Reader Suggestions Of Frugal, Fun, Inexpensive, and Festive Holiday Gifts
Welcome to my monthly Reader Suggestions feature! Every month I post a question to our Frugalwoods Facebook group and share the best responses here. The questions are topics I’ve received multiple queries on and my hope is that by leveraging the braintrust of Frugalwoods nation, you’ll find helpful advice and insight. Join the Frugalwoods Facebook group to participate in next month’s Reader Suggestions!
It’s holiday time! Also known as my excuse to write about the holidays with fervor and spam you with photos of Frugal Hound dressed up as Santa Clause, a reindeer, an elf, and… oh that poor dog. Much as we all love the holidays (OR MAYBE IT’S JUST ME), there’s a sneaky penchant for them to become expensive, stressful, and overpriced. To which I say: they don’t have to be. I promise.
We’re going to focus on holiday gift-giving today and the overarching theme I want to highlight is that the holidays are as expensive and as stressful as you make them. Mr. Frugalwoods and I spend very (we’re talking very) little on Christmas and yet, we absolutely love our Christmas traditions! I’ve devoted quite a few lines of text to these traditions over the years and you can read all about them here:
- Our Festive, Frugal, and Merry Holiday Traditions
- How To Give Frugal Gifts With Joy And Generosity
- Holiday Gifts For Frugal Weirdos To Give And Receive
- Our Festive and Frugal $100 Christmas
- 7 Great Gifts For Frugal Weirdos
- …ok there are more, but I’m embarrassed to admit it. You can go here if you want to see the full list. Also, apparently I love the word “festive.” We all have our weaknesses.
Sidenote: Mr. FW and I happen to celebrate Christmas, so that’s where my examples stem from, but I think these tips and strategies are generalizable to any holiday you celebrate–birthdays and anniversaries included!
Frugal Gift Giving
I’ve polled the best frugal resource out there–the readers of Frugalwoods–and compiled their suggestions for frugal gift giving below. But first, I need to wax on for awhile, just so you feel like you’re getting money’s worth with this post. Plus, who am I kidding, I am ridiculously long-winded.
Contrary to our mainstream culture’s belief, frugal gift giving does not equal miserly gift giving. Giving as a frugal person is about being strategic, planning ahead, and placing the emphasis on togetherness and family as opposed to material possessions (so basically how we frugal people live all year round).
To Give or Not To Give?
The elephant in the room for frugal gift giving is the question of whether to give gifts at all. Mr. Frugalwoods and I, for example, do not give gifts to each other because we see no point. We buy what we need throughout the year and neither of us wants a bunch of unneeded junk cluttering up our home. Prior to embracing frugality and understanding how much happier we are living a simpler life, we exchanged gifts and all it did was stress us out.
We were running around behind each other’s backs trying desperately to spend money on stuff that the other person usually ended up returning to the store… an exercise in futility to be sure. Our mutual decision to cease giving gifts came about as a result of a conversation in which we realized that what we both want for the holidays is a chance to spend quality time together. Instead of wasting time and money shopping for each other, we now spend that time and money together as a family. We cook special meals, we go out to eat, we watch Christmas movies at home, we go on hikes, and we hang out. It’s perfect and it’s totally absent the rat race stress of buying stuff. It’s also true that not giving gifts is an illustration of our decision to smooth out our happiness curve and create a life we enjoy living every single day.
A word of caution on this strategy: if implemented, be sure to implement it with the full input of your partner. Don’t be showing up to Christmas morning/Hanukkah night with no gift for your partner and then blaming Mrs. Frugalwoods for saying it was ok. You need to discuss this approach together well in advance of the holiday, agree on what will be comfortable for both parties, and ensure that it is truly a mutual decision. I will not be held responsible for angry partners on holidays ;)!!
Second-Hand Gifts For Kids (newsflash: they do not know the difference)
This will be the first Christmas where we actually give gifts to our daughter. For her first Christmas, she was a whopping one month old, so no point. And last year, at all of one year old, she had no clue what was going on and there was still no point in giving her gifts. This year, I think it’ll be fun to watch her open a few presents–all of which I’ve bought used at garage sales over the course of the year.
Let’s be honest here, kids have no idea if a toy is used or not and they absolutely do not care. The only people who care are the parents. I imagine this will shift as Babywoods gets older, but at two years old, a toy bus is a toy bus whether it was $1 at a garage sale (which it was, thank you very much) or $22.99 on Amazon. Immaterial to her. Either way, she gets a ‘wheels-on-bus’ (that being what she calls all busses).
I source all (yes, all) of Babywoods’ stuff used and gifts are no different. I wash everything I purchase for her and then hide it in the basement where she can’t see it (genius parenting, I tell you). If you’re wondering how I manage to find everything second-hand, check out How To Find Anything and Everything Used: A Compendium Of Frugal Treasure Hunting. The novelty of new toys and books is incredibly high for a two-year-old, but their interest also wanes pretty darn quickly. Buying used toys and books is a way to save massive amounts of money and also to not stress out if she doesn’t end up enjoying a particular toy–I simply pass it along to someone else.
Babywoods is book-crazy right now, so I’ve been hitting up used book sales at libraries and scouting out deals on books (circa 0.10 cents to $1 per book) that I think she’ll enjoy. I caught her reading Mr. FW’s “Fine Homebuilding” magazine the other day, so maybe I should just give her back issues of those ;).
I’m also not a fan of giving mountains of toys to kids. First of all, they don’t need mountains of toys (research demonstrates that kids typically play with only a fraction of their toys) and secondly, excessive gift-giving sets a bad, materialistic precedent. It teaches kids that the holidays are about greed and about how much they can get. It’s not generous to spoil your children, it’s doing them a disservice.
As parents, we get to set the tone for what gift-giving looks like in our family and if it gets out of control, that’s entirely our fault. It’s up to us as the adults to set a good example of generosity, simplicity, and a focus on people, not things.
Reining in the deluge of presents isn’t depriving children; rather, it’s setting them up for understanding their privilege, recognizing how fortunate they are, and giving them the opportunity to delight in small pleasures (which, coincidentally, is also how to experience contentment and fulfillment as an adult). If you’re having trouble communicating this message to other family members or grandparents, we tackled that thorny topic in a reader case study last year: Reader Case Study: The Case Of The Over-gifting In-Laws!
As Babywoods (and her little sister!) get older, I like the idea of implementing the four-gift rule with my own twist added, such that they’ll each receive:
- A gift they want
- A gift they need
- A gift to wear
- A gift to read
- A gift to donate (I’ve still got to figure out how we’ll orchestrate this, but maybe I’ll have them each adopt a child through the Angel Tree at our church or they’ll each select a charity to donate to. Either way, we’ll figure out a way to incorporate giving into receiving. Let me know if you’ve figured out a good system for little kids!).
I’m also into the idea of doing a ‘family experience’ gift as the girls get older, such as an annual membership to a museum or a fun family outing. Anything that encourages us to explore and spend time together as a family is a win! Plus, it’s probably something we’d be buying anyway, so why not make it a gift.
Gift Giving To Adults
Plenty of folks do kids-only gift giving, which is a great strategy! I, however, enjoy giving gifts to the adults in my immediate family. Over the years, I’ve honed this approach and come to realize that I like giving gifts that are:
- Purchased locally
- Charitable gifts
I hate clutter, I hate things going into landfills, and I hate wasted money. So by buying gifts that fall into one (or more) of the above categories, I hope I’m avoiding those three pitfalls. Mr. FW and I have a Donor Advised Fund through which we donate to charities every year and I enjoy making gifts in honor of family members. My parents and in-laws have done the same for us and I think charitable giving is a perfect gift!
I am also a particular fan of consumable gifts (such as food, soap, lotion, etc) because they’re meant to be consumed, shared, and enjoyed! Frugalwoods readers relayed a bevy of ideas for homemade and consumable (yum) gifts, so I’ll take this opportunity to share my ideas for practical gifts.
Practical gifts are usually more expensive, but I’m totally OK with that provided I know the item will get used. Another thing I love about practical gifts is that they usually facilitate greater frugality. For example, our hair clippers–with which I cut Mr. FW’s hair–cost us a mere $20 and have saved us untold thousands on haircuts over the years. Fun fact: Amazon informed us that we’ve owned our clippers for five years as of this week. That, my friends, is a lot of free haircuts. The more you know.
Here are a few other practical gifts we’ve given (or received) over the years that’ve been a hit:
- Electric kettle
- Corelle plates and bowls
- Glass food storage containers
- Travel coffee thermoses
- Electric blanket
- A vacuum (Don’t laugh! This is an awesome vacuum, which I bought for my parents because I have one and love it so much).
Kitchen items are particularly welcome for frugal folks since a core tenet of frugality is, well, cooking!
I feel that books merit a category all their own as they are such fabulous frugal gifts to give and receive. Books are sort of the ultimate frugal gift as they facilitate greater frugality by teaching you new skills, they encourage a slower pace of life by taking you away from screens, they’re the best form of entertainment, and perhaps most importantly, a passion for reading means you’ll never be bored or lonely. What could be better!
