Reader Suggestions Of A Frugal Holiday Gift Guide (aka Staying on Budget the Non-Grinchy Way)
There you are, frugaling through the year, with your money on your mind and your mind on your money when, BAM, it’s the holidays and all the cash you saved and scraped is siphoned off into an endless swirl of gift buying, wrapping paper, holiday party hosting, and Christmas tree be-decking.
Ahh well, better luck next year, you think as you start January broke, deflated, and feeling ever-more Grinch-like.
BUT NOT THIS YEAR! The Frugalwoods gang (law enforcement take note: we are not actually a gang) is coming to your rescue today!!! We celebrate the holidays, we give gifts, we party it up, but we don’t lose our frugal cool.
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. Read my disclosures here.
Gift Giving The Generous, Yet Frugal, Way
Over the years, I’ve used a combination of all the below hacks to get through the holidays with frugal festivity:
1) Use credit card rewards.
This is the best way to save! For any gift that I buy new, I use our cash-back rewards credit card. If you use a credit card to buy things you were planning to buy anyway, and if you pay your card off in full every month, this is an amazing way to get something for nothing.
One credit card that’s particularly relevant for holiday shopping is the Chase Freedom card because it offers up to 5% cash back (in certain purchasing categories) AND you can transfer points over to the Chase Sapphire card for free airline tickets. Not bad!
If you’re able to handle paying your credit card off in full every month, then I think it makes sense to accrue points and use them towards either cash back or travel rewards, both of which can reduce your overall holiday spending. More on my credit card strategy here: The Frugalwoods Guide to a Simple, Yet Rewarding, Credit Card Experience. (these are affiliate links)
Oh you guys, you didn’t know I was a re-gifter?!? From way back, homies. Waaaaaay back. I re-gift new (in package/with tags on) gifts that I’ve either received and can’t use or that I’ve bought–get this–from a garage sale. Anytime I see a kid toy/book/item in a package at a yard sale, I scoop it up. I know that thing’ll be useful for someone on my list.
2) Give second-hand gifts.
Those new gifts in packages with tags on? Those are not for my kids! Nope. The new stuff is for other people’s kids. My kids get straight-up second-hand, used gifts. I scour thrift stores, garage sales, and hand-me-downs for gifts that are inexpensive and that I know my kids will enjoy.
I stock up all year round and keep a box labeled “gifts to give the girls,” which I mete out for their birthdays and Christmases. Look, as far as I know, Santa does not do packages with tags on. He’s more of an old-school fellow with no use for cellophane. I’m just keeping it real.
Here’s what’s in our used gift stash for this Christmas:
- A fairy dress-up costume with wings (this was a hand-me-down that’s in excellent condition!)
- Coloring books (from a garage sale, but never used!)
- Crayons (from a garage sale, but never used!)
- Books (from used book sales at local libraries)
- A wooden toy train set (this was mine as a kid and my parents saved it for my kids!)
3) Give cold, hard CASH.
In last year’s gift guide, I mentioned my plans to give Kidwoods’ teachers homemade foods. Approximately 200 teachers commented that this would likely not be appreciated by said teachers. You all advised I go the cash route to show my appreciation for educators and so, I did! I’m grateful to everyone who weighed in on this and offered their perspective. Kidwoods and I made cards for each of her teachers (I included a handwritten note per your advice) and stuck cash inside each card. This approach was: 1) easy and low-stress; 2) something Kidwoods had fun helping create; 3) very much appreciated by the teachers. This’ll be my plan for all the kids’ teachers every year until further notice!
4) No gifts; just coal.
I give my love a lump of coal and he gives one to me. Actually, no coal, no gifts is how me and my main man roll. Mr. FW and I decided years ago to forgo exchanging gifts with each other. Instead, we focus on spending time together and going out for a nice meal whenever we can con someone into watching our lovely children…
What we also do is buy household items for ourselves throughout the year. These purchases are things we think will make our lives better/easier and that appear to be high quality and long lasting. Here’s a few favorite household items we’ve gifted each other over the years:
- Our robot vacuum, aka my bestie, was one of our greatest household purchases of all time. This thing vacuums our floor like a–well, like a robot–and it does an amazing job eliminating work from we weary humans. I love the Roomba so much I wrote an entire ode to it: When Spending Money Equals Happiness: Why I Bought A Roomba
- Electric kettle
- Corelle plates and bowls
- Glass food storage containers
- Travel coffee thermoses
- Electric blanket
- Hair Clippers + bottle of wine to ease them into home haircuts (a gift set for the frugal friend in your life)
- Our mattress. Another thing I love so much I devoted an entire tome to it: How My $279 Amazon Mattress Is Holding Up After Seven Years
Most of these are things we use every single day of every single year, which makes them frugal gift winners! (the above are affiliate links)
5) Kids only, please.
My sister and I have five kids between us and we decided a few years ago to only give gifts to the kids, not to the adults. She sends me a list of things her kiddos would enjoy and I do the same.
We keep the items inexpensive and geared toward what each kid wants. One year, for example, my niece specifically requested a particular bottle of shampoo and I was happy to oblige.
6) Homemade, homegrown, home fry.
Not everyone escapes my homemade escapades. Since Mr. Frugalwoods and I spend 9,967 hours planting, growing, harvesting, and preserving food every summer and fall, our families are saddled with such items as gifts each Christmas.
For each of our extended families (our parents and our siblings + their kids = six families total), we ship out a homestead care package of foods we’ve preserved.
I try to pin everyone down on what they enjoy eating and so some people get more pickles and some people get no maple syrup and other people get a double batch of apple butter.
7) Go local or support your friends!
To round out the homemade goodies boxes for our families, I like to add a few items I buy locally or that my friends have created.
My friend Stefanie O’Connell Rodriguez recently launched Statement Cards, which are greeting cards that celebrate women’s ambitions and achievements beyond marriage and motherhood.
I am in love with these cards and need all of my lady friends to get raises and buy houses so I can send them cards with messages like “Closing the pay gap like a boss.” Friends–consider yourself put on notice.
8) Give me your list or I will buy you a plastic chicken lawn ornament and you will be guilted into using it.
For any other gifts I want/need to purchase–for family members, for the angel tree at church–I require a specific list. I do not like guessing what people might like. I do not like shopping full stop, so a detailed list (ideally with links so I can buy it online!!!) makes me a happy holiday camper.
Donating to charity is another cornerstone of how my family celebrates Christmas. Every December, Mr. FW and I sit down and make all of our philanthropic gifts for the year. I’ve written about our approach here:
- How We Make Meaningful And Tax Efficient Charitable Donations
- How We Donate To Charities Like Billionaires
Other Holiday Things
If you’re interested in how I handle things like decorations, parties, and festive food, I’ve covered those topics in exhaustive (and likely exhausting) detail in the following:
- Reader Suggestions for Celebrating Halloween and Thanksgiving On A Budget (all about decorations!)
- Reader Suggestions: Holiday Gifts That’ll Spread The Love But Not Break The Bank
- Reader Suggestions For A Deliciously Frugal Thanksgiving
- How I Take My Own Holiday Family Photos (And Make Them Look Good!)
- No Turkey, No Problem! How We Celebrate Thanksgiving Our Way
- Our Festive, Frugal, and Merry Holiday Traditions
- How To Give Frugal Gifts With Joy And Generosity
- The Patented Frugalwoods Cheap Christmas Card Hack
And then there’s the classic, all-time fave: Laugh So You Don’t Cry: What It’s Really Like to Celebrate Christmas With Little Kids.
With that, let’s turn to the readers!!!!!
Frugalwoods Readers Dish On The Best Frugal Holiday Gifts To Give (and receive)!
I tried to divide this up by category, but you know how that goes… so, enjoy!
