Thursday thoughts: Frugal holiday gift giving

Tic tock, tic tock, tic tock. In case you didn't check the calendar, it's December. Time is officially running out for your holiday shopping. Discover great gift giving ideas that will keep your budget in check.

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Faye Prosser

Tic tock, tic tock, tic tock. In case you didn't check the calendar, it's December. Time is officially running out for your holiday shopping. Discover great gift giving ideas that will keep your budget in check.

Last year I wrote an article for the blog with a bunch of ideas on frugal gift giving. In my quest to save the environment, I am recycling the article this week with a few additional tips. Please share your suggestions for frugal gifts as well. Let's help each other enjoy the holidays well into January when we don't have credit card debt because we were all smart shoppers!

Do-it-yourself tower of treats: It’s such fun to open up a stack of gift boxes filled with different treats inside each box. If you buy one of these towers from a retailer, you will probably pay $25 to $50 or more. If you make your own, you can cut the cost dramatically and still give a fun gift with fantastic presentation. Michael’s has a set of three stackable boxes and a ribbon for $5.99. If you use the 40% coupon from recent weekly ads, you will only pay $2.99. Then, fill the boxes with homemade cookies, brownies or fudge, fruit, candies, chocolates, movie rental gift certificates, popcorn, candles and more. The choices are endless, but the reaction is always the same: “Wow”!
Gift baskets: People love receiving gift baskets. There is something irresistible about lots of goodies packed into a cute basket and covered with cellophane and curling ribbon. Look for bargains all through the year, and make themed gift baskets geared towards the people on your list. For the person who loves to watch movies (or any teens on your list), put together a Movie Theme Basket with movie rental certificates, microwave popcorn, candy bars and soda. Other themes include a Baker’s Basket, Chocolate Lover’s Basket, Coffee or Tea Basket, Sewing or Knitting Gift Basket, Gardening Gift Basket, Bath and Beauty Gift Basket (great for college students) and Kids Craft Basket. Get ideas on what to include in many themed gift baskets and ideas on creative containers to use at the gift baskets link in the box above.
Homemade treats: Some of the most popular frugal gifts during the holidays are edible treats. Choose from cookies, fudge and brownies baked from scratch, hot chocolate mixes in a mug, soup mixes in a bowl, fudge, pies, homemade bread, fudge, quick bread mixes in a loaf pan, and little gingerbread men. Did I mention fudge?! See the Gifts From the Kitchen link above for a number of recipes, including brownies in a jar and fudge, of course!
Hobby related gifts: Many folks have hobbies they love. Some people collect coins, stamps or glass horses. Some are train enthusiasts or enjoy taking pictures. If someone on your gift list has a hobby, find a gift that will contribute to that hobby, without breaking the bank. Buy a magazine subscription for the train collector, rolls of film or photo paper for the photographer, specialty scissors, paper and stickers for the scrapbooker, or exotic spices for someone who loves to cook. Gifts that help people enjoy their interests are always a winner.
Picture perfect: Some great ways to share your family with loved ones is through framed photos, scrapbooks, photo albums and digital photo frames (Split the cost with siblings for a gift for the parents or grandparents). Many photo centers in malls (like JCPenney) offer high quality, low-cost portrait packages for around $20. These often include multiple sheets of the same picture with larger and smaller photos. These are excellent for gift giving in an inexpensive (but lovely) frame from a craft store like Michaels (Remember to use your 40% off coupon!).
Arts and crafts: Nothing says love like a piece of artwork from a child or a handmade scarf (which would probably take me 800 years to produce). Drawings from the grandkids in inexpensive frames, handprint concrete stepping stones (these can be found in kits for under $10 at most craft stores), knitted scarves and crocheted blankets all make for impressive and lasting gifts.
Corny coupons: It may sound corny to give a coupon you made on the computer, but it’s an ideal gift to the right recipient. Consider the new mom who could really use three hours of free babysitting so she can go to the store all by herself. Or consider a coupon for a homemade dinner for that same new mom who has no time or energy to cook. Sometimes just helping with the everyday responsibilities is the best gift of all. Coupons are also great for kids. Consider a coupon book with coupons for an afternoon at the park, dessert at the local ice cream shop, a trip to the museum, their choice of movie rental, etc. None of these outings needs to be expensive, and they are great ways to spend time with the kids or grandkids.
Gift Certificates: Gift certificates are an excellent choice when you aren’t sure what someone would want or you want them to be able to choose something they can really use. For the college students on your list, those big box stores have just about anything they could ever need. For the kids, certificates to bookstores or craft stores make great gifts. For the person on a fixed income, a grocery store certificate would be very appreciated. You don’t need to spend much. Even a $10 certificate can go a long way. Many stores offer incentives to buy their gift cards.,, and all offer certificates that you can buy for 50% or more off the retail price of various services and products. Sign up now for these sites and then you can buy the gift certificate online and usually print it out within 24 hours. For more information on these sites click on the Team Buying link in the box above.  
Donations to charity: Some folks would rather not receive a gift themselves but would love for the money to be spent on a donation to a favorite charity. You don’t have to donate $10,000 for the gift to be meaningful. Any donation is deeply appreciated when it is to a charity about which the person cares. For instance, we give to the Gynecologic Oncology Program at Duke Medical Center in Durham each year in memory of my mom, who had ovarian cancer and was treated at Duke.
Holiday cards: The high cost of holiday cards is shocking to me. I love to send cards to all our friends and family, and I would go broke sending cards purchased at full price. For the last 10 years, I have bought my cards in January when the boxed sets are marked down 75% to 90% off the retail price. The marked-down selection is surprisingly good at many stores (including Target, CVS and Walgreens), and the deals are excellent. For those who still need to purchase cards for this year, consider letting the kids make cards out of high quality construction paper, some stencils, stampers and holiday stickers. Have everyone sign the cards, and you will be giving a handmade gift your friends and family will love.
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.

See a list of 63 inexpensive gift ideas under $10 at the link above.

Just think of all the joy you can bring to your friends and family with fabulous frugal gifts. Don’t forget the comfort you’ll feel because you stayed well within your budget. As I always say, it’s your money – spend it wisely!


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