This is also my chance to shamelessly (I mean, no shame whatsoever) plug my book, which publishes March 6, 2018. My book, Meet The Frugalwoods: Achieving Financial Independence Through Simple Living, is available to be pre-ordered right now and, if you order by December 1, 2017, I will mail you a signed bookplate for free in time for Christmas! You won’t receive the book itself until after it publishes (on March 6, 2018), but you’ll have the bookplate in time to wrap and put under your tree. Full disclosure, people, I haven’t sent out the first batch of these bad boys yet, but don’t fret, they’re on their way!
Here are all the places where you can pre-order my book:
To receive your signed bookplate, follow these steps:
- Pre-order my book through one of the above listed online retailers
- Forward your book pre-order receipt to this email address (AND ONLY THIS email address!!): email@example.com
- Fill out the form I’ll send you via email requesting your name and address
- Wait by your mailbox for your signed bookplate to arrive (give me a few weeks to get it in the mail to you)
- Store your signed bookplate in a safe place for several months since…
- Your copy of the book itself will arrive from the retailer your pre-ordered it from AFTER the publication date of March 6, 2018
If you’re so inclined, you can read the full details of my forthcoming book here.
Create Parameters Around Giving
Something I noticed in the reader responses is that many people like to create parameters–or expectations–around their holiday giving, which I think is a fantastic idea! Giving only to kids, doing a gift exchange, choosing names out of a hat, setting a dollar or number of gifts limit, or focusing on ‘experience’ gifts are all ways to control spending, stress, and post-holiday clutter.
Plus, establishing these parameters ahead of time lets everyone know what to expect and ensures you’re all on the same page. As I mentioned above, we set the tone for our kids and they’ll calibrate their expectations from our actions. Santa Claus can bring just one toy, people. This is entirely within your control! I mean, he has to fly all around the world after all, seems like one toy is totally sufficient (and already going to max out sleigh capacity if we’re being honest).
The Ultimate Frugalwoods Readers Holiday Gift Guide!
Ok enough from me! Let’s delve into the stellar gift ideas from all of you fine frugal folks. I received too many fabulous responses from readers to include all of them below, but you can check out the full conversation on our Frugalwoods Facebook page. I’ve divided the suggestions up by category this year since it seems we frugal people like to give gifts that fall into one of the following areas:
- Beholden to specific parameters
Sarah wrote, “My parents love a photo calendar every year. I always used Shutterfly when they ran a free calendar promo as others said, but last year I decided to get even more creative and create my own using IMom’s calendar template and adding my own photos in. Even cheaper than shipping from Shutterfly and still super cute!”
Hannah reported, “I just bought Christmas postcards thanks to your Frugalwoods suggestion! Thank you!”
Laura shared, “We’ve made a variety of photo gifts with Modge Podge and have done some custom wood burning on cutting boards, wooden spoons and serving platters!”
Jennifer explained, “Every year I make a calendar for my mother-in-law using pictures from the previous year. It also includes everyone’s birthdates and anniversaries (she’s one of 6 so there are a lot of them). I wait for Shutterfly to offer a coupon for a free calendar and then all I have to pay is shipping! She uses it all year and looks forward to getting them each December.”
Mandy wrote, “My parents started a tradition a few years ago for all three of us ‘kids.’ We each have a box with our name on it and they fill it throughout the year with deals they’ve found, mementos they’re passing on, freebies they’ve found/received/etc. It’s always full of useful, practical items (with a splash of fun things!) that seem more and more exciting the older we get.”
Pam reports, “My in-laws give us grocery items for Christmas. My father-in-law wraps each item individually. I haven’t bought toilet paper or laundry detergent for years! Our first Christmas together I was a single mother who had recently bought a house. Those Christmas gifts stocked my pantry!”
Michelle shared, “I love gardening and had tons of seed packets and saved seeds from my vegetables in an ugly shoebox. My teenage son decorated a pretty box for me to put them in. I loved it.”
Asa wrote, “Me and my siblings gave each other ‘work hours’ for renovations in our homes. We got a lot done; changed kitchen at my sister’s flat, painted and made a total make over in my brother’s small one-room flat! It was fun but we were also very tired.”
Margaret shared a novel idea, “Last year was the beginning of my frugal living budget, so I decided to collect wood pallets and chopped into kindling, for my three friends who have wood burning stoves. I purchased 3 hessian sandbag sacks from B&Q hardware store for £1.00, filled each sack with kindling, then pleated thick string to tied the top. A simple recycled homemade gift that was well appreciated.”
Bronwyn wrote, “One year, I made my teenage son a binder/recipe book of all his favorite dishes/recipes that I cook. He enjoys baking, and this allowed us to spend time after Christmas teaching him how to cook his favorite recipes (that I had put in the binder). We still add to it throughout the year. Now that he is in college, he still references it (which makes me happy). We also go to a local used bookstore and pick out a book for each other as a gift. I am a single mom and we both love reading—he doesn’t care if a book is new or used, as long as it is good.”
Carline shared, “My best frugal gift was, paradoxically, quite an expensive one. It was my e-reader (just a tablet, not a Kindle or any special brand). It obviously wasn’t free, though my husband did really thoroughly pursue the best deal he could feasibly get, but it has meant that I now have nearly every book I could ever want, generally free. I did and do use our library, but read fast and always have at least one book on the go… and had a terrible weakness for buying second hand books and buying books generally, which looks virtuous, but actually was just a waste of money!”
Tracey shared, “Today hubby and I made homemade jams – I was going to buy exclusive chocolates for my 11 direct reports from local chocolatiers for NZD$12 per person; the jam will be much nicer and I am loving some of the ideas on here for next year! Thanks, going to save a ton of money, which is helpful as we are on day 2 of the Uber Frugal Month Challenge!
Brian wrote, “One of the main things I try to do for Christmas is buy as much as possible local, and I try to buy consumables. I long ago lost the battle I tried to wage against consumerism in Christmas, so instead I try to at least have my dollars stay in the community as much as possible, and I try to fill my wish list with the same. For my dad, beer has been a great go-to gift: Buying from local breweries supports a local business, I know he will like it, and it’s something that won’t clutter up the house. I like giving good coffee too – we have a great local roaster and their coffee isn’t very expensive. One of the best presents I ever gave was a book on comics about one of my friend’s favorite comic book writers – I bought it at a used book store in the summer and saved it. For my niece and nephew, the closest thing I have to kids, I spend a little more sometimes; but otherwise I stick to roughly $25. Although this year I will have a girlfriend for Christmas so that will change my formula a bit. She’s already said “I don’t need gifts, but I require quality time” and she seems to be fairly frugal like I am. Good question for Ms Frugalwoods and the rest of FW readers: Good gift for a new girlfriend who is frugal-ish?”
Carolyn shared, “…my favorite of all gifts I have ever received is a letter from my husband and also one from my youngest daughter telling me how much I meant to them and the reasons they loved me. Best present ever! My husband had framed his and my daughter had hers in an envelope. Did not get both same year, got daughters 20 years ago and husbands 10 years ago. I still have both letters and will keep them. Best gift in the world!!”
Kristine relayed, “I have a small family and we’re not big on gift-giving. I have standing agreements with several relatives to just give a donation in each others names and leave it at that. My frugal friends consider forced gift-giving a bit annoying, so we give each other homemade gifts throughout the year, not specifically for Christmas. For the people who are left, I make homemade soaps, biscuits, reusable shopping bags, or a gift of money, if I know that is what they want. Very simple, very efficient, and I don’t have to trot around the mall with all the noise and people (big win!)!”
Leslie writes, “We buy bulk organza bags from the dollar store or ebay and fill them with Christmas themed treats such as mini candy canes or other candy items. I steer away from cooking treats as I already spend a lot of time in the kitchen at Christmas. The organza bags are for classmates, teachers, neighbours and people who help us out throughout the year. A completed bag, candy and all, costs around 0.50 cents a bag. For close friends and relatives we usually give a gift with a beer, a cider and either some crackers, nuts or chocolates in it. The left over beers and ciders from the cartons are then our Christmas drinks. The total costs of a completed gift bag is around $15.”
Bonita shared, “Many years ago, my husband and I made our own wrapping paper, using rubber stamps, embossing powder and marking pens on plain brown paper. Each gift was figured out as to where the ‘top’ would be and then we would stamp it, etc. I don’t remember what we gave everyone, but heard back from lots of the family that they didn’t want to open the gifts before Christmas and many of them saved that paper!”
Erin wrote, “I make ‘rice packs’ which can be used as hot or cold packs for sore muscles or bumps. Take a few square feet of a cotton print, sew three sides together, sew channels about 1.5 inches apart, fill the channels with rice, then sew the fourth side. To use warm, microwave for 1-2 minutes (use caution until you know how long to go!). Bonus is the soothing smell of warm rice.”
Amanda wrote that she’s made, “-cinnamon applesauce ornaments. These are always a hit! You can get everything at the Dollar store.
-Plates of homemade cookies.
-Mason jars of dry cookie ingredients with a recipe.