Katie shared, “We now do homemade Christmas with all extended family and friends: it’s amazing and the people in my family who participate get together for a really nice dinner at one of our houses – I have made vanilla extract, laundry detergent, candles, orange cello, limoncello, hot cocoa snowmen etc. I have a Christmas app that I use to keep my list and when I shop (year round) I update my list so that I don’t overbuy etc. I like experiential gift giving like play tickets or a weekend away for close family. Penseys has a great teacher gift box that generally goes on sale for $5 each that makes a really nice gift for teachers. I generally make enough of my homemade gift to give to all my friends as well as any service providers like our mail delivery person as well as for hostess gifts at holiday parties. Buying materials in bulk for my homemade gift giving lowers the cost and I try to do gifts that you can “use up” so that they don’t add to clutter in peoples houses.”
Kate said, “I put together a photobook of the year for my mother and father in-law for Christmas every year. I ask all the siblings for pictures from the year and a short write-up of the highlights, then I spend a few hours putting it together. Shutterfly usually runs a holiday promo on photobooks, so it typically costs $40 or less, which we split between the 4 siblings. My in-laws LOVE it so much. They cherish the books, and my FIL cries every year when they open it.”
Carly wrote, “As far as teachers go I usually make a flower arrangement for each teacher. I used to work in a flower shop and I live in the Pacific Northwest so I get a container at Goodwill and go cut pine, Holly, and other greens to make a centerpiece then I add a candle, ribbons, flowers, pinecones, etc… I help my kids make gifts for their friends and grandparents every year. We have done bookmarks, magnets, and those melted broken crayons in molds to make bigger crayons lol. I’m a fan of giving functional gifts!”
Tamara wrote, “I am a knitter and like to give something that I have made. Sometimes the yarn can be pricey, but it is a thoughtful gift that is often treasured for many years, not something that is quickly disposed of. Here is a pic of the blanket and hat that I knitted for my parents last year at Christmas. Also, pics of the slippers that I knitted for my adult children last year.”
De shared, “I make homemade luxurious soaps, peach syrup, chocolate dipped goodies like strawberries, homemade coasters with 4” white tiles and photographs.”
Rita said, “I love to take pictures, and this year a friend suggested I take some of my best pics and turn them into jigsaw puzzles as gifts. You can use an online site to have them made for about $15. One of a kind gift, and encourages family time.”
Marie likes to give, “Homemade preserves.”
Laura said, “I put together easy DIY beauty products for family members like bath salts and whipped body butters last year. I’ve also done subscriptions for wine and beer clubs for my parents and in-laws. Magazine subscriptions and event tickets for kids are great.”
Consumables (yum…. )
Sionainn wrote, “My grandmother was forever trying to give things away, so I gave her tea every year. She was always thrilled and actually used it. My mother insisted on buying her a “proper” present. One year it was towels, and she was furious to find them at my aunt’s and cousin’s houses 😹”
Kellie said, “We’ve always done hampers that include fancy christmasy food items. We make them up ourselves so we can adapt the items to the people and try to use a useful vessel to put everything in. This way people use everything up instead of having some gift to have to own and add to all their other stuff. Children we get Christmas themed crafts they can play with/make/be occupied on the day/during the holidays. We don’t gift to each other… instead we go shopping together and buy some treats to eat, or of we need anything, we buy those things, especially after Christmas when everything is on sale. I’d love a fancy food hamper myself actually…but no one ever makes me one !! We decided between my bff and us this year that our presents to each other will be presence. We’ll spent some time together. We plan to put up her decorations together or maybe go to a Christmas markets together. Something like that.”
Jennifer said, “Last year my daughter’s teacher got a bag of spices from Penzey’s. They give away free bottles all year long so I saved them up just for this reason.”
Hope shared, “We do consumables for the adults in our lives. So things like: fancy coffee beans, local honey, collections of treats from Trader Joe’s, fancy beer, olive oil, etc. For our nieces and nephews we do books (I buy used when possible) and sometimes clothing. As a teacher, I’m always happy with any gift or card from my students, but the most useful ones are grocery store gift cards, Amazon gift cards, and consumable treats. It really is the thought that counts though, it’s just nice to feel appreciated.”
Laura said, “I usually make maple nuts for teacher gifts. Super easy and since we make our own maple syrup, not bad on the pocketbook. This is also a gift that can be used up, won’t cause clutter and is usually greatly appreciated. In spring, before school is our I usually make a bag of fresh veggies for the teacher. The first time I did this the teacher almost cried, she said it was the most thoughtful gift anyone had ever given and they used it all up. I bought carrots and potatoes from the farmers market and added our own greens and herbs to round it out. I don’t exchange gifts with friends usually or again the maple nuts are great or cookies. With family we try for things that will be used it again food. My family loves to get garlic so depending on the harvest they get lots of garlic, maybe some canned goods like salsa or jam if I know they use it.”
Holly wrote, “Teachers get gift cards to a local coffee place (that also offers tea, food, & other beverages so that there are many options to pick from). Nobody needs another mug.”
Angela shared, “We usually give consumables to the adults we give to each year. We make the same thing – I make chocolate truffles and my husband makes ginger beer, and often around October we are eagerly asked by friends and family if we’re doing again, because they’re yummy and such a treat (once you’ve had home made ginger beer, you’ll never go back to the commercial stuff).”
Holly wrote, “One year my husband and I treated ourselves to a couples spa day (massages, pedicures, a lunch at their restaurant) and that was the absolute best gift we could’ve given each other – the gift of time spent together to unwind and truly relax in the week just before the holidays.”
Kristi said, “My husband and I pick out three things we want and that’s it. I have a few friends where we pick a day to spend together doing whatever (usually a pedicure). But mostly my best friend and I give each other books. I give my nieces nothing for presents and instead put money in their account for a trip to wherever they want to go when they are 16/17.”
Lindsay relayed, “For our extended family, we have proposed different options, including a white elephant swap amongst adults and skipping gifts to adults and making memories instead. This year we are going to a Holiday event with lights at a farm together.”
Carla said, “Getting together as a family and sharing a meal (that I shop towards for many months) is our priority. We have the best stress-less Christmases and are enjoying them with the second generation and the ten grandkids know Christmas is about love and presents are secondary and if you ask them they will happily tell you and they don’t miss out at all.”
Practical and Needed!
Carolyn said, “I like to give and receive gift cards. I love to receive books, new or used; food care packages; anything I absolutely need. For my birthday I needed underwear updated so I told girlfriends which ones I wanted as I was unable to do my own shopping; for Christmas I need thermal underwear shirts.”
Tarina suggested, “A few of strategies:
1. Just talk to people and see if they too are finding it stressful in buying presents for each other. A surprising number are relieved to opt out of buying.
2. With large groups of friends we all by one little present and give them to an individual…then we play a game. Each quick round the winner can trade their present for someone else’s…it gets very frantic as the game continues as the best/worst presents are traded.
3. With my adult children I ask for time with them without the grandchildren. We do simple things like cook together and enjoy a self made meal and a bottle of wine with lots of uninterrupted chatting.
4. With the grandkids they get a little present to open but we then spend a day together where I’m totally focused on them. Simple things like the park, playing games and maybe the cinema as a treat.”
Megan likes to give, “GIFT CARDS and a hand written thank you card!”
Gabby said, “I love giving books! They usually aren’t terribly expensive and can be very personal if you put thought into it and don’t just give what you yourself would like (I’ve been taking notes on the What Should I Read Next podcast when a book they discuss makes me think of someone!) I look for “very good” condition copies on Abe Books if they price on a new book is high… A book is a books, whether brand new or not!”
Karen likes to give, “Lottery tickets. The gift that always fits.”
Laura wrote, “For the kids we are doing a need, want, read and wear gift. Some are combined like a family trip to a local ropes course and some are a particular pair of sneakers or a climbing helmet. Bad parenting moment here, I don’t necessarily spend the same amount on all 3 of my children. I base it on what will actually be used or is wanted. My little people don’t know the difference yet anyway. It might matter to them someday, but not right now.”
