Ok it’s here. The shops have had their decorations up since before Halloween in some cases so much so that even we frugal types can’t deny its happening.
The Christmas holidays are upon us. And for us frugal types, it can mean going against our nature.
We probably have to spend some money. In 2019, industry experts estimate that the average American will spend $920 per person on holiday gifts, up from $885 in 2018 and exceeding more than $1 trillion in holiday spending.
Now, I personally love buying gifts. I love finding the perfect gift and the look on the recipient’s face when they open my thoughtful gift but not everyone loves to spend money or time gift shopping so some frugal ideas below:
1. Buy gifts gradually over the year. Now granted, it’s already December so too late for this year but starting in 2020, make it a habit to pick up gifts throughout the year and spread the pain of spending over 12 months.
2. Budget. And stick to it. I set a budget and keep track of what I spend and so should everyone who is striving for a frugal lifestyle. Don’t overspend.
3. Watch the guilt when spending. Sometimes we equate expensive with making up for something that went astray in a relationship. If you are trying to make up for something, then do it with thoughtfulness, not excessive spending. Offer to pet sit, take the kids out, make a hot meal, even clean someone’s messy home, but do it without overspending.
4. Price shop. You can do a quick reality check by researching items on such sites as Amazon.com and goggle shopping to see if there might be a better price. Often a ‘new but unused’ version of something costs far less and nobody needs to know.
5. Gift experiences instead of material things. I often buy tickets to shows, events, movie gift cards, classes, even memberships to beloved local zoos or aquariums, etc. Do this by listening to your friends and family and figuring out what they love to do. Much more thoughtful than another toaster and you can price shop too. My grandchildren ‘adopt’ an endangered animal every year and anxiously keep track of that tiger or wolf throughout the year while learning about protecting endangered species and our planet.
6. Try sites like Etsy.com and Overstock.com for gifts that you may not be able to find elsewhere. I have found Etsy a bit pricy at times but you can’t beat it for one of a kind gifts. Plus, you are supporting cottage businesses when you buy through Etsy.
7. Don’t turn up your nose at second hand. My daughter has always wanted a vintage brush, comb, mirror, etc., set for her bedroom vanity. I found one at a second hand store, not even at an antique store that matched her decor perfectly. It was from the 1950s and she was thrilled with the gift. I also once found ruby red wine glasses which are totally her style. They sat in my closet for most of the year before she received them for Christmas and remain one of her most cherished gifts of all time.
8. Some of the easiest gifts can be the best. My son-in-law was complaining that tearing up and redoing their backyard was keeping him from grilling year round the way he always did. As a goof, I went to my local dollar store and filled a basket with all sorts of grilling tools and accessories and tossed in his favorite barbeque sauces. He loved it and now that the yard is in better shape, uses everything I bought.
9. Buy a memory or something that evokes a memory. My favorite gift EVER — and that covers a lot of Christmases — was a set of Betty Crocker cookbooks. As a child, the grocery store we frequented (Vons) offered a book every week, a-z (though there were less than 26) that cost perhaps $1.39 each. I made sure my parents collected each and everyone of them. Somehow over the years, the cookbooks which I’d learned to cook with, were lost. When I found out, I was crestfallen, I loved those cookbooks. Fast forward a few years when I received a curiously large box at Christmas, addressed from my dad. I was perplexed because he doesn’t often give gifts, much less such large and heavy ones. The note inside explained that my dad had found himself at a library book sale over the summer and bought me the entire set of Betty Crocker cookbooks from my childhood. Unused, perfectly intact, in pristine condition. He proudly said in his note that he bought them for a song. That gift remains my favorite of all time. And yes, I use them all the time. Find a happy memory and give a gift that revokes that kind of powerful, happy memory.
10. Take a cherished photograph and have it professionally framed and gift that, another riff on gifting a memory. We are taking my partner’s father to Kauai and I plan on taking a lot of photos and will have the best ones reproduced as a photo album for his Christmas gift. it is something I know he will cherish.
11. Speaking of photos, borrow an old family photo, something from someone’s childhood and have that reproduced. My daughter loves to punk her cousin with reproduced goofy photos of them as children, it’s their thing and they love reliving the memory behind the image. You can also take very old photos and have them digitally touched up and then reproduced. Costco offers this service for a very reasonable fee.
12. Library book sales can be a treasure trove of gifts for the readers on your gift list. Canvass the local book fairs as well. My dad was right about this one.
13. Don’t be in a hurry to buy the latest electronic anything. From Smart Watches to smart tablets and more, Americans are already spending more than $1,300 a year on electronics and services. Don’t feed the beast, it is likely already pretty sated. I once took a couple of photos of my partner and his beloved dogs and had a painter create a portrait using the photos as a guide. It was a bit costly but it is now his most cherished belonging, even if he does so love his vintage Rolex and his IPad.
14. Be sure and check out discounted gift cards and offers. Spending $80 and getting $100 worth of gifts may just be a good deal if you can use the merchandise.
15. Use social media for good, not evil. Follow your favorite retail shops on Twitter and FB to see if you can’t get some money saving discount codes. After all, you are following that weird guy with the cat posts so why not follow some that can benefit you financially?
16. I’ve not had the best luck with these but some of my frugal friends swear by RetailMeNot.com, SecretPrices.com, and FreeShipping.org to find discounts. Worth a try. And I will say that Macys of all retailers, is always giving me cash back or steep discounts for my rather meager purchases. Must be that I’ve been shopping there a really long time.
17. Freeze your credit cards, Christmas is no time to go into debt. Some swear by tucking cash into individual envelopes and while that works, I simply keep a running tally of my spending to compare against my total budget. I’ve also successfully used a cash card for a specific holiday savings account.
18. Remember that little kids open gifts and then end up playing with the box instead so imagination is often better than cash. Keep that in mind when you buy gifts for small children. If you can do a little art, draw, paint and decorate a space ship, a time machine, a pirate ship. You get the idea.
19. Use your skills instead of your checkbook. If you knit, sew, cook, garden, use those skills to give gifts.
20. Check out the local thrift stores for DYI projects to give as gifts. I once painted the top of $7 thrift store table with chalk paint and gifted it to a friend with three small children because they desperately needed an activity table for their busy brood. They call it their “Auntie table” and they use it every single day. Best gift ever according to my friend.
21. Instead of spending a fortune on minor appliances or electronics that your busy friend may never master, give the gift of indulgence. A decent message can be had for $60 or so. A manicure for $30. Gift busy friends with moments of pure indulgence and pampering, it doens’t have to be expensive, just thoughtful.