WRAL SmartShopper

WRAL SmartShopper

Week 11 of back to basics: 15 ideas for frugal gift giving

Posted March 25, 2010
Updated April 1, 2010

There are so many wonderful reasons to celebrate throughout the year. Holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, teacher gifts, graduation, weddings, baby showers, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Grandparent’s Day….the list goes on and on. Buying gifts for everyone you know and for every occasion can get quite expensive. With a little creativity and some upfront boundaries, gift giving can still be a joyous way to show you care without sending you spiraling into debt. Here are 15 ideas for giving frugal gifts that both the recipients and your wallet will love!

Holiday Giving

1. Choose names: One way to keep the spending down at family holiday get-togethers is to choose names, with each person responsible for buying a gift for only one other person. If you set a maximum dollar amount, it will keep costs down even more and ensure the gift exchange is fair for everyone. Capping the gift cost at $15 to $20 is a good rule of thumb. This is a great method when very large families get together. Everyone will still take home a gift but you are much more likely to stay within your budget.

2. Buy for the kids: Consider only buying gifts for the children and agree on a budget. How many times have you received a gift from a distant relative that wasn’t exactly something you would use? Save your relatives some time, trouble and money and agree to only purchase presents for the little ones. My brothers and I have done this for many years and it has worked very well. We buy gifts for each of the nieces and nephews but not for each other. Our time together at the holidays is a gift in and of itself.

3. Homemade happiness: Agreeing to exchange homemade gifts is a thoughtful and frugal way to give during the holidays. Examples include baked goods, homemade mixes for various foods, knitted scarves, themed scrapbooks, homemade ornaments (using items bought at Michael’s craft store with a 40% off coupon!), coupon books and homemade cookbooks. Homemade treats and cards are perfect for teachers, neighbors, friends and families. Who doesn’t like some fresh banana bread or chocolate chip cookies with a pretty homemade card from the kids?!

Gift Giving Throughout the Year

4. Make a list and check it twice: Make a gift list at the beginning of the year with the names of people you know you will be buying gifts for during the year. Throughout the year, you can purchase gifts for those on your list when items are on sale, instead of going to the store at the last minute to buy a full-price item for someone. Use a closet or under bed storage box to keep your gifts out of the hands of the kids.

5. Shop post-holiday sales: Shop the after-holiday sales as soon as the items are marked down 50% or more. Buy during these sales to save 75% or more on gift wrap, bows, boxes and decorations. At CVS in January, I saved 90% on solid color gift wrap I will be using to wrap gifts all year long. You will often find nice gifts to give people throughout the year, including candles and decorative glass bowls.

6. Holiday sales for non-holiday items: Don’t think that holiday clearance sales only have holiday items for sale. Baskets can be used for making lovely gifts filled with all sorts of wonderful presents. You can also break up clearance gift boxes that contain food and non-perishable items. Eat the food or gift it soon and then save the non-perishable plates, cheese board and knife for a gift basket to give later. Save the solid red Christmas clearance items, including plates, napkins and candy, for Valentine’s Day decorating and celebrations. Use the green clearance items for St Patty’s Day parties. Save the Valentine’s Day red paper items, purchased at clearance prices, to use during Fourth of July festivities and Christmas next year.

7. Clearance clothing: Find clothing gifts at seasonal sales when stores are clearing out the end of season items to make room for new stock. Many national department stores mark large selections of clothes and seasonal gifts down 75% and more when a season ends. This is the time to stock up on gifts and clothes for the whole next year. Start looking for the winter clearance sales starting in late January and the summer clearance in August. Don’t just limit yourself to brick and mortar stores—on-line clearance sales are equally as fabulous!

8. Gifts from the kitchen: Cookies, sweet breads, fudge, jams and jellies, and other canned items all make great gifts for anytime of year. Simply use a basket or a gift bag (bought at holiday clearance for 75% to 90% off) to present the yummy gift. The gift should cost much less than store bought versions but probably tastes so much better.

9. Gift baskets: For a creative and fun way to give a custom gift, fill gift baskets with items you find at great prices. You can start a basket months in advance to make sure you have plenty of items to wow the person on the receiving end. A movie themed basket might include popcorn, candy, soda, a recently released or classic DVD, and gift certificates to a movie theater or rental store.

10. Homemade gift certificates: Give personalized gift certificates for services that friends and family may need. A new mom may love the gift of babysitting. A special dinner made and delivered would thrill anyone who doesn’t always have the time to cook. Someone who needs help around the house might like a coupon book for mowing the lawn, cleaning out the attic or washing the windows. The gift of your time is precious, and always appreciated, and certainly a frugal choice.

11. Go online: Online auction sites are great places to locate those hard to find unique items at a reasonable cost. You can find just about anything and often the prices for auction items start very low.

12. Yard sale, anyone?: Pick up gently used items for your own children at yard sales. Often you can also find new items, collectibles or antiques suitable for gift giving as well.I also like to shop for used items. Speaking of used, refurbished electronics also make great, frugal gifts. We bought our daughter a refurb Nintendo DS at 1/2 the cost of the new version and it has worked perfectly since we bought it in December.

13. Capture the memories: Make a scrapbook for someone special with pictures collected over the year. Ask others who may have pictures to donate them for the book. You can also ask friends and family to write short notes about events, nice memories or funny stories to include in the book.

14. To regift or not to re-gift – that is the question: Regifting is a generally acceptable frugal gift giving option, as long as it is handled correctly. If you don’t know this term, regifting is the practice of taking a gift you have been given (but haven’t used) and presenting it as a gift to someone else. Typically, someone regifts a present when they receive something they already have or simply won’t use. For example, instead of letting an extra copy of a book go unread, a regifter will offer the book to a bookworm friend. Rather than allowing that beautiful new sweater to hang in the closet unworn because she is allergic to wool, a regifter will give it to her sister.

Etiquette experts agree that regifting is appropriate, as long as a few basic rules are followed. You should not regift a present to a close friend or family member of the person who originally gave the gift to you. Don’t offer the regifted present under the guise of having searched far and wide until you found just the right thing. Only regift an item because you think the recipient will truly enjoy the gift. It is completely appropriate to let the recipient know you are regifting to them a present you have been given. For example, you can tell a friend that you received a duplicate copy of your favorite cookbook and you thought she would enjoy it.

15. There are alternatives to purchased gifts that can promote a wonderful sense of community and well being for all involved. Donate your time or resources to a charity as the person’s gift. Make sure you choose a charity that is important to the person so he or she knows the gift was well thought out and personalized just for him or her. Organize a community food, toy or clothing drive and make a donation to the charity that the gift recipient chooses.

There are so many ways to express friendship and love without costing a fortune. Have fun, get creative and start thinking about those holiday gifts right now! Please share your ideas for frugal gift giving as well. As I always say, it’s your money – spend it wisely!


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  • j3434 Mar 26, 2010

    YEA!!!!! I am so excited! I got a Star Wars Jedi Math Leapster game for $2 this morning! Saving it for my kindergartener's birthday. KMart regular price sticker was $24.99, but I had seen it in the clearance section last week for $13. Then I ran across a $5 off Q at last night from their newsletter and went in expecting to pay $8. BUT IT WAS ON THE 50% OFF LOWEST CLEARANCE PRICE SECTION!!! Can you tell I'm excited?!

  • Amomoftwo Mar 25, 2010

    What a great list! I am printing this and keeping it as a reminder for the next few months and all the upcoming birthdays and holidays that are heading our way....