It’s time for the annual Frugalwoods frugal holiday gifts run down (check out the 2014 and 2015 lists too)! Although the mere phrase “holiday gifts” is anathema to many a frugalyte, there are ways to maintain one’s frugal predilections while celebrating all things festive and jolly.
Chiefly, I wish to point out that the holidays should not come as a surprise to anyone or their budget. Indeed, we’re graced with this merry season every single year. Without fail. No exceptions. And thus, panic of any sort is uncalled for. The holidays are not a time to dip into an emergency fund or go into debt or overextend oneself financially (or otherwise). Given their amazingly predictable recurrence, one can plan for holiday expenses well in advance.
The entire point of the holiday season is to spend time with family and friends, enjoy homemade feasts, and if you’re religious, celebrate an important element of your faith through either Christmas or Hanukkah. The point is most certainly not to stress out over packing your house with gifts and glitz. I think we all know this, but nevertheless, it’s easy to get swept up in the lifestyle inflation that is Christmas in the digital age. We now KNOW what everyone else’s tree looks like, how mammoth their kids’ toy pile is, and whose partner bought them a diamond-encrusted toothpick. The danger of comparison–and the inevitable resulting feelings of inadequacy–are rife this time of year and threaten to destroy not only budgets but also morale.
Finding a tenable balance between disavowing the dangerous consumerism of the holidays and still partaking in merriment is possible. It just takes a bit of mindfulness. I first wrote that it “just takes a bit of work,” but I realized that’s not accurate because it actually takes less work to celebrate frugally. But it does take presence of mind to let go of the pressure to compete and compare. To instead embrace a simpler–and I’d posit happier–holiday experience.
Since I gather Mr. Frugalwoods and I aren’t the only frugal folk who celebrate the holidays in thrifty style, I thought I’d share how we gift. Before delving into specific gifts, here’s our general gift philosophy:
1) Mr. FW and I don’t give gifts to each other.
This decision came about as equal parts money-saving and stress-reducing. We used to scamper around trying to cobble together gifts for each other, which quickly became ridiculous. It’s difficult to shop for a frugal person who doesn’t need anything and we were needlessly spending too much money in this harried quest. I will caution that it’s important a no-gift decision is made mutually by both members of a couple. For a full treatment of this topic, check out I Need A Gift For My Anniversary Like Frugal Hound Needs A Bicycle.
2) We limit our formal gift-giving list.
We give gifts to our immediate family members, which includes parents, siblings, and nieces/nephews. To friends, neighbors, and colleagues, we give homemade cookies or sweet breads. Christmas cards are mailed to our broader network of friends and relations.
3) We don’t spend a lot of money.
I have several tactics for saving money on gifts, including: redeeming credit card points for gifts, using gift cards I’ve received to purchase gifts for others, re-gifting, and shopping used. Oh yes, my family is on board with the used gift train. Read more about these strategies here.
Reader Gift Suggestions
I put the question to our Frugalwoods Facebook group of what your favorite holiday gifts are and you all responded with gusto! There were too many responses for me to include them all, but I did my best to represent each gift category. If you want to read the full list, head over to our Facebook page.
1) Homemade gifts.
Many of you gave the same answer: homemade gifts! When I read this, a bolt of fear streaked through me. What you may not know about me is that I’m certifiably horrific at crafting of any kind. Over the years I’ve attempted homemade ornaments, hand-crafted felt cats (what was I thinking?!), paintings, pottery, knitting, and scrapbooking. All results were terrible. Even my mom agrees, which should tell you something.
Most notable is the scarf I endeavored to knit for Mr. FW back before we were engaged. I had it in my mind that I’d make him a gray scarf with black stripes for Christmas. What I presented to him… on VALENTINE’s Day… was a wretched example of gray woe with exactly two black stripes. Not only did it take me four months to knit this thing, it ended up being way too short. I sort of forgot that Mr. FW is a lot taller than me and I measured the scarf on myself. It resembled a poorly constructed ascot up there on his neck.
In addition to my ineptitude where crafting is concerned, I do not enjoy it. I fall into the camp of I’ll craft if someone’s life depends on it, but otherwise, it’s not my thing. So imagine my horror when you all revealed yourselves as mightily crafty folk! But then I calmed down and realized that this is a fabulous illustration of the different modalities of frugality.
Here are a few of the crafty items Frugalwoods readers will undertake:
- Cara makes bath salts and candles.
