Frugal Gift Giving

Mary Gormandy White
Frugal Gift Giving

Show your friends and family how much you care without breaking your household budget. While it's easy to overspend when shopping for gifts, there are plenty of low cost gift ideas which will be appreciated even more than high-dollar items. After all, the thought behind the gift is what really counts!

Tips for Affordable Gift Giving

The first rule of frugal gift giving is to never spend more than you can truly afford on a present. It's natural to want to show your loved ones that they are special and appreciated, but putting yourself into debt to do so is never a good idea. People want to know that you're thinking about them and that you care about them, but they don't want you to hurt your finances in the process.

Bargain Shopping

Shopping for bargains is a great way to make the most of your gift giving budget. Keep an eye out for sales throughout the year so that you can purchase perfect gifts at deeply-discounted rates when gift-giving occasions arise.

  • Keep a word processing document or a small notebook with details about the people with whom you regularly exchange gifts. Having convenient access to information about their hobbies, favorite colors, clothing sizes, and home décor preferences will make it easier for you to take advantage of any bargains that you happen to come across.
  • Take advantage of buy one, get one free offers to stock up on gifts for the holidays and recurring occasions. For example, the perfume you love that your cousin always admires may make a great gift for her birthday.
  • Use seasonal sales to score inexpensive gifts. For example, school supplies such as decorated notebooks and pretty pencils are often marked down in early fall, and they make great fillers for children's gift bags.
  • Use coupons to save money on items appropriate for gifts. For example, grocery coupons are often available for grilling spices and supplies, storage containers and body care products. Department stores offer discount coupons via email or in the newspaper.
  • Avoid setting an amount that you "have" to spend in your mind. If you score a great bargain while shopping for gifts, don't feel obligated to make up for your savings by buying additional items. When you've purchased the perfect present, the price tag is irrelevant.

Creating a Gift Closet

You can use the fruits of your bargain shopping efforts to create a gift closet. Purchase items that you actually will use as gifts when they are on clearance and stockpile them in a closet so they're handy when you need them; this is a great way to keep gift spending under control. Instead of rushing to the store to find a suitable gift at the last minute - which almost always results in overspending - you can go shopping in your own gift closet. Stock the closet with small presents that can be used for different occasions, being careful to avoid filling it with items that you probably won't use.

Children are always being invited to birthday parties. Great gift closet items for such occasions include:

  • Art supplies such as crayons, markers, and blank sketch pads
  • Classic board games such as Candy Land and Monopoly
  • Books
  • Puzzles

Gift closet ideas for women include:

  • Photo frames
  • Scented candles
  • Spa soaps and lotions
  • Makeup bags

For men, consider the following ideas:

  • Flashlights
  • Deck of fancy playing cards
  • Spices and sauces used for grilling
  • Baseball caps

Your local dollar store is a great source for stocking up on wrapping paper, gift bags, and greeting cards to keep in your gift closet. If you have small children at home, you could also try having them decorate plain gift bags and making an assortment of cards that you can use for birthdays, anniversaries, or other special occasions.

Homemade Gifts

Gifts don't have to be store-bought in order to be meaningful and appreciated. If you are a skilled cook or handy with crafting projects, it's likely that there are plenty of wonderful gifts you can create and share. A few options, with links to instructions, include:

  • Homemade soap - Learn to make layered soap, glycerin soap, or goat's milk soap to share with friends and family members on special occasions.
  • Pampering products - Homemade bath salts, massage oil, body lotion and lip balm are gifts that the women on your shopping list are sure to love.
  • Knitted items - If you know how to knit, consider creating a selection of scarves, mittens, and even dog sweaters for wintertime gift giving.
  • Crochet items - If you are skilled with a crochet needle, an afghan is a lovely wedding gift and smaller items like sunglasses cases and slippers are perfect for other occasions.
  • Baked goods - If you can bake, create tasty edible gifts using your favorite cupcake or cookie recipe, or share loaves of delicious homemade banana bread.
  • Canned food - You don't have to bake to give tasty homemade gifts. Use seasonal fruit to make homemade jelly or marmalade for gift-giving, or go with relish or pickles for a savory selection.
  • Gifts in a jar - You can put together "gifts in a jar" collections even if you aren't artistic and can't cook. Options range from food mixes like soup and spiced cider to spa products and more.