-Movie night in a box: Redbox code, bag of microwave popcorn, and a bag of candy.”
Bronwyn shared, “For co-workers, I made little bags of cranberries, an orange, cloves and cinnamon sticks, with instructions to put in a crockpot with water to make the house smell nice.”
Angela reported, “We give consumables to everyone but our wee kiddos. I make chocolate truffles (I was given an amazing recipe years ago, most people think they are from a chocolaterie) and my husband makes wonderful ginger beer. Everyone loves it and usually starts asking around now if we’re doing it again. I give something small and light to my best girlfriends (scattered around the globe), last year I decorated calico shopping bags, personalising them to each one; this year I am making them beeswax wraps so they can ditch cling wrap. I could bang on about consumerism at Christmas for hours, it’s a real bugbear of mine! We choose to give to charities and food banks with all the money we don’t spend on useless cr@p.”
Jessica wrote, “I dry herbs from my garden in the dehydrator, put them in baby food jars and make little sets for friends. I make my my own laundry soap so I’ll make an extra batch and use it as a gift. I bake cookies and breads and use the cans and tins people gave me the year before for teachers gifts.”
Laura shared, “I️ cleaned up my old iPhone and gave it to my little brother. I️ could’ve gotten cash for it, but he needed it so it was the perfect frugal gift!”
Anna does exactly what I do and wrote, “My daughter is 2 – throughout the year I have scored free kids toys from my local Buy Nothing Group, and hidden them from her. I’ll wrap them up and put them under the tree – she doesn’t care that they are used!”
Bronwyn reported, “My Dad really likes mystery novels. I went to a used bookstore and found the first book in about 5 different mystery series he hadn’t read yet. For each book, I wrote a little note explaining which series it was book #1 for. Because these are all first-in-series books, they had been out for years and were quite inexpensive by the time I purchased them. Also, my Dad really appreciated the work I had gone to to find the first books — something he never has the patience to do himself.”
Jennifer shared an inventive idea, “Kids love color chips [paint store color samples] in their stockings!!! And they’re free! One of the stocking stuffers I invented when I was out of work.”
Gaile wrote, “I always love used books to give and receive.”
Laronda relayed, “For our own family, we are shameless secondhand purchasers. My parents enjoy old, unusual books, and our kids have learned that Craigslist is a treasure trove of gently-used or even nearly-new Lego sets, scooters, and even a Wii one year.”
Cathy explained, “We’ve enjoyed giving memberships to zoos and museums to our kids and grandkids. They are such a good investment for a whole year of fun and education and they can even share discounts with their friends.”
Hannah shared, “We love to give experiences that provide memories and time together. One year we wrapped inexpensive kites for the kids to let them know we were headed to the beach for vacation (which was the rest of the gift for all of us).”
Jackie wrote, “My best frugal Christmas gift was sewing lessons actually. The upfront cost was a little steep but the skills I learned have helped on our frugal journey. I can do simple clothing repairs now as well as make small gifts.”
Aislinn relayed, “Me and my husband prefer to give ourselves time together. This year our ‘gift’ will be a day off together before Christmas to pick out our tree. We get a real one every year. We’ve also managed to convince grandparents to buy our children new clothes and books instead of adding to their toy pile. They get to enjoy giving something and we know the children are getting something they need and will use.”
Haley shared, “I received a gift membership to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science which allowed me to take my little scientist to the museum as often as he wanted to go! It was great!!”
Ashlee wrote, “I received a gift card for the state park system. We used it to purchase a year-pass to the state parks. It was awesome!”
Desiree wrote, “We do 3 gifts like the 3 wisemen gave Jesus. Then we do 1 Santa gift because they believe in Santa and 1 family gift. I’m doing an aquarium family pass this year .. I used to give my kids a dozen gifts each and I found they didn’t really appreciate the stuff .. this way we take turns, they have time to look at the item, and we really put a lot of thought into each item because there’s only 4.”
Grace relayed, “This year for the kids we are sticking with the 4 gift rule: Something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read. We are no gift giving for any adults in the family. We will buy a gift for our niece and nephew. I made ornaments and will send one to each family with the Christmas card. I think I spent a total of $7 for the stuff to make the ornaments.”
Jessica does of combination of the two traditions, “For our family we do three gifts (like the gold, incense and myrrh) from the wise men: Something they want, something they need and something we will do together, like tickets for a concert or a membership to the zoo.”
Laurel shared, “Our extended family just switched to Secret Santa (there’s an online site to make it easy) so we’re each buying a gift for one person instead of six. We all get to buy goodies for the baby.”
Jodi wrote, “My husband and I don’t buy gifts any more. We stopped about 4 yrs ago and it’s such a relief. There are too many people to buy for and too stressful trying to find the ‘perfect’ gift. Spending time, throughout the year, with people we enjoy and mean the most is more important.”
Meghan relayed, “My Dad is one of 5 kids and each sibling has one or more child and now some of the cousins are married. So, each year we draw one person’s name and buy a gift just for that family member. We have a party where we exchange the gifts. It’s one of my favorite Christmas time traditions.”
Jeff wrote, “For both sides of our family we switched to a Yankee Swap, instead of buying presents for each individual person. I think each person spends a max of $20. It has been a resounding success. There are many hilarious, goofy gifts, and some just plain great ones. You can steal other people’s presents in a Yankee Swap, which ramps up the fun. There are always many laughs. Way, way better than a regular, boring, expensive gift exchange.”
Sarah shared, “I like to pick out one fun small thing for my nieces and nephews, and usually cap that around $25 per child. For adults, we pick a charity to donate to each year, and include a note about our donation with a bottle of wine or nice bag of coffee/chocolates (depending on what the person likes as a treat.)”
Jan wrote, “Many, many years ago, I stopped buying gifts for friends. Everyone throws in and we adopt as many children as we can with what we have to donate through Angel Tree. It grew at work and this year we are adopting 25 children. I organize and whoever wants to help shops. It’s also tax-deductible. My mom and husband and I don’t exchange gifts. I am a couponer and coupon all year long and make gift baskets for grown kids and their wives with hygiene, cleaning, and laundry stuff. My grandchildren are harder but this year the oldest are 10 and 12. The old me went all out. Now, they know they have a monetary limit of $50 and I will put $50 in their savings accounts. I have always split their birthdays like that except it was $25 to spend and $25 in their savings accounts. I have a new 3-month-old grandchild and one coming in January so we will just start off like that with them.”
Melissa shared, “Last year we made donations in each other’s names. I loved it because I was in grad school. (So I could give $20 and nobody was the wiser!).”
Have A Holly Jolly Frugal Holiday!
Frugality at the holidays is not about being miserly, it’s not about avoiding the festivities, and it’s not about being a grinch. Rather, frugality encourages us to focus on our priorities, to remember why we’re celebrating in the first place, and to spend thoughtfully and within reason.
I also want to point out that the holidays are not an emergency, people. They happen at the same time every single year. Given this, the holidays are not an excuse to go into debt. They are not an excuse to overspend and they are not an excuse to bring financial hardship upon yourself.
Spend money in ways that are reasonable and meaningful to you and your family. Having a hundred gifts at Christmas is much less important to a kid than having parents who aren’t stressed out about their finances. Keep perspective on what’s truly important and remember that the most valuable, fulfilling aspects of life aren’t things at all.
What are your tips for frugal gift giving?
Never Miss A Story
Sign up to get new Frugalwoods stories in your email inbox.
My wife and I don’t exchange gifts. Only for birthdays since they’re so close to Christmas, mine mid-December and hers late November.
For our kids since they are both 2 and under we actually hide toys that they haven’t played with in awhile and then wrap them up. They get to unwrap something and oftentimes forget that they had the toy 🙂
That’s awesome. I do the same thing with my dog! 🙂
With our son, we have tried to find ways to communicate to his grandparents and great-grandparents that he does not need a lot of “stuff” or new toys. One of the ways we do this is by finding the one or two things we could use or he would enjoy (a hiking backpack one year, a balance bike the next) and ask for Amazon gift cards for towards item. For us, this helps eliminate too many extras, reduces the cost of a bigger ticket item by making it a “shared gift”, and still allows our relatives to give towards something he will enjoy.
On the giving side, we love sticking to either practical items (my husband is thrilled when he receives needed kitchen items!), books, or a batch of home-roasted coffee beans.
Oooh yes I’m all about consumables! Whenever someone gifts be something, I dread the clutter but appreciate the thought. It’s hard to not want to sell it on eBay and with shipping fees, some items might as well be donated anyways. But consumables like homemade jam and cookies are always a hit + win me.
I’m not sure other people have the foodie attitude as I do. But I gift consumables and things like soap. Don’t tell me you don’t be soap! 🙂
Don’t need soap* – darn auto corrects. I never mean ‘duck’ either ;).
I’m with you on the consumables… they make great gifts (especially if they’re homemade!). But then again, I’m kind of a foodie too!
My husband and I stopped exchanging gifts five years ago! It was a great decision, we still take the time to write a nice card to the other person! This year my parents, brother, and I all plan to donate to a cause instead of exchanging gifts for the second year running. It is a nice tradition and we have too much stuff in our home already! It helps us practice gratitude!