Mary shared, “I have 6 nieces and nephews and my husband and I put money in their 529 college savings accounts for Christmas. It saves us time from having to run around town and buy gifts/wrapping those gifts and I’d much rather give them something for their future than a toy they’d play with for a short period of time. 😄”
Angela said, “For our children we give small gifts that they need (like pj’s, markers, calendar etc) plus a few fun things like chocolate, and bubble bath in their stockings. They get one decent gift from us under the tree. We’re Christians and try to give big ticket items like bikes etc for birthdays, to help keep our focus on the reason for the season. With my children I try to help them think about giving to others, so we usually make/bake gifts, and do a reverse advent calendar to give to our food bank (I usually give it to the food bank in January as they are often swamped at that time of year, due to people overextending themselves at Christmas).”
Carly shared, “We do Christmas just for the kids. Our family is so spread across the country that we no longer do gifts with them. With the shipping costs it gets out of hand fast. I have one niece and we do send her a gift, but I have started sending her money and a card. I do try to send a nice picture of our kids to the grandparents too. We also try to travel to spend Christmas with family every couple of years, so we all count that as our gift. For our kids we do a gift that has some educational benefit (generally something STEM), a book or game, and something functional (snorkel sets bought on clearance this year). That’s our spin on the something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read. Santa brings a toy (nothing big, maybe a $25 Lego set and some candy) and then they get toys from their grandparents and aunts/uncles.”
Cindy said, “This year we’re going to try “something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read” and let the grandparents, aunts, uncles, and my stepson’s mother fill in the rest. It’s just too much stuff otherwise! We set a budget of $1,000 overall for everyone (us, kids, teachers, family, friends, etc.).”
Lindsay wrote, “We are doing something you want/need/wear/read from us to our kid, and to our nieces and nephews. This structures it so we don’t overbuy with all the wonderful things we see.”
Go Giftless and Grateful
Carly wrote, “My husband and I don’t exchange gifts because we’re saving for FI and we’re both overwhelmed by the amount of stuff constantly inundating our house!”
Cindy relayed, “My husband and I don’t gift to each other. We prefer some sort of quality time activity like going downtown for an overpriced yet amazing meal.”
Set A Budget (and stick to it!)
Lauren wrote, “I absolutely love the holiday season and thinking of gifts to give to our family members. Because it is so easy to overspend in the holidays, my husband and I set a budget for the following Christmas in January, then put money back each month for the holiday season (including traveling home to see his family). We use this sinking fund approach to lots of our larger, expected expenses— property taxes, car registrations, etc. In addition to this, we use creative approaches to giving gifts to each other and our daughter. We keep it to four things: one gift of service, one family experience, one “want”, and one need. It makes the gift giving even more fun! Pictured is our now-19 month-old, then-8-month-old, enjoying her first holiday season. She was all about the lights!”
Lindsay said, “Ways we stay frugal include making an actual list of people we are going to buy for in October and making a rough budget. Then we choose what kinds of gifts we might want to get so we can look for used options, sales, or track Amazon prices on camelcamelcamel.com. For little stocking stuffers, we shop the Christmas clearance the year before. We agree on how much we want to spend and then pay 70%-90% off to get stocking stuffers for everyone.”
Allison shared, “I got married this year and it kind of catapults you from the young adult child within a family to head of a new family. It’s the first year I can’t consider myself included in my parents’ gifts to family members. 😬 We handle presents with our siblings by being super honest about our price limit for them and their kids. And we all stick to those limits. (I love the challenge of creatively finding something that will be appreciated within this price limit.) With our parents, we often pass our ideas by our siblings and/or go in on a shared gift with them. I don’t want any of them to feel bad because we gifted drastically differently and often one of us has a great idea that the rest of us can get in on. And then with other relatives, we don’t openly share this, but we work to limit it to $25 or less. Our family is, thankfully, so much more focused about quality time together and isn’t judgy about our gifting lightly so that we can travel to see all of them more and also establish ourselves as independent adults.”
Kelly shared, “For all gifts, I sit down and make a “holiday gift budget” and seriously try to stick to it. This keeps us from getting a dreaded credit card bill in January. I know what we are going to spend and am prepared for it. Some years we will sign up several months in advance for a credit card that gives a generous sign-on bonus and use that bonus towards Amazon or Target gift cards that we designate specifically for Christmas gifts. Last year, we signed up for a Chase credit card that after spending so much gave us enough points for $700 in gift cards. This isn’t for everyone, but we made purchases with the cards that we would have made anyways and paid it off in full every month. For our kids (ages 4, 4, and 1), we buy used gifts at thrift stores and consignment sales throughout the year. I do let the older two make a Christmas list when the holiday season starts and buy them a few new things off of it. During the holiday season, I want to give generously to charities. This year we’re really focusing on paying our last bit of debt off and so I’m looking for opportunities to give through my time instead of just cash. Our church hosts a “Christmas boutique” as a fundraiser and is looking for donations of baked goods to sell. I can make homemade cinnamon buns pretty cheaply and I plan to give many trays of those. Another random tactic I am thinking of taking this year is using holiday-themed reusable grocery bags to wrap gifts in instead of gift bags. They are usually the same price as a new gift bag ($1), are much sturdier and serve many more functions. We’ll see how that goes over!”
Secret Santa and/or A Dollar Limit
Pauline wrote, “About 20 years ago we started the $5 limit for gifts for our extended family (brothers, sisters, niece, nephew, grandma etc). We have had some wonderful gifts and some not so wonderful! The key to giving good gifts on a budget is being willing to shop for them all year round. You constantly see things on sale at the grocery or supercenter – if it brings someone to mind that is going to be on your list buy it and stash it until Christmas. I also just buy stuff sometimes that could be for anyone, but is a really good deal. Like $8 Oster Blenders that are being phased out (typically about $40) and these are for White Elephant gift exchanges at church or with further extended family get togethers. Our family is also receptive to thrift/yard sale items so that is another place to get fabulous bargains! 🙂 Merry Christmas everybody!”
Samantha said, “After trying to introduce Secret Santa years ago, my family have come round to it 🙂 we also have a secret Santa for our pets too otherwise we all buy them presents as well. I just don’t buy other presents with a few exceptions of Goddaughter and new baby niece etc. My go to is books and crafts where you don’t end up with something you won’t use again afterwards.”
Grace shared, “We do Secret Santa in our family (all of us “kids” are 17+ and there are no children). I coordinate it with an online Secret Santa random generator that allows everybody to make a wishlist and include links from other websites. We set a $50 limit per person. We love it because we only have to buy one present each and everybody ends up with something they actually wanted/needed rather than a random gift they don’t want.”
Lea wrote, “On my dads side our extended family is 50+ so we started a tradition where everyone brings one gift and we play a Christmas trivia game to determine who gets what gift. The limit is $30 and there’s no pressure to participate. It works really well because the trivia is half the fun and if someone’s stuck with a gift that doesn’t work for them (ie the 15 year old got a bottle of wine) everyone’s willing to trade since the gifts aren’t crazy expensive.”
Adrienne said, “My husband’s family is large so we’ve started doing $20 max gift exchange for adults and teens. Local treats are usually a big hit. Everyone buys gifts just for their own little kids. Getting everyone together is the biggest “gift” and i try to help the hosts with the cooking since that gets $$ also.”
- Communicate with your close friends and family about your expectations–and theirs–around holiday gift giving. Would everyone be amenable to skipping gifts this year and instead doing a special activity together? Would Secret Santa or a dollar limit work?
- Plan ahead and set a budget. Shop year-round (garage sales included!) to capitalize on sales.
- Don’t fear gifting second-hand gifts–especially to your own kids!
- Consider making homemade treats to gift.
- Discuss the possibility of going gift-free with your partner/spouse. In what ways could you celebrate without spending money?
What are your favorite frugal holiday gifts to give?
User Generated Content Disclosure: Reader comments and responses are not provided or commissioned by Frugalwoods or its advertisers. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by advertisers. It is not the advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.
