they get free jam.

As you can imagine, the homeowners were delighted by the idea of a) free homemade jam and b) less yard clean-up. So it's really win-win. Especially for me, since I get plenty of jam and don't even have to pick the plums!

Mom's actually been extra industrious this year, since we stumbled on a yard sale with 3 full boxes of jam jars & rings for $12. Even after giving some to her sister, mom has plenty of jam-making supplies for the foreseeable future.

My aunt was thrilled with the extra jam jars, which are getting harder to find. We're betting it has something to do with everyone suddenly tightening their belts. At any rate, all these jars mean I can count on blackberry and plum from mom.

And for my birthday, I got a jar of blueberry from my aunt, along with my favorite of her homemade gifts: pesto. She buys fresh basil at the farmer's market and then spends part of her vacation plugging away at pesto-making. She then freezes it in ice cube trays, which makes for easy serving sizes.

She keeps this tradition extra frugal by simply borrowing her friend's Cuisanart once a year. She reasons that she wouldn't use it otherwise, why bother with the expense?

Around Christmastime, my aunt also makes trays of peanut brittle -- especially ironic, since she's a dental hygienist. It's incredibly addictive; in fact, it's got two of the 3 major candy food groups: sugar & peanut. The third, of course, is chocolate.

Crafty lady that she is (in both senses of the word), she gives the stuff away and reminds people the tins are magic. They will automatically refill themselves next year... so long as they're returned to her when empty.

Go get yourself something pretty

I know some folks hate gift cards, but personally I think they can be a useful tool. As Kelly points out, these are great because you can determine the amount.

Some say gift cards are too impersonal. I say they're perfect for people's favorite stores. I also like them because programs like MyPoints allow you to get these gifts for free.

For those not sure about gift cards, think about the number of presents that you've had to pretend to love. Wouldn't it have been easier if the person let you pick out what you wanted? By getting a card from the person's favorite store, you're showing thoughtfulness but also common sense.

Plus, there is a certain excitement and anticipation when you get to go to your favorite store with a gift card clutched in your hot little hand. You have fun deciding what you get to spend that money on. And you get to add to your material possessions without the guilt of spending. That's a rare treat.

It's all about experience...

Perhaps the best thing, though, is the advice I gave Smart-Spending readers last year: giving experiences. It cuts down on waste, which increases each year during the holidays. From shredded wrapping paper to unwanted gifts, the landfills bulge each holiday season.

More importantly, you can give gifts without giving clutter. Some will produce a bit of clutter, such as magazines. I have a love for the tawdry gossip of US Magazine, but refuse to pay the newsstand price. So this winter, I'll probably put it on the list and dutifully recycle the old issues. A hobby magazine means the person is reminded quarterly of your thoughtful nature.

Experiences are even better: Go in with friends on a massage (3 people at $20 means a luxurious hour of self-indulgence) or give lessons or classes.

For the person who truly has everything, donations are great. You still give, but they don't end up with unnecessary items. I had two friends who were financially comfortable; they asked for donations in lieu of gifts.

Here ends most of my analysis: Almost all items I buy for holiday gifts are on-sale, so it seems redundant, and many of the presents I ask for (and give) have a useful aspect about them. I try not to give many presents that aren't useful or directly related to the person's hobbies; it increases the chance that the item will be thrown away.

So now some questions for you:

What's your favorite kind of frugal giving? What do you like to make for friends/family? What's the best gift you ever found, secondhand?



Blogger DogAteMyFinances said...

The holidays are going to be here in no time, and I am not ready at all. I guess I need to start thinking about this (yuck!).

September 1, 2008 at 7:37 AM

Blogger SpondyGirl said...

My husband and I have started brewing and bottling our own beer at home as a hobby and have found that printing some quick labels naming it after a family or an event makes a batch a really cool gift for anyone who likes beer (i.e., my baby brother's 21st birthday).

The next gathering we have with a large group of close family friends is going to be a "make it or bake it Christmas" in which no gifts can be purchased. Everyone has been excited about this since someone suggested it because it gives us all a chance to get creative.

September 1, 2008 at 9:00 AM

Blogger Kelly from Almost Frugal said...

Excellent post! I love how you picked up the ball and ran with it. (PS, before I moved to France I lived in Seattle too).

September 1, 2008 at 9:26 AM

Blogger Abby said...