And not gift giving, but almost all of my decorations are handed down from family members which is wonderful!
Woo yay this is such a timely post for the holiday season.
I didn’t grow up celebrating Chrismas, but I am super uber excited about it. I love festivity and time with family and friends. I can’t think of any better reasons to get together with the ones we love than Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.
I love all of your photos. Thanks for sharing the great tips!
Yes!! This!! Holidays are not an emergency and should not bring on debt. You can plan throughout the year for gift buying or save money or get creative. My favorite gifts are picking up small souvenirs while I travel. I limit my gift buying to my immediate family and very close friends. I loooooove receiving consumables since I don’t like clutter around the house.
Last year (our first #yearofno) my Hubby and I didn’t exchange our traditional round of gifts. Instead, we bought tickets to a concert we both really wanted to attend. Aside from saving money by not buying the pile of gifts we usually do, we were shocked at how much we enjoyed the simplicity! Like you said, no running around trying to guess what the other would love the most and being disappointed when they weren’t over the moon at our choice. We don’t go out on many dates, so this was extra special for us.
One of the ways my kids get to “donate” is they each pick out an animal from Heifer International to send to someone in need. They each pic out there gift and then they have cards online you can print to give to the recipients. Normally we do one animal per child and they do it in honor of their teacher. As they get older and have multiple teachers they still just get to pick out one animal. We have done flocks of chicken, geese, rabbits, even a goat. There is a book I bought many years ago” Beatrice’s Goat” that discusses the process and we read that each Christmas. The teachers LOVE it- they for real like cry and are touched. The kids also learn so much about thankfulness and helping those in need.
What a great idea! Thank you for sharing!
We do Heifer International regularly. My children are required to set aside a dollar of their allowance for giving and I match it when we have enough to get something small from HI. Last time we did a flock of chicks. It’s a nice way to make giving more concrete to them at their young ages (5 and 6).
We need to look into this. Since my son is allergic to cow’s milk, many of the children in the family have learned more about goats and the milk we get from them. It would be neat to give a goat in their honor so other people can benefit from the milk, also.
Great column from Mrs. FW, reminding us that the holiday is about giving, not getting.
We also do Heifer International. With our four grandchildren, we give them a gift for themselves, and then give them each $150 and the Heifer catalogue (you can get multiple copies just by emailing). The children then get together to decide how to give their portion, whether with something individual (bees or rabbits) or by pooling their donations to get something larger (flocks or larger animals). This engages them in imagining the needs of those less fortunate, and is a wonderful way to expand our holiday celebration. The catalogue has many options at all different levels of giving, and the charity gets high marks for using their donations effectively.
We do this as well and then I pick out an age appropriate book for my son which features the animal we’ve bought, even if it has nothing to do with charity. We’ve done Ducks (Make Way for Ducklings), Geese (Don’t Fidget a Feather), a Goat (that year was Beatrice’s Goat), and this year we are doing a pig (Pigs APlenty, Pigs Galore). Why yes, I am a children’s librarian…and even though Make Way for Ducklings has nothing to do with Heifer, I always read the note inside the book that says why he received it and that reinforces the lesson throughout the year.
I have five grandkids five and under. While I love giving them presents, I have begun contributing to their 529 plans for college, but still spend $25 on a birthday present, and $50 at Christmas. When they open the envelope with the 529 gift, we all exclaim, “you are going to college!”. My husband and I don’t exchange gifts. We prefer “experiences”, like going to a concert or play, trying a new restaurant or taking a day trip to a new place. Much less stressful and more fun!
Contributing to a child’s 529 is a WONDERFUL gift! Thank you for sharing :)!
This idea may seem less than frugal and a little humbug, but I started giving my nieces and nephews $5 each (6 kids) plus a family oriented gift (game, puzzle). They don’t need anything, but it’s something they get excited about (most monetary gifts are college fund checks) and can save or spend as they want. I’ll probably increase as they get older. I folded into origami letters last year. It also saves me time thinking about what to give and buying/shipping.
Love this idea!! We had a $5 party for our daughters birthday this year. So instead of tons of toys, she got lots of $5 bills, and she had enough to buy an in expensive scooter. So much better than a gazillion more things laying around!
We do 3 gifts for our kids plus a stocking. We don’t do adult presents, except parents and grands. And for those special people in our lives, we spend frugally and typically buy photo items from Shutterfly with all the stacked deals. Keeps us from spending too much!
Those shortbread cookies look so tasty! I’ve been trying to figure out frugaling Christmas. It’s tough because I love the concept of homemade gifts. Last year we did homemade with Mr. Picky Pincher’s side of the family and I loved it! Unfortunately I think I was the only one. I’ve even tried to implement kids-only gifting, but that didn’t go over well either. It’s so hard to change the Christmas culture to get away from gifting and more towards spending time together. It would be so much better for our stress levels and wallets if we could be more open-minded!
Mrs. PP, I totally agree with you. We buy for EVERYONE in my husband’s family. Including nieces, nephews & SO’s. One solution is to start early (September isn’t too soon). I also concentrate on giving gifts to a couple, instead of individuals, buying discount gift cards online (I found a never-used $50 gift card to Home Depot for $48.25, plus free shipping), and checking with people to see what they really want. My MIL, for example, wants a new bathroom scale for Christmas. I found one at Bed Bath & Beyond, and after the sale and the coupon it was only $15. Since I was planning to buy her a $50 gift card to her favorite supermarket, I’m glad I asked! I saved $35!
In my family we will limit ourselves to two things. We will practice this wonderful Icelandic tradition of book giving. https://www.good.is/articles/iceland-christmas-book-flood-jolabokaflod
Each person will post online a list of books to choose from. The second thing is that each person will post a non-profit that he or she wishes to support. Donations will be given in his or her name. There is no set amount for the donation, so everyone can give as much or as little as they choose and can afford. It makes for a very stress free holiday experience.
The first thing I thought when I read about how many are doing three gifts or more for their children was “Wow, that is a lot of gifts!”. I don’t know if that is just me? Growing up, we each got two gifts from our parents, one thing we needed and one thing we wanted (and a bar of chocolate from “Santa”). I still remember the gifts we needed the most, like when I finally outgrew my allergies and got a proper warm duvet, instead of my old freezing cold allergy-friendly one.
I am still trying to get hubby to get around to the “no gift giving” philosophy, but with no success yet. I keep trying! I get so happy reading about how many other frugal weirdos are also passionate about consumerism and environmentalism. It gives me hope! 🙂
I try to focus on presents for my parents that I know they want, but have been too frugal to purchase for themselves. For instance, my dad has been looking for deals on LED lightbulbs for their house, but hasn’t pulled the trigger because they are still “too expensive”… Well, Costco just had a great sale on LED bulbs, so I picked up a pile for their gift this year 🙂
Photo Calendars are another staple for parents and grandparents. We populate with our travel adventures from the current year!
To teach our children about giving, involving them was key. Shopping for someone their own age, wrapping together ( with cookies/hot chocolate afterwards) and hopefully delivering them ourselves. I wanted them to meet the families in need, exchange hugs, see that they were real people, etc etc. We would also serve in soup lines or make and deliver hot meals.
As they got older, we would decide as a family what ministries we wanted our “Christmas present for Jesus” to go to. They never knew the monetary amount, but we would give the same amount as we spent for Christmas. That influenced my perspective with shopping.
I love the idea of the “Christmas present for Jesus.” That is a great way to incorporate giving with receiving. We have had a birthday party for Jesus every year since I was born, but a gift for a charity or needy family is a wonderful addition.
When my grandchildren, who lived out of town, were with us , for Christmas or any time , I did something they loved. I bought two inexpensive metal mailboxes at the craft store and painted their names on them. They were placed on the nightstand in our bedroom. Every morning we were with them, they rushed in to see if they had mail, and spent an hour playing in bed with us. Sometimes I bought a $1.00 toy at the dollar store, sometimes a pack of lifesavers, some times I used freebies. If the red flag wasn’t up, they knew the mailman(Gram) hadn’t been there yet. For 4 or 5 years they would ask me if I was the mailman. It was fun for me trying to avoid answering.
This is a great idea. I love adding a little special treat at grandparents’ homes without going overboard. And this is something special they can cherish when visiting grandparents who may live many miles away.
I make homemade cheesecake every year for my family. I usually go to the Dollar Tree and buy the round tin pans with tops, they work well, but I made each one a small cheesecake in the two cup Pyrex glass bowls last year. That was a big hit. One year I gifted two movie tickets to my niece and my brother to a Disney movie, my brother will remember that, my niece may not, as she was 4 or 5 at the time
We have come to the conclusion, as our kids are getting bigger, that ”expensive” gifts are for birthdays, but Christmas will include a couple of roughly-equally-priced items (or items that look approximately similarly priced, second hand scores can sometimes tip this a bit, but it’s more in the sense of equity rather than strict to-the-cent accounting!) each from us. The grandparents will give each of them something too, and there will probably also be something moderate from their loving godmother. That’s IT. Not one thing else. Unless there is something really desperately wanted and it happens to fall around the end of the year, we get each other relatively inexpensive things, 2-3 each, so for example, my husband has had and used for ages a pair of clip on flashing lights for his early morning runs. The first pair lasted quite some time, but have now died. I’ll get him a replacement pair. That kind of thing. A bottle of decent scotch, something he loves very much… that kind of thing. Items of use that are also ”luxuries”.