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This year we seem to have an extraordinary number of school / extra-mural thank you gifts to give, so VERY EARLY I decided on who I needed to buy for and whether they are a wine or a chocolate person (if I’m in doubt, I go with chocolates), and then stocked up on bargain deals for very nice brands that fall into the category of ” nicer than what one might buy for onesself, a definite treat” while remaining below the ”I now feel bad just eating / drinking this myself because it’s really very pricey and extra special”. You know the level to which I refer, right?
THEN I try and get the kids to write thank you notes and string them on a cute christmas bauble that I also stockpile extra-cheap when the sales come around and either put it round the neck of the bottle or on a piece of ribbon around the chocolate box and that’s that. It’s consumable, it’s nice and indulgent without being overboard, I get items very discounted when I can (sell-by dates matter here by the way, nothing that doesn’t have AT LEAST a month AFTER being given makes the cut), and my recipients all seem really pleased!
For bigger gifts, I tend to hang onto gift baskets and cute crates and bags and then fill them gradually with consumable goodies (for very dear friends a voucher of some kind may be included) that the recipient likes, wrap the thing in cello, attach a nice card and sometimes a bauble… and that’s the jumped-up version!
Proper gifts for kids only.
Great idea!! This is practical with a personal touch.
LOVE it. My only question is: what if you’re a wine AND chocolate person??? (asking for a friend… 😉 )
that is a huge dilemma!! Huge. Then it falls into a decision tree that goes like this; first step, get anxious because, you know, who wants to make THE WRONG DECISION AND NOT BE RIGHT??. Next stage is denial, where you think ”oh it doesn’t matter. Not a bit. It doesn’t. Really.”, then we move to something akin to anger, well, not really anger, more moral censoriousness ”he’ll take what he’s given and my WORD but he’d better be grateful! In MY day we only ever received stones for gifts. Stones. And we never had any fun ever.”
Finally we re-check the list and discover that we have, say, an extra bottle of wine because way back when we bought a bottle of red and then discovered the intended recipient actually really cannot abide red wine, so we’re one bottle up OR that we have spare chocolate because it was 4-for-the-price-of-3 and this makes our decision for us.
By we, I refer obviously to the Royal We.
I buy gifts year round that remind me of someone, then store them in my “gift closet”. (Which also houses the legos for grandsons). When it comes time for a birthday or Christmas, I simply retrieve and give/ship. If appropriate I include cash or a gift card, this way our adult children have something to open and see that I was thinking of them, as well as being able to choose something themselves.
The only drawback for me is that I have too many accumulated “finds”, so now I need to stop spending, which is not all bad😊
I do this too, but also tend to forget about stuff, so that I have to make lists and set reminders to prevent re-buying! My mum used to do this with things she’d got at a big discount or gifts given to her, still in original packaging that she didn’t want, and she used to put a label with the giver’s name on it and the date so as to avoid the unspeakable horror of giving it ”back. My mum was a very, very generous person, open-handed with the people she loved, but was a war child and had a very sensible, practical, make-do approach to life, always cooked from scratch, reused and repurposed all sorts of things long, long before it became a thing to do. I am trying to emulate her and one day maybe will come close!
Thank you for all these reminders! I would just add the importance of not over scheduling – if I plan to do too much I get overly tired and everything else starts to slide (especially eating out). This year I’m really excited to have a plan of what Xmassy things I want to do and I’m determined not to add to it! Hubs and I are also going gift-free for the first time and I’m really looking forward to the medieval carol evening we’re going to enjoy instead.
In our house, Santa brings food only. This keeps the stockings simple and doesn’t add to the toy pile. We buy our kids 1-2 presents each, larger items like scooters or a toy they have talked about longer than a week 🙂. Our kids receive plenty of gifts from the out-of-town grandparents. My husband and I do not buy each other or family member gifts. Our philosophy is if we see something throughout the year we want to gift to a loved one, we just do it right then….we don’t wait for a holiday. If we do give gifts, we love consumables like coffee, wine, and dark chocolate!!! 🙂
Hi Frugalwoods friends! I love these suggestions!
I have a question that’s less about saving money per se, and more about managing family expectations around gift-giving, which in my family is HEAVILY emotionally freighted.
What strategies have you all used to help your families focus on other parts of Christmas, beyond the gift giving exchange? How have you helped your families adjust to different expectations around gift-giving, and to stop equating “number of wrapped boxes under the tree” with “volume of love in our family”? Would love to hear your thoughts, as I’m so deep in the emotional minefield of this that it’s hard to find a way out!
My immediate and extended family put a huge emphasis on gift giving as a sign of love, appreciation and recognition. Gift cards/cash are seen as “not caring” enough; efforts to give experiences or consumables are seen as “not special.” My parents–who have rounded 70 and are constantly complaining about how much stuff they have–actually sulked when we ordered them a hamper of specialty citrus for Christmas one year instead of getting them stuff they could keep, and the year we tried donating to their favorite charity as a gift caused a major melt-down. My mom in particular likes to give lots of doo-dads from gift stores she visits on her trips–little scarves, earrings, tchotchkes–and expects the same, even though I’m fairly confident that she, like me, ends up giving much of these things away to Goodwill within a year or so. We’re literally burning money just for the experience of unwrapping boxes on Christmas morning. And the pattern extends out to my extended family of aunts and cousins, all of whom are adults without children.
My husband and I have been trying, for years, to scale back the gift giving pressure to focus on other elements of Christmas (being together, cooking elaborate meals to share, appreciating all of our good health for another year). We don’t want gifts for ourselves, and the financial and ecological footprint of the holidays bothers us. But we meet SO MUCH RESISTANCE from my parents, in particular–and now that we are out of grad school, with “real” jobs, the pressure’s even worse. My mother gets so upset that my husband and I don’t exchange gifts that we have even taken to bringing recent purchases with us to wrap and put under the tree as each others’ “gifts” to preserve her feelings!
I’d appreciate hearing from anyone who has found a compromise in similar situations, while preserving everyone’s feelings and making everyone feel loved over the holidays.
Oh! And I should also add that most of my family think that directly asking someone what they want for Christmas/birthdays and then giving them that thing is also seen as not “really” gift giving, and “spoiling” what should be a special surprise (that reflects how well you know and love the recipient etc). Even getting folks to move on this issue has been really hard!
This is a really tough one, Julia, and I feel for you. I had a Reader Case Study about gift giving a few years ago that had some excellent advice in the comments section: Reader Case Study: The Case Of The Over-gifting In-Laws!. I think it’s particularly tough when your love language and your families’ love languages are not the same. I am hoping readers will have some good advice to offer you today!
Julia, I had this problem with my husband’s extended family. Long story, but he’s fairly close in age and proximity to a one branch of his far-flung family, and they keep expanding every year with new spouses and babies. Each Christmas, they wanted to all gather and exchange gifts, but my goodness, we were talking about 25 or so people, just from that one branch of the old family tree, and just from HIS family tree at that – we still had my side to buy for. It was awkward at first, but we stopped bringing gifts and explained that we just wanted to enjoy the meal and the time together. Then I finally politely but bluntly asked them to stop bringing us gifts , which they had continued to do. Well, we got left out of the Christmas celebration altogether for a few years. I don’t think they were angry, but that they thought we would be upset watching them open gifts to each other (we wouldn’t have been). We finally got invited again this past year. We stayed on good terms with them otherwise, but we finally don’t exchange gifts with each other. Be prepared to cause a bit of a break in the traditions. It might or might not happen, but it turned out okay for us in the end. Good luck!
Julia, That’s a tough situation. I know because my family is the same way about gift giving. I don’t have any advice, because my only approach really bombed. One year my husband and I told the family in advance that we were only going to give them gifts that we made. I might as well have said I hate motherhood and apple pie. Years later we still give handmade gifts — to a family who considers anything handmade to be tacky.
I’m hoping someone will have helpful advice. In the meantime, I commiserate with you.
That sounds like a tough one JD! Did you ever have a ”formal” conversation before the Christmas period, around maybe doing things differently? I ask because it would be quite hard to simply ”not” bring anything unannounced.