- Kellie assembles personalized hampers with nice coffees and teas, holiday-flavored sauces and jams, sweets and other such things.
- Jackie helps the kids make homemade tree ornaments for the adults in their lives (commence Mrs. FW having a panic attack).
- Jennifer will make lip balm.
- Kristina’s daughter is concocting bath balms.
2) Experiences, season passes, and museum memberships.
Giving experiences is something I heartily endorse. It eliminates the clutter of unneeded gifts and provides an opportunity to spend time with friends and family. Plus, it’s often educational!
Readers had the following to say about experience gifts:
- Ciera likes to gift memberships to the zoo and children’s museum as well as geocaching annual fees and family photos.
- Faith says that the best gift she’s ever received is the ability to spend time with her family and pets to celebrate the day.
- Jennifer said, “Regardless of how much is (or isn’t, as it were) spent, I value experiences over things. Any sort of class or workshop (fermenting, glassblowing, beekeeping) or experience (apple picking, rafting) we’ve gifted each other has been more fun to me that acquiring ‘stuff.'” Couldn’t have said it better myself.
- Carissa suggests an annual national parks pass. Great idea!
3) Photo gifts, such as calendars, mugs, or framed pictures.
Customized photo gifts are superb as they’re personalized and typically not terribly expensive. I use VistaPrint for all my photo gift needs as their prices are excellent and their formats are easy to work with (here’s how I make super cheap Christmas cards with them). I made a coffee mug with Frugal Hound’s face on it for Mr. FW one year. Now that’s a craft I can handle.
A few reader plans regarding photo-related gifts:
- Louise shared that, “My husband made me a memory collage of a Morrissey concert we attended together. He bought a frame and arranged our tickets, pictures from the night, and a guitar pic we found. My son stole the idea and made a similar thing for his one year anniversary including the bus ticket they used on their first date.”
- Anja is making a calendar of grandkid photos for her mother. I might have to borrow that idea!
- Elizabeth’s mom made a calligraphy plaque of a poem she’d written and hand-painted it.
No frugal gift round-up is complete without the requisite homemade food section. While I typically stick to sweet breads and cookies, you all get pretty darn gourmet in your culinary undertakings.
Here are a few scrumptious selections readers will cook up:
- Amy shared that she makes Vin d’Orange using this recipe.
- Cara makes jarred cranberry chutney, limoncello, and Italian pizzelle cookies. For the kids, she makes gingerbread play dough.
- Mary makes raspberry honey mustard pretzel dip and chocolate covered pretzels.
- Jennifer creates homemade canned salsa, jam, and apple butter. She shared, “I have a source of free apples and grow my own tomatoes and these are the gifts my family and friends have thanked me for more than anything else.”
- Naomi made caramel popcorn last year and cinnamon swirl bread this year. Yum!
- Caroline makes doctored gin!
- Here’s her recipe: You need a large mason jar and either some muslin or a fine strainer, such as a coffee filter. Pour in your reasonably-priced (of course!) gin (750ml, the normal bottle size), add approximately 2 cups of washed berries, mulberries, blueberries (not strawberries, they’d go a bit mushy and grim), OR approximately 100 grams of dried fruit such as apricots or figs. Depending on whether the fruit is sweet or tart, you can add a tablespoon of sugar, give it a good stir, put it somewhere dark, stir every day or two for about 2 weeks, then start having little tastes… when it tastes gooood…. strain it twice and voilà: You have flavored gin!
5) Acts of kindness.
Perfectly frugal and perfectly in alignment with the true meaning of the season.
Here’s what Laura had to say: “One year my husband cleaned out his shop for me so I could park in the garage all winter instead of out in the snow. Now I never have to scrape my windshield. It didn’t cost a thing and was my favorite gift ever.”
6) Charitable contributions.
I think this is a wonderful tradition. Plus, most organizations will supply you with a gift card that lets your intended recipient know you’ve contributed in their honor.
Maluna shared, “Last year I didn’t send cards, saved money on stamps, cut back on gift spending, and contributed to animal rescue groups and shelters. My daughter has a rescue group in Erie, PA and I know the money went to a worthy cause.”
7) Set parameters.
Although not a gift per se, I think establishing gift-giving parameters in advance is a wise and worthy endeavor. Whether it’s setting price limits or making the decision not to give gifts at all, this is an excellent way to curb holiday spending.
Anna shared that her family sets a total dollar amount for gifts and then gives in the following categories: “something to eat, something to wear, something to read, and something to do.”