Service Gifts

Even if you aren't a good cook or talented crafter, there are still ways you can gift personal, meaningful gifts that cost very little money, possibly even nothing. The most valuable thing that you have is time. Instead of spending money, consider giving a gift of time and service, documented on a homemade coupon given to the recipient. Spend some of your time helping out with tasks that the person does not like to perform and is not able to do. You'll be giving a gift you can feel good about without putting a dent in your budget.

Examples of service gifts include:

  • Helping with major household projects like painting, cleaning out the garage or preparing the garden for spring planting
  • Cutting the person's grass once a month, or with whatever frequency seems to be an appropriate gift
  • Washing and waxing the person's car, once or on an ongoing basis
  • Babysitting for young parents so they can enjoy an evening out or some quiet time
  • Providing room and board for a loved one's pets so he or she can take a trip out of town without paying boarding fees

Secondhand Rose Gifts

While most people associate the tradition of gift giving with the exchange of new items, re-thinking this philosophy is one way to take a frugal approach to gift giving. Among those who are committed to frugal living, a "secondhand rose" is a gently used item that is given as a gift.

When you open yourself to the possibility of giving gently used items to those on your gift list, there are a number of ideas to consider. Examples of items that can be purchased at much lower prices when purchased secondhand include:

  • Books
  • CDs
  • DVDs
  • Video games
  • Jewelry
  • Exercise equipment
  • Sports gear
  • Furniture
  • Home decor items
  • Outerwear

Consignment shops and thrift stores are good resources for finding secondhand items, as are Craigslist and the Thrifty Nickel classified ad sites. Also consider joining groups like Freecycle to see what valuable items people may be giving up that you can obtain and use as gifts.

Discount Gift Cards

While gift cards have specific dollar values associated with them, there are ways you can apply frugal techniques to purchasing them for gifts.

  • Restaurants often offer incentives to encourage the purchase of multiple gift cards, especially around the holiday season. For example, Ruby Tuesday frequently offers a $15 coupon with the purchase of $50 in gift cards during the holiday season. You can use the bonus coupon yourself or give it along with the gift card to increase its value. Check with your favorite chain restaurant to see what might be available.
  • Gift cards for many brands are available at supermarkets, drugstores and other retailers. Purchase any gift cards you plan to give from the store where you shop the most if you participate in a customer loyalty program. You may not directly save money on the purchase of the card, but you'll accrue points in the loyalty program, which can lead to savings you can apply to purchases down the road.
  • Consider shopping with a reputable site that buys and sells gift cards such as GiftCardGranny and GiftCardRescue. You can purchase cards that people have sold at a discount and even sell cards you have received in the past that you won't ever use.
  • If you can discipline yourself to pay off a credit card in full every month, get a card with a generous rewards program that allows you to accrue points toward free gift cards. Use the card for regular purchases, being sure to pay on time and in full to avoid interest charges. As rewards points build up, redeem them for free gift cards.
  • Participate in the Amazon trade-in program to accrue value toward Amazon gift cards. The company accepts trade-ins of books, DVDs, Blu-Rays, CDs, video games and electronics. As you send in items, their trade-in value is applied to your gift card account, which you can use yourself or convert to gifts.

Creative Ways to Save Money

With a little ingenuity and effort, you can come up ways to control the cost of gift giving. Applying what you know about how to live frugally to your purchasing habits where others are involved can help you save money and develop a reputation for being someone who puts a lot of thought and consideration into gift selection.

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Frugal Gift Giving