As for teaching kids how to give as well as receive, I tend to do a de-clutter in the week or two before Christmas and involve them in handing over outgrown, decent quality toys and clothes to the many, many desperately poor who live in our general vicinity (via reputable organisations, not just handing out in the street!). We also do Santa’s Shoebox, which is an absolutely incredible, non-religious programme that is so personal and amazing. I do three boxes because I have 3 kids and drop off is always a bit emotional. Things like soap and toothpaste go into the boxes, along with other more interesting things, and my kids marvel that there are many, many children for whom a toothbrush is not a given.
For teachers and others, I tend to contribute a modest amount to a group gift, usually a voucher of some kind, as I feel that they probably A/ do not want yet another mug or whatever, and B/ assuming everyone contributes, it can be a really sizeable gift that they can effectively choose for themselves. Sometimes I might throw in a small chocolate / personal card, depending on relationship.
I’ve always hated holiday gift shopping so DH and I give away bags of homemade goodies to the dozen+ people who come to my family’s annual Christmas Eve party. My husband used to get real cheffy with the chocolate truffles but a few years into parenthood it’s turned into pieces of fudge.
I confess we went a little nuts for our kiddo’s first Christmas/Birthday (a week apart). I discovered the early retirement blogosphere the following spring and we’ve shaped up a lot since then. We’ll still buy toys that are new but DH is quite skilled at hunting down great deals on things like figurines for her favorite fictional character. He’s also been impressively lucky with scoring good FreeCycle loot, which kiddo will receive at random times through the rest of the year.
A thought when giving, give from the heart with the recipient in mind, not just to get a pat on the back. I still to this day, and I am in my fifties, remember two specific Christmas experiences. I was around eleven, twelve and two years in a row I was sponsored by a local church. I lived with my grandmother and Christmas was a lean time for us. The first one several people came into our apartment and stood around me while I opened up a pair of socks, a small bendable Santa, orange, candy cane and waited expectantly for my thank you. The second one my grandmother was given a $100 voucher (which was a lot of money back then) to the local Family store and I was able to purchase a new pair of shoes, coat, pants, shirts, etc. The point I’m trying to make is the first experience made me feel like an afterthought, less than. The second one made me feel like a million dollars. No one expected any thanks from me even though their generosity changed my life that year. When you sponsor a child or take that angel off the tree remember that your gift might be the only one that they receive. Don’t do it to make yourself look good or check that box off the list that you gave this year. Just my two cents worth. P.S. Now that I am an adult I have several times anonymously sent a Christmas check back to that hometown church to continue their giving.
Thank you for writing this, Michelle. Such an important question: What is in the heart of the giver? In Jewish tradition, Maimonides described a ladder of eight levels of charitable giving. Higher rungs are for giving without being asked, without knowing to whom one gives or having them know who gave, and of course, giving with a willing heart. A joyful Christmas to you!
A gift they want
A gift they need
A gift to wear
A gift to read
Say that fast and it sounds like Dr. Seuss!
Great post! I think most in this community will agree that less stuff for Christmas makes Christmas better. My favorite is to simply go on a nice winter hike and enjoy the cold air and quiet time. Or….. just a big, fat pumpkin pie. The best gift ever!
We have used many of these great ideas
– Last year we did want, need, wear, read for the kids for the first time
– I love making food gifts
– I love buying local treats. I buy pistachios every year and sometimes ship wine.I
– I hand make gifts too. I crochet and quilt, so tree decorations, blankets, hats, bags, cloth napkins
– When I was a kid, my older siblings and their spouses would do secret Santa
– Hubby and I rarely exchange gifts. He and the kids love our local smoothie shop, so I usually buy them gift cards
– For out of town families, I make sure my Amazon wish list is up to date.
This year I’m thinking of organizing a potluck at work. There’s a good chance we won’t have a holiday party. No money. I used to do that all the time at my last job. But i think, man full time job, two kids, I’m over it.
We’re definitely in the “Not to Give” camp. This has all gotten way too out of hand with having to buy everyone you know something. It’s unnecessary stress for the gift giver and most gifts are either quickly forgotten by the gift receiver or added to their already overly consumerist lifestyle. We prefer to buy ourselves what we need when we need it and not try to guess for everyone else.
When there has been a special occasion during the year, we like to give framed photos. When we got married, we gave wedding photos taken with the recipient. This year, we’ll give pictures of them with our new baby.
Used books are my favorite thing in the world, and I love to give them and receive them. One of my best was hunting Half Price for an antique Hebrew book for my best friend (she’s into linguistics and going into Bible translation as a profession)–I found a beautiful, very old book on the history of the language which had a really cool note inside that looks liked it was originally a gift from a teacher to a student.
There’s just five adults (no kids) in my family and we’ve gradually moved from multiple gifts for everyone, to drawing a name and spending max $100, to now just stockings. We all really like getting travel-size toiletries, snacks, pot scrubber, a magazine, etc. I like using my credit card points to give people gift cards for movies. Lots of good ideas on here – I’m definitely going to start buying used books for my family of readers.
These are all great ideas! I think your point about setting up expectations is especially important. Last year, since we went on a big family trip, my family and I did not exchange gifts. We really had a nice time. This year my partner and I will not be exchanging gifts, but instead sharing a trip together (destination still unknown…).
For everyone else, since I got really into soapmaking this year, everyone gets handmade soap! I love giving handmade gifts because in the age of mass production it really charms people and makes them happy. I love the look on people’s faces when they say, You made this?! It makes people feel special.
On my side of the family, we’ve really cut down on gift-giving, which has been a stress-reliever for everyone. In years past, since we still wanted something for the kids to open, we just did a book exchange, where everyone wrapped up a children’s book they loved (but could now do without) and give it to their cousin (we drew names beforehand so the age/type of book was appropriate). And we’re HUGE believers in experience gifts. For my mom’s 60th birthday, I convinced all my siblings to follow my lead and give my mom an “experience gift” instead of the usual present. She has said multiple times that it was by far her favorite birthday because it gave her things to look forward to all year and lots of memories with her kids and grandkids, which is all she really wanted anyway!
Any suggestions for broaching the frugal gift-giving topic with family (i.e., siblings, parents)? I feel as though others would think we are just being scroogey cheepskates because *technically* we do have money we could spend, it’s just we’d rather be frugal about Christmas. Plus if others are giving us gifts (even if we tell them not to), then I feel bad about giving a small/homemade gift. Struggling with how to set expectations, any ideas are much appreciated!
It’s a real struggle.
My immediate family has retired and unemployed members who want to spend spend spend on gifts for me. I know they can’t afford it (and frankly, I don’t need a darn thing).
Instead of having a joyful time, I feel bad and uncomfortable that someone has deprived themselves of very real things they NEED.
I don’t love this holiday for that.
I just keep plugging away, each year, and the same message…”I don’t need anything, please don’t spend your money. If I can think of something I need, I’ll let you know.” It’s getting through, but it’s taken years.
Can you frame it as a desire to focus on togetherness and family and a wish to have a more minimal lifestyle? I find that sometimes removing the rocket-hot topic of money from the conversation makes it a little bit easier. You could try discussing the values you want to instill in your lives and that lots of gifts just don’t fit in with that ethos. Also, I have a Reader Case Study on this topic that might offer helpful advice: Reader Case Study: The Case Of The Over-gifting In-Laws! Additionally, would it work to share this post with them so that it’s not in your words but someone else’s (another strategy that I’ve found can diffuse tensions)? Good luck!
I focus on wanting to keep things simple. And in the end that’s what it’s about more than money… the kids already have all the toys and clothes that they really need, so no need for many or any gifts, and no need for relatives to stress about finding a bunch of gifts for them. Myself, I’m only getting one big-ish active thing for them to share, 1-2 smaller things each, and then they will get stockings from santa. I want Christmas to be about family, special holiday activities and foods, seeing decorations, etc, not about opening a huge pile of presents under the tree.
Brian asked for gift ideas for his girlfriend, who has already expressed that her “Love Language” is quality time. That sounds very familiar to me as my love languages are quality time and acts of service. I don’t mind choosing gifts for others, but I am very uncomfortable receiving them. I’d much, MUCH rather have the gift of their time or have something done that I can’t do/haven’t gotten to yet.
My suggestion would be to start by asking her what SHE would like to *do* with you for the holiday. Remind her that she said she would prefer time over gifts, and make sure that’s what she truly meant (since there are folks out there who will SAY they don’t want or need anything but are silently incredibly disappointed to not get a real “thing” as a gift). Then ask if there is someplace specific she would like to go with you, or something she’d like to do together. For instance, does she like the outdoors? Maybe she’d like an afternoon hike or a drive to the mountains, complete with a Thermos of cocoa and some holiday snacks you brought along (instead of paying insane gift shop prices for a bag of stale trail mix at the top of the mountain).