Good for you for sticking to your guns though, and not fretting about a year or two of flux, these things work themselves out if you all care about each other and remain kind and pleasant.
Julia, my friends save their small gift boxes for me, ideal for putting ornamental tchotchkes in! If you can find a category (kittens,roses etc), or a colour ( for your pretty purple kitchen!) it seems very thoughtful and purposeful, and makes yard sales a bargain bonanza! Presentation is ALL! Ornaments etc that look like new ARE new, as far as anyone else knows !
That is a hard situation, families can bring many challenges to accompany all the joys. In situations like this, you can’t control others’ expectations, feelings, or responses to your actions. The only thing you can control is your own expectations, feelings, and actions. It sounds like if you get them gifts, it’s not the right thing, and if you don’t get them gifts, it’s not the right thing. You can’t preserve their feelings (aka gain their Christmas approval) or make them feel loved. People can only feel loved when they chose to, regardless of if you got the “right” gift or not. Might be worth having an honest conversation before too long, especially with your mom. For example, “Mom, my husband and I are a bit tight financially this year looking ahead at Christmas. How can I express how much I love you and the family without us going into debt?” Can’t guarantee a home run that route, especially if you’re expecting a full-scale Christmas tradition overhaul, but it’s worth starting somewhere.
This is drastic, but advise the family WAY AHEAD of time you won’t be there for Christmas. Tell them you’ll be there after the gifting, and that you’ll miss them so much, but can’t afford all the gifting. Also it sounds like your mother’s love language is gifting, so she will not stop because she shows her love that way. Maybe start a new family tradition getting together for New Year’s or Easter where there is not so much gifting going on. Time’s have changed. Young people are saving for their retirement earlier and more seriously than your parents did. It’s very sensible to cut down on gifting. I wish I had started when I was in my 20s instead of in my 30s to save more money! Good Luck to you!!
It seems like you’ve tried a bunch of approaches to get your relatives to change, without much actual change on their part. Perhaps, then, changing their views on gifts is not in the cards, and trying to change them is just creating undue stress and resentment for you. Instead, could you find a lower-stress way of leaning into their preferences? Or a different way to frame the whole experience? Here’s my take on how you might approach that:
You mention that you suspect that many of the gifts your parents receive just end up in goodwill, so perhaps for them it really isn’t about the gift itself, perhaps its about the experience of giving and receiving the gifts. If this is the case, maybe you can focus on giving your parents “an experience” for Christmas, which in this case is the “experience” of their family opening a certain number of a certain type of gift on Christmas. You’ve already started to implement this strategy with some success through your “wrapping recently purchased items” tactic. However, instead of framing this as “preserving mom’s feelings” maybe you frame it as “giving my mom the gift of the type of Christmas that makes her feel loved.”
Since the gifts themselves aren’t truly that important, maybe you could make this approach less impactful to your pocket book by using some of the strategies that Mrs. Frugalwoods’ highlights above – like buying used or deep discount gifts. Would your mom really notice if you bought her a very-nice-looking used/inexpensive “vase” (or other item of tchotchkes variety that your mom likes to gift), and wrapped it very, very, nicely? What about if you attached a card to that gift that talked about how this “antique” vase reminded you of that one time you and she went to that special place and did that lovely thing together?
For those in your family that you suspect may be willing to change (siblings? cousins? your aunt that just Marie Kondo-ed her whole house?), could you make some pacts? Like a pact to expand the “wrap a recently purchased item” idea to include more people? Or a pact to give each other consumables?
As for dealing with the gifts you are receiving from these relatives, I’m not sure I have a lot of great ideas. Perhaps there are ways that you could sell/return the gifts after Christmas to recoup some of the cash that they put towards your gifts? That way you’d still get cash to put towards your priorities while also letting them still have the experience of gift-giving that they value so much? Or maybe you can keep those items to re-gift at some time in the future to people your mom doesn’t know (and save yourself money you’d spend on other people)?
Or, maybe there are subtle ways that you an help her see that your love language isn’t gifts. That while you’re willing to help her feel loved by doing the whole Christmas thing, maybe it isn’t the best way to make you feel loved. This maybe best to do during the times of the year that don’t come with the traditional gift-giving baggage (e.g. not near birthdays and Christmas). For example, maybe watch an episode of the Marie Kondo show on Neflix with her and talk about how paring back in stuff has benefited your life. Or maybe in a casual phone call with your mom sometime in February, you could really make a big deal about the experience that your sweet husband gave you for Valentines instead of flowers, and how it was all-the-more-touching because he knew your personal preference was for an intangible gifts. Or share a copy of Mrs. Frugalwood’s book with her and talk about how revolutionary it was for your way of thinking.
I struggled with this, too.
It’s tough. My mother was really, really upset for a while. It’s better now, but it took years of gentle work.
She still is determined to BUY! BUY! BUY! for us, but she’s not getting much in return (unless she asks for something VERY specific like one puzzle or a ticket to a show).
I refuse to chuck any money at useless “I hope they like it” stuff. What a waste.
Thankfully all her shopping for us generally used/thrift so when her presents fall short I don’t mind recycling/regifting.
Good luck, stay strong!
Maybe I am unusual but I do not see it as my job to “preserve everyone’s feelings.” That is an impossibility because you are not in control of how people feel. You can do one thing and three people will end up with three different feelings about it. When we have been caught up in a swirl of family emotions, we have handled it by explaining our limits and what this means in terms of what we will or will not do for things like Christmas. If people sulk, then they sulk. Sulking is a passive aggressive way of trying to control others and we refuse to buy into it, because it only encourages that behavior in the future. In my experience, people get over it. In fact, I have had sisters in law thank me for setting limits because it made it easier for them to follow.
Thanks for your thoughts, all–and for the link to the earlier Case Study post. Gift exchanges are COMPLICATED and bring up so many deep feelings for people around being supported, recognized, ignored, hurt… I appreciate everyone’s reflections on what we can and can’t control, about our happiness and the happiness of others, as well as thoughts about how to communicate across different languages of love and support (I hadn’t ever thought of it like this before). In recent years, my parents have participated in a toys for tot program where you adopt an economically struggling family to shop for (because yes, gifting makes them feel REALLY good) and maybe this year I’ll see if there’s a way to participate in that–helping wrap the gifts when I’m in town for the holidays, shopping, etc. Even if that doesn’t change the Christmas morning snarky comments, at least I’ll feel like I found a compromise and place to celebrate giving with my family. THANK YOU, Frugalwoods-ers! This is such a great community.
We are here for you, Julia! I am so grateful to everyone who offered such thoughtful advice. Please let us know how it works out with your family this year.
Agreed. We decided years ago that we need to stop trying to people please and stop responding to manipulation, not just in gift giving and Christmas but in all aspects of life. There were/still are consequences to our decisions, but we live with them.
We started gifting as it made sense to us and was in line with our world and life view.
There are too many other things that are more significant to us than to worry if we are pleasing extended family at Christmas.
Thankfully our adult kids are all following in the pattern we set while they were growing up. That’s another good reason for following our own hearts and minds with gift giving.
that is really tricky. It truly is. I like the ”wrap recent purchases to unwrap” idea because it does actually serve a purpose. As for the main issue, have you ever sat down with your parents at a time that wasn’t anywhere remotely close to Christmas or any time a gift would be given and laid all this out? I ask because sometimes a direct and specific conversation works best and at least it’s clear. Yes, they’re your parents and of course you love them, but you are now adults in the world, and have the right to make your own decisions. Gently but quite clearly stating that a while before any possible gift exchange might be an idea.
Ask her where X or Y or Z that she got last Christmas actually is. Go for stuff you know for a fact she won’t have kept. Be direct.
Another tack is to hang onto a couple of unwanted, suitable gifts you may receive (NOT FROM HER) and just give them to her but for the rest, explain that gift cards it will be and to please nominate where they’d like theirs to be from (give a list to choose from). Be blunt, be upfront. What you want counts too.