Frugalwoods Gift Suggestions
Thank you to everyone who contributed their gift ideas! My very favorite gifts to give and receive are things that enable greater frugality. Extreme frugality requires a lot of insourcing and DIY mavenry, which in turn requires tools and gadgets. One of Mr. FW’s catch phrases is “right tool for the job,” which refers to anything that facilitates us doing projects on our own. Here are a few such “tools” that we find invaluable for our frugal lifestyle.
Gifts that facilitate frugality:
1) Hair Clippers + bottle of wine (a gift set!).
Love these things. To save serious dough, we cut our own hair. In order to effectively do so, we use these clippers on Mr. FW and the scissors that come with the kit on my hair. The perfect gift for any aspiring at-home hairdresser! Supply them with links to my articles on how to cut short hair and how to cut long hair to boost their hair-cutting confidence. Include a bottle of wine in case things don’t turn out well.
2) Electric Kettle.
At the risk of you all booing me off the stage for mentioning this kettle YET AGAIN, I’m going to do it anyway. This kettle delivered us from buying take-out coffee and also liberated us from using a microwave and/or a coffee maker. We use it for coffee, tea, and oatmeal prep. Ok now I’ll shut up about the kettle.
Close behind the kettle comes my travel coffee thermos, which I use everyday even though I work from home. You see, I’m a sipper. I sip my 1-2 cups of coffee alllllllll day long. It took me a year to realize I could use a travel thermos at home instead of drinking cold coffee. May you learn this much more quickly than me.
Another kitchen implement I can’t tout enough. All good frugal weirdos cook their own meals and eat their leftovers. Hence, quality, dishwasher-safe glass food storage containers are a supremely welcome member of our household.
5) Stock Pot.
For cooking those bulk batches of food, a stock pot is ideal. The bigger the pot, the more you can make at one time! Frugal, efficient, and tasty. Plus, this is a good item to find at a thrift store–they’re typically quite cheap on the used market.
6) A Mattress.
Ok don’t laugh, this is not (entirely) a joke. You see, we bought our mattress on Amazon over four years ago and we love it. It cost us a mere $279 for a king-sized, memory foam mattress, which is firm to this day (and hey, the price is now down to $267.95!). If you want to splash out for a relative or purchase a family gift for yourselves, may I highly recommend this super cheap mattress. P.S. Oh yes, we got free shipping.
7) Electric Blanket.
Now I’m on a bedding theme. An electric blanket is a fantastic frugal gift as it allows us to keep our home cooler at night (and thus use less wood in our woodstove), yet remain warm and cozy in bed. Frugal weirdos love to turn down their thermostats at night and using an electric blanket for a few minutes each evening consumes far less electricity.
Since hounds should be warmed too, Frugal Hound adores her hound dog bed warmer. Laugh all you want, but she loves the roasty toasty-ness that this little pad provides.
9) Fleece Baby Sleep Sack.
Yes indeed, we are all cozy and warm at night! This fleece sleep sack (coupled with fleece zip-up jammies) keeps Babywoods warm and snug in her crib. Ok this concludes the warm-in-bed themed gifts.
Gifts that facilitate frugal hobbies:
The next category of gifts Mr. FW and I appreciate are things that support frugal hobbies. Happy is the frugal weirdo who can entertain herself on the cheap and without outside intervention.
As insourcers, Mr. FW and I are constantly learning. The more we read, the more self-sufficient we become. Most of our current reading focuses on homesteading, gardening, and parenting. Know what your frugal weirdo wants to learn and find them a book on the subject. And if you’re hoping to educate yourself or others on the art of frugality and investing, may I highly recommend this book right here.
2) Yoga Mat.
3) Hiking Shoes.
Any gear related to your frugal weirdo’s hobbies will be most welcome. Hiking shoes, ski poles, mittens, hats, surfboards, croquet sets…. whatever it is you enjoy, look for gear that’ll deliver years of enjoyment.
The holidays don’t have to be an anxiety-provoking melee of spending debauchery. Rather, you can choose to celebrate within reason and spend money on gifts that your recipients will appreciate.
Thoughtful, homemade gifts or gifts that facilitate your recipient’s version of the good life will win out every time. Take heart that you’re not alone in your frugal quest and know that you can navigate this season of commercial consumerism with ease. To give you further ideas and encouragement, this month’s case study will also address gift giving in the frugal sphere.