If one of you like to cook or bake, bring the ingredients for your specialty (or hers) and cook together. If she hates to bake but likes what you make, have her come over and chat, listen to Christmas music, etc while you do the baking. She can be your “moral support” and you can go together to take the goodies to a local shelter, or fire/police department, retirement community, or any other charity one or both of you want to support.
If you know of an area that really goes ALL OUT for holiday light displays, hop in the car and go for a drive. Again, she gets time with you, you get time to chat and visit and get to know each other better, and you’ll see some lovely (free) sights. Does she love animals? Perhaps volunteer at the animal shelter together as dog walkers or cat cuddlers (assuming neither of you is allergic).
If she likes music or dance, maybe you can find a free or inexpensive option for The Nutcracker. A lot of schools will host a performance that will be super cute and way less than going to the ballet in a big city – plus you support the school through your ticket purchases or donation. Just look at the things she’s interested in and dedicate some time to one of them – I’m sure you’ll come up with some great ideas!
In my case, I’m a reader – my husband has thrilled me to death with time to just wander the bookstore and/or library together. On our first date we stopped at Border (RIP, poor Borders!) and just wandered, discussing all the things that looked interesting. Didn’t buy anything, though I did walk away with a wishlist. We started dating right before Valentine’s Day and his friends teased him unmercifully about planning something, so he felt obligated. I was a single mom and had no sitter that night – he showed up at my house with the stuff to make grilled cheese and simply made grilled cheese sandwiches for me and my daughter. I got time with him, didn’t have to make dinner, didn’t have to pay a babysitter – he even walked my dog! We’ve been married almost 12 years, so clearly he played his cards right. LOL
One more suggestion: please don’t try to force gifts on a person who says they don’t want them. You didn’t say how long you’d been dating, but if it hasn’t been long, that won’t get things off on a good footing. If she’s genuine in her request for time, not physical gifts, being with you really, truly is the only gift she’s looking for.
Great quality time ideas! Also, there might be a small tangible object as the invitation to your time or at the start or end– ticket stub, one photo you actually print if she doesn’t mind being in them/ put it in a magnetic frame for the ‘fridge, a tiny battery operated candle if you looked at lights together. Those can help you remember the time you spent together. Maybe mail her an invitation to join you or thank-you note with snail mail. People don’t get a lot of individualized mail these days, and it is less than a dollar for paper, envelope, and stamp.
All great ideas! This year my husband and I are exchanging Groupons…we’re each picking out a class, event, activity, etc. that we think the other would enjoy and doing them together.
Hey Melonie! That one was my post!
Since I had posted that on Mrs. Frugalwoods wall, I’ve learned some new things. For a little background, this is a very new relationship, and a complicated one because she is living in Germany until the end of the year. We met on a visit to her sister’s (who is friends with many of my friends in my neighborhood, coincidentally) and really hit it off, sparking a storm of Whatsapp conversations and weekly hours-long phone calls.
Also since that post, she visited her sister and me for a few days — I did surprise her with a small box of chocolates from a local shop and she surprised me with a box of gluhwein and some German gummies (how are they so much better than American gummies?) and we discussed how we both love consumable gifts, if gifts are to be exchanged.
So, she will come back to the states on Dec. 18-19 thereabouts, and that will be really the third time we’ve seen each other in person. On her last visit we didn’t even “do” anything — I picked her up and dropped her off at the airport, and we just spent time talking and being together at my house. I think we’re both craving quality time together and I will be definitely pulling out all the stops to think of awesome things we can do together!
Funny you brought up love languages — she sent me her love language quiz results last night and I took it as well. Her top ones, in order, were quality time, acts of service and touch. Mine were quality time, words of affirmation and touch. Now I know why she was so impressed that I picked her up and dropped her off at the airport. To me it was like, well of course, it lets me spend time with you, which is rare and valuable at this point. Even if that time is at 4:45 am.
I guess the long and the short of it is that I am planning quality time already, since the distance has limited that time to phone calls, which only seem to work out on the weekend (save for a couple of impromptu calls with me taking a break at work). But my plan was also to put together a “Welcome to Wausau” basket of local goodies to be consumed. It’s similar to the gifts we exchanged over Christmas, and at MSFW suggestion on Facebook, I want to have a short conversation about it first just so we’re on the same page. I suspect the chance to finally spend some time together in person will be the best gift for both of us though…
Heads up Frugal Readers, Shutterfly has just put up the FREE calendar offer. Grab it while you can! It boils down to about 8 bucks shipping for a really high quality 8×11 calendar. Our family LOVES getting these calendars and count on them from year to year. We also got a family photo puzzle this year on another “free” offer. Some offers are better than others, but it’s worth signing up for their emails. PS-I do NOT work for Shutterfly. 🙂
Thank you for the tip! I am headed over there now to check it out… hopefully the grandparents aren’t reading this 😉
Sign up for emails then don’t buy anything. They are constantly trying to win me back. I never pay for prints, calenders, mugs… be patient and they will over you free stuff.
*offer* not over
These are all really great ideas. I love the idea of implementing the ‘4 gift rule’. And we have decided to give consumables to other family/close friends this year so we do not add to their clutter.
The problem we have run into is that the grandparents go way overboard for Christmas (just one grandchild to buy for), so when our son gets older, it will be hard for grandparent Christmas to not out-do our small family Christmas. We want him to enjoy and cherish Christmas at home with us, but kids can definitely be bought. We are looking to find some good meaningful traditions for our son to look forward to so Christmas is not overpowered with gifts. And we hope that starting these traditions, he will look forward to them more than receiving lots of gifts he would only play with once.
I used to be the “over board” grandmother…until a reader last year on this blog wrote in with the same dilemma. (Not sure exactly when, was one of the “help the reader” series.) Her letter as well as all of the thoughtful suggestions by others struck such a chord with me and really helped me to see the error of my ways and opened up a very honest dialog with my children regarding their children and the holidays. I am happy to say that this Christmas will be more about establishing family traditions and so much less about the gifts. Maybe it can be done with your son’s grandparents as well.
Here’s the link to that Case Study in case you’d like to check it out: Reader Case Study: The Case Of The Over-gifting In-Laws!
I really found your comment moving Jody. It is very hard to change your love language to fit someone else and that, more than anything you buy or don’t buy, really feels like the biggest gift you gave to your children this year.
My 2 children are the only grandchildren on both sides of the family. My in-laws would buy a ton of stuff for them every Christmas, so in the early years I would try to keep up (can’t let mother-in-law steal my thunder!) After a while, though, I realized my children were overwhelmed and stressed out by these huge Christmases. I started simplifying and we expressed our wishes with the in-laws. They did not want to downsize Christmas, which was their choice, but we did at home, and it turns out my children couldn’t be “bought.” They do not love their grandparents more, in fact they dread the over-the-top gatherings. They are now both teenagers and have both embraced our simple family living, simple frugal traditions, and we love being home together doing our thing. Hang in there and hold fast to your convictions. Your child will follow your lead 🙂
Thanks for the encouragement! It definitely gets difficult. We don’t want them to ‘steal our thunder’, but I hope we can lead by example and encourage them to be a bit more modest with their gifts. We will see how it goes.
We used to be big gift givers. Last year my husband and I tried no gifts, but we actually missed the surprise and thoughtfulness (my husband is a great homemade gift maker). This year we’ve set a low dollar amount. I think it’s just important to find what works for you. We do secret santa with siblings and they are usually homemade/secondhand. My in-laws are a creative bunch so it’s fun to see what they come up with. Everyone else gets something homemade…I’m thinking vanilla extract this year.
We always participated in the Operation Christmas Child program through our church. My sister and I would get to choose what items would be sent off, from hair accessories to necessities. We always had fun getting to pick out socks and bows and then a doll or book or whatever (all of which came from the dollar store where we purchased our own such items). My mom then had us choose one of our own personal toy/item to include (that was in good condition) and then write a letter to the receiving child. I always enjoyed this tradition of ours and have done a few shoeboxes as a adult. I agree that it is important to instill the importance of giving, especially in a time that is so often focused on receiving!
Typically the Mrs. and I get each other one gift and then that’s it. We don’t go overboard.
For the kids, we mostly try to get them used toys, books, and games. The grandparents and relatives tend to buy everything new, but the kids really don’t notice the difference.
It just goes to show — even during the holidays kids don’t need to be expensive!
Thank you so much for the vacuum recommendation! We just moved into a new-to-us house with all hardwood floors (and a cat)! We have been buying gifts between brothers and sisters for “just the kids” for several years now. We order online and have it shipped directly (out-of-state) and the recipient wraps on their end. Husband and I just buy eachother stocking presents. Some of this started out for frugal reasons, but really it is also to save our sanity!