A final option, which is possibly time-consuming, is to go for hand-made or pre-owned, I’m thinking of things you’d find in markets, vintage things, or giving a special Christmas ornament you know she’ll love. Those are small and purposeful at least, and if they’re handmade, so much the better!
Jennifer’s idea for Penzey’s spices is genius!!! My husband always begs me not to take the free jars because we’re drowning in spices. Now we’ll save them for a lucky gift recipient!
Great tips! I particularly am inspired to make my own ginger beer now! And the statement cards are amazing. Thank you for sharing. I have a lot of friends who aren’t looking to get married or start a family so these are terrific.
YES! I’m so in love with those cards!!!
We use Christmas and birthdays as an excuse to buy big ticket items we were already planning on buying, we just wrap them up and present them as a gift! For example, the only pair of boots I had was a huge pair of snow boots, but since I walk my son to school every day, I needed something warmer than just my regular shoes for cold New England winters. My husband got me a nice pair of ankle boots for my birthday, problem solved! We also make family lists and send requests of things we need, do consumables as well and then we have fun with gag gifts. There is always an actual lump of coal in the mix and we also like to save fancy boxes and put boring stuff like soap in them. The teenagers were gobsmacked when they saw grandma opening an iPhone box, but relieved when there was just candy inside. Dish gloves in a Ferragamo box is also a favorite! Happy giving everyone!
Haha, dish gloves in a Ferragamo! Love it.
Oh my goodness! We have had fun over the years with the fake out gift boxes and it all started out of necessity. Not having a proper size box for a gift. Older women may remember a light blue box with white daisies on it that tampons came in. Imagine a brother in laws face when he ripped off the paper and all the ladies started laughing. He loved the crazy socks! Hint, if you still give gifts, save different size boxes all year. Works great for other occasions as well.
I’m really disappointed by the direction gift-giving has taken these last several years. I have been the recipient of several gifts that left me scratching my head, but I knew they were selected for me by someone I love. For that reason, I have always gratefully accepted whatever gift has been given and at least tried to find a use for it. Now that many of the givers have passed on, I’m particularly grateful to have these items. Although many people (teachers according to this post) would prefer cash, I find it rather disheartening that baked goods or other gifts were not appreciated. Whatever happened to “It’s the thought that counts.”?
In addition, it’s very disappointing to me to never see gifts I have given to loved ones get used or worse yet regifted to the dog. To have gifts you have given to your grandkids referred to as “clutter” is also a bummer. For this reason, I primarily give gift cards. It’s what people want these days.
I for one will continue to be grateful for any gifts I receive even if they are made by a child, home-made, baked or even second hand (especially books) because to me it’s still the thought that counts.
I think the thing to remember is that it IS “the thought that counts”, and that means thinking carefully about what the person you love would really want and appreciate, and less about what you would prefer to give. Sounds like you are doing a great job of that by giving gift cards to people who prefer them. I am a teacher, and am genuinely grateful and appreciative of any gifts my students give me, but not all of them are things I actually want or need, so sometimes I re-gift or donate them. This doesn’t make me any less appreciative of the very sweet thought, but I am also not obligated to eat food I don’t like, or keep objects that I don’t want. And if someone asks me what I would prefer to be gifted, thats even more thoughtful, and I am happy to direct them to things I actually would like. I guess I just think there is a difference between gratitude for the thought behind a gift, and being obligated to actually keep or use the gift.
I love giving baked / home made things and where I know the recipient will absolutely want and appreciate something like that, that’s what I do. Thing is, for teachers particularly, 30 lots of home made cookies? We see ourselves in isolation, and of course the thought is wonderful and generous, but half the time those cookies go stale or get shoved at random people, and that’s not great either.
Before I give something to someone – be it small or big – I try very hard to make sure it is of earthly use to them personally. If they give me money or a gift card, I absolutely make certain to tell them precisely what I bought with that money. I take that quite seriously.
You are clearly a kind and generous person, I hope you are rewarded with generous gifts on Christmas day!
If you’re like me and have 19 “just gifts for the kids” to cover (big big family), consider batch handmade. Giving all of the teen girls handmade necklaces, sewing all of the teen boys handmade men’s travel bags, and then sewing all little kids handmade dolls, I was able to buy supplies for a batch of each and make all of these gifts for under $100. Handmade doesn’t always mean cheaper (looking at you knitting), but batch making and using up every last bit of materials helps!
I was scrolling Facebook at work… (real great use of my time! ;)) When I noticed a pink Barbie mustang car for kids offered as FREE!! It had also been outfitted with a brand new battery and looks amazing. My daughter wanted one of these forever, but we didn’t want to spend that much money on a car she’d use for probably 5 minutes.
I messaged that lady so fast, and now it’s happily sitting in my garage until Christmas morning! It’s her “big” present. I will probably look into ballet lessons, or some other activity as we don’t like stuff – and we’ve told friends/family no toys. The only other thing I’m keeping my eyes out for are Magna-tiles. She loves those things!
YAY! Fabulous score. That is awesome!! My kids LOVE Magna-tiles. We have these generic Picasso Tiles, which are fantastic and cheaper than the name brand (FYI that’s an affiliate link).
Another big yes to Picasso Tiles. We’ve been adding to the grandkids’ set. Groupon often has good prices too.
Thanks! I’ll look into those. 🙂 Since we saved so much money on the big present, we are happy to spend money on something I know she’ll love/use!
I would love to get my youngest magna tiles but in SA they are just far too pricey for our budget, which is a great shame.
One thing that we’re particularly excited about is helping our oldest (age 6) to develop an understanding of the importance of generosity. Between Mid-October and Mid-December, we’re giving him the opportunity to earn $1 per day to give away. He will use the money he earns to purchase gifts for an Angel Christmas program or something similar.
So far, he’s really motivated to work hard, so he’ll have the money to give away. This isn’t exactly a “money saving” tip, as the suggested cost is $50, and we will use that money up whether our son earns it all or not, but it is so fun to have him focused on how he can be a giver. Also, I’m not sure whether this will work well for many years or other children, but this year it’s working great (so far).
Thank you everyone for sharing your stories. I certainly enjoy reading how you all celebrate the holidays!
Great Grandmother was too frail to shop, but wanted to give something useful, so she contributes to the cost of school shoes for the boys. (We now do that for her.)
I have finished my Christmas shopping. I checked carefully with DD what was needed and have bought the boys some warm clothes for Winter in the mid-season sales, books they have wanted, second hand or on offer, new skateboarding protection pads, and membership to the local children’s park for the year. Want, Need, Wear and Read, and the minimum amount of plastic and no sweets.
And socks, socks from Granny for Christmas are obligatory! The boys laugh at me, and I love them dearly.
DD and SIL get money towards essential clothes, which DD uses in the sales.
We will visit for a few hours, when it suits them, a few days after Christmas and take them out for lunch at their local carvery. It is a relaxed way to visit at a time which can be very tiring and stressful.
We agreed not to exchange presents with our siblings, and no longer give to the nieces and nephews, but the great n & n’s get £5 for Christmas and birthdays.
I have some small jars of honey from our bees for a few elderly friends and neighbours. Just the thing for the Winter colds and sore throats which go round after Christmas.
I am so envious of your honey! I would love to keep bees but from a practical viewpoint it’s just not suitable where we live.
I would take a jar of that honey over almost any other gift.
I recommend looking at ritzy shops online when they offer things like “sale on sale” + no minimum free shipping. This is not an efficient way to shop (I keep a box for year-round acquisition of holiday gifts), but you can find a lot of beautiful, small, indulgent presents for massively discounted prices.
I also encourage people to think further afield than rich and sweet foods on the gifted-food front. There’s an online shop that specializes in organic, heirloom dried beans; one year I gave every adult on my list their “extra lucky” black-eyed peas to be made on New Year’s Day. Note: you have to order these EARLY, because they sell out by Thanksgiving.