I know, I was horrified to see Halloween decor in Sam's Club. Mom said she saw some Christmas stuff in another store (!!!)

Thanks for the ideas. I've always been curious about brewing beer. Too bad I'm not a bigger fan of it. But it's always struck me as a fun hobby/gift. I love the idea of make it or bake it!

Almost Frugal:

Thanks for the kudos (esp from a former Seattleite). I like your distribution for Hannukah/Christmas. I was raised celebrating both (well, getting presents for both) and I think you've come upon a great balance, esp for little kids.

To all three: The giveaway of the week is now up and running with the additional option of answering a question posed this week in any of my posts. Since you three all commented before this went up, I'll give each of you an entry (and Spondy an extra entry for actually answering a question posed).

Let's get some entries going, folks!

September 1, 2008 at 10:05 AM

Blogger Cat said...

I love baking, so in tight years I buy for my immediate family and everyone else gets tins of cookies. I buy the tins at the Dollar Tree, and I make miniature cookies so it looks really full of cookies even though the tins aren't that big.

My cheap but thoughtful gift option is what I call a "birthday packet." First I make a spreadsheet of all the out of town extended family's birthdays and addresses and count how many male/female kids and adults there are. Then I go to the dollar tree and buy them all birthday cards, which cost about $0.25 to $0.50 a card there. I pick a card for each person, address it, and put a "forever" stamp on it. I leave the card open and the inside blank. Then I buy a $2 little file organizer and make a tab for each month. I separate the birthdays out by month and tape the "master list" to the front. It's a really good gift for moms and grandmas. This way all she has to do is sign, seal, and mail a stack of cards once a month. With stamps and the organizer, it costs about $20. And since you leave the cards open if they want to throw in a check or gift card, they can still do it.

September 2, 2008 at 2:08 PM

Blogger Abby said...

Wow, Cat, that is BRILLIANT

That would be the most cherished of all my gifts in a given year. I may have to try that for my own horrible memory!

Thanks for answering the question. Though fyi, don't forget you can find some great tins in quite good shape at thrift stores. My relatives stock up on the 50% sales, and at yard sales.

Also, for answering the question, you get an entry for this week's giveaway basket! (Insert applause here)

September 2, 2008 at 3:43 PM

Blogger Rachel said...

It's getting harder and harder for me to come up with really good ideas for my family, because I hate repeating myself, though photo gifts are always appreciated by my grandmother and father (though no one else, LOL).

I think the best one I did was two years ago. My family has had a tradition of giving out caramels for Christmas. My great-grandmother made them, and then my grandmother took over when she got too tired (it is a LOT of work). My grandmother decided that she'd gotten too tired... well, she had two sons and no daughters and the sons had no interest in hours and hours spent toiling over a stove.

So for my grandmother's Christmas present, I talked my dad into purchasing the supplies for the caramels, and I spent a solid week cooking them, cutting them, and wrapping them. Then we presented them to my grandmother so she could pass them out to her friends and our family and keep the tradition alive. Though last year we just did a very limited number... I think I'm already too tired to keep it up! LOL.

Anyway, I think that the best things are those that have special meaning and/or family tradition behind them (including new family traditions!).

I also shop clearance sales all year most of the time. I got my husband a great, queen sized microfiber blanket back in February for just $8, and a bamboo set of cutting board, bowls, and serving implements for just $11 for my uncle. I find it easier to clearance-shop online through amazon, Target, JC Penney, etc. because I never have time to go shopping in real life for the most part, between a full time job, part time job, school, and home. Thus I don't have a story of a good second-hand find -- it's been years since I went thrift or garage sale shopping!

September 3, 2008 at 12:17 PM

Blogger Abby said...


Wow, I'm exhausted just listening to all that work!

But seriously, it sounds like you have found great (new) stuff at thrift store/garage sale prices. And that's even better!

I am totally in line with you on shopping clearances on line. The only trouble comes from my frequent unwillingness to pay shipping charges. So I have to make sure there are plenty of things I want so I can either a) amortize the cost of the shipping over all the items or b) get enough to qualify for free shipping. It's a careful balancing act to be sure. You can easily find yourself buying more than you need just to get free shipping, which defeats the purpose!

Thanks for your input. I'll be sure to add you to the entries.

September 3, 2008 at 12:35 PM


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