I’m definitely not as good at frugality as many of you, but I’ve found the best way to save money on holiday gift-giving is to shop EARLY, and store stuff throughout the year. I give all of the children/teens in my life the same gift: an annual ornament and some candy. I buy the ornaments (usually for under $5) right after Christmas, and hang on to them for the following year. I also buy holiday-themed small gifts (fun towels, candles, etc.), store them, and then distribute them in early December, so the recipients can use them before Christmas. This also helps if you have any, uh, “competitive” gift-givers in your life: if you’ve given someone a Christmas llama towel, a bottle of spruce-scented hand soap, and a plate of cookies on December 7th, they’re less likely to give you a $50 gift certificate (or whatever) on Christmas Day.
A fabulousely frugal prez is create a hand written 5 page IOU cheque style book. Identfy tasks you know the recipient may need /want throughout year and add. I.e a lift, a pie, an oven cleaned, a babysitting , the lawn miwed etc etc the ideas are endless!
I am in a lucky position where I receive random free stuff from companies throughout the year. I collected it and intend on giving that as gifts to the few people I have to give gifts to.
This year I am giving a “weekend at Auntie’s house” coupon to my nephews (all under 11 years old) and we’ll go hiking or watch movies at the house. I am a three hour drive away from their house so a quality time weekend is a relatively inexpensive gift for the three of them and sort of a gift for their mom too!
Love it! What a fabulous gift!! And that is a HUGE gift for the parents :)!!!!!!!
My husband and I plan to upgrade tv this year as our Christmas gift to each other. We do not need more jewelry, watches, etc. For our daughter and husband we send gift card to their favorite restaurant. We do give money to our 23 yr old granddaughter who is just beginning her after college work life. Money is more valuable to her than stuff. She has all of the apartment basics which her mom and dad have planned for over several years and we and other grandparents have contributed to over the years such as flatware set and pots and pan set, dish sets, etc that were given as part of Christmas gifts. We enjoy going to dinners and spending a night or two in a hotel in another city within walking distance to bars and restaurants rather than more stuff. We no longer give or get things because most of it is unwanted, adds to clutter, does not fit or suit the recipient and most young people prefer money (even a small sum) to more junk stuff.
My husband and I buy each other luxury versions of things we are each too cheap to spend a lot of money on. For example, he buys the cheapest socks because they are “just socks.” But they are not as comfortable on his feet and they wear out quickly. So, as his only Christmas gift last year (besides his favorite homemade molasses cookies that I loathe making), I replaced all his socks with these pricy but very comfortable and durable socks from Duluth Trading Company. He would never, ever spend that much on socks but several times this year he has mentioned how much he likes the cushioning on the socks so I know they were a great gift for him. It pleases me to know his feet are comfy while he is out there snow blowing. This year: underpants! Last year he bought me bras. We were in NYC on business and he researched a bra company where a lady comes into the dressing room and measures you and then fits you with the perfect bra. He took me there and went off for breakfast while I got a professional fitting and six wonderful bras. He told me he was tired of hearing me say how uncomfortable bras were so he actually Googled how to get a good bra and went from there. It is one of the best gifts I have ever gotten and I learned a lesson: no more cheap bras in my future. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with this year.
Doing his own bra research! What a keeper!!
This is lovely. Sometimes buying cheap can be false economy. And there’s nothing worse than an uncomfortable bra : )
Our family tradition is to give special consumables such as your favorite jam, a delicious new beer you tried, wine, real maple syrup, fancy chocolates, lovely spices, gourmet mustards or hot sauce, fresh roasted coffees. Ideally, it’s something the person wouldn’t treat themselves to and it’s so nice to have these treats.
My husband and I decided early on in our marriage not to be obligated to give Christmas gifts to each other, but instead, put that money towards buying a sheep, or chickens etc, through Compassion International, Samaritan’s Purse, or the like. We enjoyed looking through the catalog and picking out what we wanted to “buy” each other. We buy a couple gifts for our kids, mostly things they need, and let the grandparents buy a few “wants” they have. I do like giving teachers a small gift a Christmas to show our appreciation, and usually save up our credit card rewards to order gift cards for them to movies, restaurants or stores that they like. My new rule is that whatever I give them has to be consumable, so I don’t add to their clutter of well-intentioned , but maybe unwanted gifts.
A few years ago, my wife made knit hats and scarfs for both of our families for Christmas. She started the project in the spring since we have big families and finished all of them by early December. So crafting gifts is definitely a great idea for the holidays.
I saw something on Facebook that said ‘you do not have to continue holiday traditions that leave you overwhelmed, broke or tired.’ So true!
My husband and his brother had TONS of legos when they were kids. My in-laws kept all of them because they are quality toys. Now my 4 year old loves them. We suggested that they slowly (one a year?) gift some of the sets to the grandkids – my son is still too young to notice if there isn’t a pretty box or a piece or two is missing. My father-in-law also has a collection of army soldiers that he may do the same with.
My list is not quite as frugal as most of yours but I only have about 5 people, 2 dogs and 1 cat on my list. My mister and I have a limit of 50.00 each. Everyone else is 25,00 or less, so I actually spend much less than most people on Christmas.
For the mister, I found a used telescope at a local used goods shop for $25.00.The scope retails for about 250.00. I also bought him a ‘officer of the lawn’ tee shirt as he is a retired law officer.
I found a good condition book of Civil War photos for free at a Little Free Library. I swapped out a novel I had finished reading for that book. If I can locate it in my moving boxes. I have another similar book that I got for $1.50 at a thrift store.Those books are a gift for mister’s Civil War nut brother. I will also get him some coffee.
The cat buys my mister coffee and tea for me. The cat gets nip and the dogs get bones or dog biscuits.One of the gift bones will be for a friend’s dog.
I get a friend a 25.00 gift card to a grocer. That what she wants. She gets me an Amazon gift card for the same amount.
I sent one lady who has been very nice to me this year a gift subscription (10.00) to a religious magazine I know she will enjoy.
Sis and bro in law gets a ‘corki’ wine cork because they have a corgi dog. We will give them a bottle of Virginia wine and (two personalized glasses) to cork.
Everyone else gets just greeting cards.
That is my list and it will cost way under a $100.00 for all.
I think given how most people go nuts on the holidays & get too spendy, that I am being rather frugal.
The niece gets an Amazon or Itunes card.
Their dog will get dog biscuits, too.
Never apologize for giving a used gift! Last year, I found 2 vests for a friend, both from LL Bean originally, in perfect shape, for $9 each. My friend is a dog walker so she was over the moon knowing that she’d be warm! I also patronize our local SPCA bookstore. They sell donated books for $1 each; the coffee table books are $5 each; and the super special signed copies, or limited editions go for $8. I get tons of books for cheap and help the SPCA rescue animals. Gifts should be fun, from the heart, and picked for that person. Opening tons of stuff that was a numbers game serves no purpose. Half the time, the recipient can’t remember what they received.
I used to bake like crazy, probably close to a dozen different kinds of cookies, to mix together in tins for presents. Unfortunately, December is often my busiest time, work-wise, so it was becoming not only overwhelming but something I started to dread. I experimented with making spiced chocolate bark instead, buying dark chocolate bars when they were super cheap on sale, and melting them with some cinnamon, chipotle pepper, and orange peel. I spread it out on cookie sheets over parchment paper, and add in goodies on top, usually toasted almond chunks and dried cranberries, but I love to experiment. After it cools and hardens, I break it up and give it away. It was the biggest hit ever, and takes no time to make.
We tried one year to go the charity route with our family and gave everyone in our extended family a donation that meshed with their interests if that makes sense. We were supporting World Vision at the time, so we “gave” seed packets to one family member who likes to garden, curriculum for an impoverished school for another family member who is a teacher, etc. It did NOT go well. We had asked our family members to do the same for us, and boy were they mad. They all wanted to buy us STUFF, and we had the sense that many wanted their stuff in return. We ended up still doing the donations but then went out and bought everyone a normal gift in addition! At least we gave a decent amount to our charity that year!
I’ve given up on my extended family making the change for now, so I just request practical gifts that I need already and try to plan ahead and be creative with their gifts. Last year I requested reusable Rubbermaid containers, and this year I’m requesting (no joke) potholders and a belt. =)
TO Brian with the newish gf… tickets to an event. Local theater or a sporting event in January (colleges are a great place to look for concerts and plays at lower prices!) Cook a great dinner, grab coffee or a glass of wine after. You’ve gotten her something in the event she’s not ready for “no gift” Cmas, and made a special date night.
As an adult, I have never really enjoyed giving or receiving gifts for many of the reasons you mention. I don’t like or need a lot of stuff, and I hate having to either live with stuff I don’t want or deal with taking it back. Over the years, I’ve encouraged my family to scale back on the gift giving, and it is finally working! I no longer exchange gifts with my brother or sister-in-law, and my Mom gives me a gift certificate (usually to my favourite local bookstore) while I give her tickets to the theatre. The only people for whom I have to buy gifts are my nieces, and I usually get them a few books and theatre tickets. I love not having to shop, and I love having more time for my family.