On my dad’s side my parents/aunts/uncles used the “only gifts for kids” strategy very successfully until we all grew up. It got a little weird at the end because they didn’t have a discussion about an age cut-off for who counts as “kids.” There was a period where one aunt was buying presents for everyone (30 somethings included), while another was just buying presents for the under 18 crowd. So if you’re going to use that strategy, maybe also discuss the cut-off age while all the kids are still young.
There are a couple of things I want to try in the coming years with my (all-adult) family:
1)I want to try to incorporate more interaction/quality time into the experience-type gifts that we give. Like maybe agreeing with my brother that instead of buying birthday presents for each other, we plan a cheap-to-execute outdoorsy-trip (thinking backpacking) for the three-day-weekend in early October (which happens to fall between our birthdays).
2)I also want to try to cut back on the paper waste of Christmas next year by buying cheap Christmas fabric when it goes on sale after the holidays and cutting it into different size squares that will fit for all/most sizes of gifts. The squares (and re-usable lengths of ribbon), can then be used and re used to wrap gifts every year. My immediate family at least seems to be on-board with being more eco-friendly, so hopefully we can all keep the fabric in circulation.
If you sew, try making cloth gift bags, maybe with drawstrings, prints and solids, and assorted sizes, for all occasions year round!
As far as cutting back on paper waste –
I’ve gotten packages packed with wadded-up brown paper before. I flattened it out and later used it to wrap a few gifts. You could even decorate with stickers or drawing on top if want to make it look extra fancy! This helped save waste since it was used a second time, and could be recycled!
So many good ideas here!
I’ve taken old photos and had them scanned then I put them into frames. They are pretty inexpensive gifts, and depending on the photo, can cause laughter or smiles through tears. I’ve used a photo of a long gone grandparent, photos of old friends who are gone but not forgotten, childhood photos, military photos, etc. So far, I still see those photos displayed in every home where I’ve gifted them. Naturally, this requires access to the photos, first.
I stop giving to nieces and nephews when they reach 22 or got married, whichever is first.
Practical gifts are good — a pack of LED light bulbs, a big pack of TP, stamps (some still use them!), a portable phone charger, batteries, pantry staples for the grad just starting out in his or her first “real” place, and perhaps dog or cat food for the older person on a fixed income who has a beloved pet. So many of these things, except stamps, can be found on sale throughout the year.
I love these suggestions here, and since I’m already purchasing gifts, these are very helpful to me.
Great ideas! For several years I’ve given my mom groceries for Christmas. Brands she preferred but wouldn’t buy because of the cost. My friends thought I was a horrible daughter for this but my mom LOVES the Christmas Groceries I give her. But I’ve never once thought about including food for her cat. Thanks for this post, this year Miss Kitty will also receive a big sack of food.
When our boys were young (probably 12 and up) we started giving them a ‘food box’ for Christmas. We never bought sweetened cereal, pop, and cookies so they thought they were blessed when they each got a box filled with their favourite things. Made a great gift and filled them up at the same time. When asked now (they’re in their mid 30’s) what their favourite gift was they both immediately say the food boxes.
That’s such a fun idea!!! My girls would definitely get behind that when they’re older!
I don’t understand why teachers do not want home made goodies as a gift? Would appreciate the reasoning, as I don’t get it?
In last year’s gift guide, many teachers weighed in that, although homemade foods are thoughtful, they’re often not appreciated because:
-Teacher receive tons of homemade foods–too many for them to consume
-Many of the foods are treats and aren’t helpful for healthy eating
-Many foods contain ingredients that students might know their teacher is allergic to/doesn’t eat
In general, the consensus was that teachers receive way too many homemade foods and treats when what they could really use is cash. I’m certain this doesn’t apply to all teachers everywhere, but I like the idea of cash since it allows each teacher to spend according to what’s helpful/needed for them. It’s in the spirit of making the gift giving about what the recipient really needs/wants, as opposed to what I want to give.
What dollar amount did you put in with the cards?
I’m a high school teacher, so I don’t get as many gifts as an elementary teacher would, but I am always grateful for gifts from students (handwritten cards are my favorite).
However, my mom was a mail carrier for 30 years and she would get absolutely inundated with food gifts from her customers: boxes and boxes of chocolates, nuts, and homemade fudge, tins of cookies, jars of jam, etc. She always accepted the gifts graciously and wrote a thank you note for every single one, but it was way more than one family could (or should) eat! She spent quite a lot of time over the holidays trying to give away some of the food. Definitely a case of too much of a good thing!
I’m sure teachers love goodies and home made food as much as the rest of us, but visualise getting, say, 25 different / but similar home baked items with expiry dates all on one day.
We see ourselves in isolation, and forget that others will often give something very similar, such as sugar cookies or muffins or whatever. It’s a kind, thoughtful thing, but on a practical level it can be like a tidal wave.
Others have responded really well, but I’ll weigh in too.
The ‘thought that counts’ behind receiving cash from my students’ families is really just addressing that its something I actually NEED. I LOVE also receiving a sweet card/note, because that lets me know I’m appreciated (but I don’t need physical stuff, so I’d rather receive those physical things from family/friends who know me very well, if I am to receive them at all).
Its honestly a touchy subject. I can only speak to my experience, but receiving cash also sort of recognizes the massive imbalance of pay towards teachers (in the US). For example, my yearly earnings are less than the tuition of sending 1 child to my classroom. I’m not saying all families are rolling in money, but sometimes everyone just needs to SEE the economic differences. So when I receive money (and I don’t expect this from every family!) I truly appreciate it. It says ‘We love what you do, and you need this more than we do right now, and we see that. Thank you’
We always made calendars for our grandmother with photos of us through the year. Some bad fashion choices to laugh at now but great fun to look at. My sister does it now for my parents.
That’s a wonderful idea!
My absolute favorite gift to receive is a calendar made by my SIL with pictures of all the nieces and nephews throughout the year. And rather than the fancy online calendars you purchase already done, she starts with a simple monthly calendar (set up for picture above, month below) and decorates each month with a theme — and pictures of the kids. A treasure to save each year — and much more meaningful than anything you could buy. Best Christmas gift EVER — and one I look forward to every year.
I recommend The Hundred Dollar Holiday by Bill McKibben . It’s a short sweet book that talks about the history of Christmas and how we came to our current form of celebration through gift-giving. He gives an alternative vision and illustrates how his family does a, roughly, $100 total expenditure over Christmas which is budgeted on the back of an envelope.
My family (hubby and I especially) love going on cruises. I call us the “Frugal Cruisers”. We have an upcoming trip next May. Hubby and I have decided to get each other (and our daughter) small things to open (along the lines of the “something to eat, something to read, something you want/need”) but put what we’d normally spend in our “cruise jar” towards next year’s vacation. One year, we were “Christmas With the Kranks”. We took an inexpensive, short family cruise over Christmas to the Caribbean. My kids got to open a small gift on the ship that Santa snuck on, but Christmas Day aboard a cruise ship is an awesome holiday memory. I’m all for the “less things, more experiences”.
It can be tough when your family doesn’t meet the traditional holiday criteria. My family is very small, and rather reserved. So family get togethers are nothing like what is seen on tv. I know my teenage girls feel the difference.
Realizing we can start our OWN traditions, the girls and I started traveling together during the holidays. It’s a great way to spend time together without the pressure of fulfilling a holiday “requirement”. I schedule a visit to the rest of our family right after we get back while the girls are still on break.
This way we get to spend time together the way we want and build our own traditions.
An idea for a consumable gift that isn’t food or drink or toiletries… is actual greeting tags / cards. I know. It’s genius. Where I am in Cape Town there’s a great organisation that is an NGO and they make the most precious little and large cards of all kinds out of recycled paper, into which they put seeds for herbs, wildflowers and various other things, with instructions on how, when you’re done with your card, to plant them very simply and easily.
I have given little 8 packs of gorgeous little gift tags from this range before. They are a bit more expensive than regular ones (really about 15-20% more), but are such a lovely idea and of course people are regularly looking for cute-but-not-too-specific gift tags through any given year, so it’s actually consumable!