Years ago my family decided to replace regular gift-giving among the adults with bottles of wine. My brothers, parents, and I each buy each other a bottle of wine for Christmas and we’re done. Often we’ll drink some of that wine together at Christmas dinner. It took a whole lot of shopping and worrying off the December to do list.
My husband and I finally gave up gift exchange last year after realizing we were making ourselves crazy running around and we did not need anymore STUFF. So now we have a relaxing holiday enjoying music, the decorating and family gatherings.
As an aside…Office gifts are tough if you are the boss and your people are working hard you should acknowledge their work in some way. If you feel you cannot do a proper gift then write a card and tell them how much you appreciate all of their dedication to the company.
Last year I gave paired balsamic vinegar and flavored oil from a local shop. This year I’ve been to local distilleries.
I am trying a minimalist mindset (as I try to convince myself to pare down ), so I have few wants or needs. I also don’t want to buy ‘stuff’ for others. I don’t see my brother much, so I’m struggling what to get for him. My mom mentioned a unit to convert vhs to dvd/ digital. I’m going to ask for preferred charities if I donate in their name, I k ow we all have reasons to support or not different ones.
I did enjoy collecting all of the Nancy Drew hard cover books when I was a pre-teen / teen. I’d be gifted a few each year for birthday and Christmas from my parents, grandparents and how Santa knew which ones I was missing, smart guy. But I’d also scout yard sales, and books sales for some of the older ones too.
Wishing you a happy holiday season!
Hi! I love the pictures of Frugalhound–she’s precious and obviously very loved and cherished, as is Babywoods, of course!
My husband is the love of my life, so he’s first priority and the top of my list for gifts. He’s an incredibly kind and unselfish man who gives so much of himself, he deserves to be rewarded for all his goodness! I do my best to give him something that will make him happy, something that will give him fun and pleasure (aside from me, ha ha ha!)
We!re frugal throughout the year by necessity and choice, so we try to make the holidays as fun and special as much as we’re able. My job has gotten much more demanding, and fatigue problems have limited my time and energy, so I try to simplify and do what works for my situation. Because there are so many baked goods and candy whirling around, I decided to do something a bit different a few years ago. To keep within budget and prevent sweets burn out and wastage, I now give family and couple’s gifts consisting of gift cards for treats–this way, a few weeks or months after Christmas/Hannukka have passed and the sweets are gone and the cravings are back, they can whip out my gift card and splurge when they want it! The big hits have been for Mrs. field’s cookies, See’s candies, Baskin Robbins ice cream, In-N-Out burgers, and Round Table Pizza.
I agree in today’s frantic, crazy paced world, time together and experience gifts are wonderful, and create fun times and great memories, so for another set of my friends, I treat them to the movie theater right after Christmas. For my stepkids, I also give them an invitation to Dinner and DVD night, which I schedule for a Saturday night in January. This year I’m also planning on giving them an IOU for a BBQ in the park for June, as a kick off for summer.
I realize these gifts may not be as frugal or as homemade as others on this site (which I do enjoy very much!) but they’ve saved me a lot of time, energy, and preserved my sanity, and spared my husband and family from the unpleasantness of a crabby shrew! Plus I’m able to keep within budget and enjoy the festivities much more!
Happy Thanksgiving to everybody!
The other thing to think about is wrapping. Several years ago I picked up some colourful cotton scarves of differnt sizes and some wide fabric ribbon from the local op shop. Some are still flat, with ribbon lenghts sewed on and others i made into tubes/bags, again with ribbon sewed in. I use these to wrap presents that will be opened at our home ( whether for family or visitors). The wasted paper always made me sad and stressful, and reusing these each year is much better for my soul.
I am getting into making this year after a bit of a hiatus while a new parent. Baby girl is getting a teepee made of leftover fabric, complete with secret messages and pockets for treasures, and for my husband I am replacing his butterfly chair seat ( sneakily got him to choose the fabric yesterday while pretending to discuss cushion fabrics) and will organise to have the rusty metal frame powder coated. A bit expensive but its been in his family 20 years, and hopefully this way will be in ours many many more.
His family are great and do a secret Santa, plus home made goodies if you are into that. Now need to get my family on board with that
When our kids were young (pre-Amazon) we had them write a wish list with the understanding that they would get something, NOT everything, from the list. One year Betsy wrote “toothbrush” on her wish list! That led to a clarification of ‘want’ vs ‘need’ and ‘wish list’ vs ‘shopping list’!
The want, need, read guideline is a great idea.
This year we are gifting a meal to our close friends and family which includes a whole duck or chicken, root veggies/greens/canned or baked goods. Everything is organic, hand-raised from our homestead or our CSA. With our kids we enjoy Thriftmas, where we gift only second hand or handmade goods (our kids are 9 and up). We also take part in our family’s yankee swap which is always fun and hilarious.
Love that idea!! I want to be friends with you :)!
Great post as always! There is no reason why the holidays have to end in credit card debt and overspending. There are so many opportunities to give that do not cost money (or a ton of it!). I wholeheartedly agree with buying and giving used gifts for your own family and children. I have done this through Freecycle and Craigslist and it’s worked out so well.
This year we have 8 kids to buy for, so I bought them all new books through my son’s school book sale (which benefits the classroom with a ton more free books which more people benefit from). For us, buying our son a ton of great new books is a way to encourage slow pace and reading, but also his little brother will benefit from those as well. We don’t buy them much, but luckily their families get them a bunch of wacky fun toys. Now that our oldest is into vacuums, we have even been able to snag some free ones from people giving them away.. and he’ll be excited all the same! Like you said, children don’t care, and we’re happy to put that money away for those fun experiences later in the year!
Not easy to find a way to say this that doesn’t sound ungrateful,but can I suggest that gifts should be chosen with the “giftee” in mind? I’ve decluttered, and for several years past have asked all and sundry to consider NO gift for me,a donation to any charity connected to children,or consumables, if they REALLY want to gift.So,what do I do with hand thrown pots,quilted placemats,joke mugs and barbecue aprons complete with boobs?Aside from the fact that my taste runs to English bone china and fine glass,as a 70 Year old in a tiny apartment, I already have all I need, and all I have room for!So many people are in need,and it breaks my heart to see so much waste, donating items that are not going to be necessary to any one ,and were created with love, doesn’t seem like much of a solution, any suggestions to get my message through? I’ve spoken to everyone about it, even had someone reply “I’m just a Christmas person” HELP!!!
Can you make a “wishlist” of either charities you would like donations made to, or for those wishing to wrap and hand you items, things a list of items that you would love to donate (children’s books, pajamas, etc that are on your local children’s charity wishlist?)
If that doesn’t work, what about asking for giftcards to your local coffee shop or a favorite restaurant?
I love actually wrapping and giving gifts, but have friends who do not want “things” – so for my newly vegan friend who loves good food but hates cooking I made a delicious vegan soup for dinner, etc.
We made many changes to how we celebrate based on many reasons. When I realized we had friends and family basically handing out registries, I just couldn’t deal with it anymore. I made a list of what is important to me. I love dinners, baking, decorating and Christmas mass. I will celebrate with my 3 very young adult children. I have purchased very inexpensive new with tag items at the Goodwill. I will buy and make a few special treats. Shutterfly has great coupons for personalized gifts. I picked up coffee mugs, journals and framed photos for a few dollars in shipping. I plan on baking for a few people in our everyday life. We also will donate toys for a needy family. I haven’t spent much money but I am so much happier. When I think about what I spent on Santa for 28 years, I could cry.
TOTALLY agree with you on the gift cards, one that covers s grocery store is always good to get, and never goes to waste, and my favorite local charities are happy to get them, too! For some reason I have several family members who just don’t like doing donations, and are wedded to gifting hand crafted Whatnots! Luckily my friends are all on board. I guess you can choose your friends but not your family!!
We always have the best time when we do a “White Elephant” where we basically wrap something up we don’t want anymore and then have a gift exchange with the whole extended family. Some of the gifts are hilarious and are remembered for years after. We are also holding our first annual “Cheap Asses Holiday Bash” where we’re inviting all our friends and family over to our little 576 sq foot house for a Holiday Party. The kicker; the guest can only bring over or make a dish from stuff they currently have at home., no buying from the store allowed! We may be eating a lot of bean dip haha. The entrainment will be the ugly homemade sweaters we will be wearing as part of the entry into the party! Should be fun!
That’s awesome! Sounds like so much fun 🙂
I have 4 grown sons plus their spouses and eight grandchildren so all I do is I buy each of the grandkids a pair of pajamas because they can always use those and we don’t get gifts for anyone else we just get together and enjoy the time watching a Christmas movie or playing games
I don’t give Christmas gifts to friends. But I do give to my kids, husband, mother, and hubby’s side (his mom, dad, sister and brother). Yes, it gets expensive even if I try to keep it moderate. But all things put into perspective, it’s still only about a 2% cost of our annual earnings, which is reasonable. I enjoy giving gifts and it’s also fun to receive them. I do prefer gift cards and experiences over anything material.
Just finished reading your book! I really enjoyed it. It gives hope for a simpler and less stressful life. Thanks!