As a former teacher, I can highly recommend consumables as gifts for teachers. I absolutely loved homemade baked goods or gift cards to coffee shops or book stores. I had the highly enviable gift of time off for two weeks each December but until that day off came, I was still running around like crazy with no time for baking or shopping yet. So homemade bread to put on my counter or a coffee to be enjoyed leisurely while shopping was a true gift.
You must be running out of things to write about. You need new material. We have read this all before!
Wow. I can’t believe you took the time to write that. Rude. Every holiday season needs a Grinch and I think we found him!
Mrs. Frugalwoods, reader tip holiday posts are the best. Like holiday traditions, I look forward to posts like this to keep me on track & focused on the things that truly matter during the holidays – being thankful & the people you care about.
Goodness, then perhaps scroll elsewhere? It’s a theme that is raised each year, some of us like to come back and peruse for new ideas and see how the Frugalwoods have adjusted as their family has grown and changed.
My husband and I ‘gift’ each other household items! We don’t really need other items, and don’t like getting nonsense gifts. I’d always rather receive a nice note and a dinner out or other special meal anyways.
So last year we started just wrapping up new items we need for around the house. Small things. Like outlet covers, a wine stopper, cute dish towel, soap dispenser, next year calendar…that sort of thing. This way, we end up with surprises under the tree (we don’t know what the other bought), and can unwrap things and it feels like Christmas. But we end up with items we needed around the house; no junk, no stress of finding the perfect gift.
Now…next Christmas we’ll have a small child. Who knows how all of this will change!
Awesome article and many great suggestions here! I am hoping this year the grandparents follow our suggestions and donate half of their planned giving to college savings accounts for the little ones. It will help teach them the value of investment but still let them have something to enjoy in the short term. I gave my folks a Roth IRA last year and loaded it with a REIT that pays monthly, truly a gift that keeps on giving…at least for the next few years before they retire. I have also been in the frugal spirit of giving to the immediate family by cutting out restaurant lunches from our usual budget the last 2 months for a few extra stocking stuffers.
We like to give gifts to family and teachers that we made. I do jams, sauces and make bath bombs, and beeswax items. Consumables that people will actually use rather than added clutter in their homes. I didn’t gift the clippers to my husband, I bought them to give my boys their monthly haircuts, but I was not very good doing the haircuts, so hubby took over the chore for me. My teen boys don’t get wine with their haircuts, but I get a glass of wine set out for me to sip when I take a seat on the stool, get caped and get my hair trimmed. My best friend has hubby trim her hair for her and she brings a bottle of wine for us to sip as we get our tresses trimmed. We both like the sweet wine, hubby doesn’t so it’s only for ladies getting haircuts.
I understand teachers not necessarily wanting homemade food gifts because of dietary restrictions, but giving cash–at least to public school teachers, who are public employees–seems inappropriate to me. A gift card to Staples, Amazon, Target, or somewhere else where they can either spend it on themselves/their family or on their classrooms serves the same purpose but is a bit more personal and less questionable. If I were a teacher I’d feel uncomfortable getting cash.
Our school district has an educational foundation, a separate 501c3, that supports projects that aren’t in the regular budget. We give donations to the foundation in the teachers’ honor. They appreciate it, it directly benefits the district, and it’s tax deductible. You could also do something like donate a book to the school library (check with the librarian first to see what’s on the wish list) with a book plate saying it’s in honor of the teacher.
One gift I think would be really appreciated by a busy mother or father would be the gift of thoroughly cleaning and/or detailing his or her car. Family vehicles can become pretty grubby after a while, and it is often a chore that’s avoided until it becomes unbearable.
I just think of their hobbies and try to go that route, 1 or 2 things per parent and same for my spouse and daughter. I finally convinced my parents my daughter only needs a few small gifts, and last year they were on board which was nice. We just don’t have the room at our house for a ton of crap. I do the same with them, a fun gift and a gift I know they would need. And, I find Shutterfly is a good website to use for family gifts. A close friend of mine, if I see her, often bakes for me and that is always and awesome idea! Another friend is into makeup so I may get her a palette to use or some nail polishes. Many makeup stores have sales this time of year!
I love these ideas, but I especially love all your pictures! They’ve gotten me in the mood for the holiday season – I might have to start decorating this weekend. My brothers and I don’t exchange gifts because it seems pointless, but we always chip in for a big gift for my parents (who always say they don’t want anything), but we buy experiences for them instead of things. We adults don’t need anything. Kids receive gifts. Pets receive gifts. That’s all fine and as it should be. However, after reading this post, I might make some applesauce as a gift for all the adults. Happy holidays, all!
It took us a LONG time to get where we are now but we no longer give or receive gifts to extended family except for my elderly mother and father in law. They live far away so we always send them some kind of food basket. They love those. We pick foods that we know they love and will use. My parents have passed away. We buy plants for the cemetery visit for them. As far as my and my hub’s siblings ALL of us opted out of gift giving a long time ago for all of us adults and all of our kids who are all adults now and wish to do their own thing, and it’s the best decision ever! We all love each other and enjoy visiting and feasting together when we are able to visit and don’t need to exchange gifts to have a good time. Here in my area, our kids are now adults and out on their own. We don’t have any grandchildren and our kids are all on very tight budgets. They don’t want to do big gifting and neither do we. We don’t give big gifts and we mostly focus on the feasting together. The one thing everyone still loves though is the stockings. So, we focus on the feasting and stockings too -we get small nice but not costly usable items for those- like a gift card, travel sizes of fave items of things that we know they already use and love for at home or for trips. I only buy small useful items that I know they love, and we all try to get something funny or unusual too but it still has to be usable! Sometimes we get them each one nice gift but it has to fit into the stocking. For my husband and myself-we ask them not to get us anything, we’re content and don’t need or want anything. Sometimes our kids will still get us something small, usually consumable. They know we’ve been into simplicity for almost 25 years and we just don’t want anything, only want time with them. My husband and I don’t usually get anything for each other either but we will get something we need for the house. We’d rather save the $ for adventures and making memories than spending it on “stuff.” We are Christians and Christmas is very important to us. However we feel that the consumerism of it is out of control. We celebrate the reason for the season. We love being together and making memories and having fun. Everything about our holidays, ANY holiday has been minimalized. Not only gifts but decorations. We have a few. Very few. Know what? We’re very content. Everything is now fuss free and fun.
Sounds great. Trying to do this myself. Notified some and friends yesterday that I won’t be exchanging gifts this year. Felt like a grinch but also felt great relief. Noticed younger people like cousins and friends took it better than older people even though the older people aren’t closely related and have other people in their lives to exchange with.
I should add: I wish I had done these ideas years ago. We did start years ago. But it took until our kids were adults for them to also realize they don’t want to spend a fortune on useless things. The hardest years ago was our parents and siblings but we just said one year hey, it’s too much for us it’s too much stress…and like someone else said in their comment a lot of times once you state it and STICK to it a lot other family members say oh thank goodness you feel the same way we have been, we felt it was too much too! For the ones who get difficult, well we just stood our ground, but also once they realized how much fun we still had when with them but while opting out of the gifts they realized they could still have fun too or still do it their way while we did it our way. Interesting though, how they all opted out of so many gifts like we did AND it was sooner rather than later!
Thank you for sharing your wonderful holiday ideas and creating that great inspirational feeling that comes with this time of year. BTW, just finished your book, what a wonderfully written story, also a great gift giving idea! Thanks for keeping us all inspired!
Stocking stuffers. I find filling stocking stuffers stressful and costly. It all adds up. I have grown kids in their 20s. Any suggestions? I am tempted to leave them empty. I don’t want to put candy in them or travel size cosmetics in them either as I’ve done in the past.
I still make my 34 year old brother up a stocking (our parents are deceased and he is yet to marry) and I put stuff like chapstick, hand sanitizer and gum in it that he can use. Not exciting but this way he has little stuff to open while my kids and husband are opening their stuff.