Gift Giving: Cheap vs. Frugal

posted by Andrea | 10/7/2013

gift giving

A couple months ago, I got an email from a friend and blog reader “venting” about her mother-in-law who was just downright CHEAP when it came to gift giving — especially for the grandkids’ birthday and Christmas gifts.

She gave me a few examples of some of the silly stunts her MIL had pulled over the years, and it was quite apparent that the gifts were in fact “cheap”, not just “frugal” (and for the record, I know this reader personally and she’s not out to get her MIL — they actually get along very well).

The point of this post is not to offend or upset anyone; I’ve just had many experiences receiving both frugal and cheap gifts over the years and thought it might be a fun topic for a blog post — especially considering the holiday season is approaching and I’m already getting lots of questions about frugal gift ideas.

To start off, I thought I’d share a few examples of what I think differentiates cheap versus frugal gifts.

CHEAP:

Something the person doesn’t want or need but you happen to have lying around your house and don’t want — so you wrap it up and give it to the person anyway.

FRUGAL:

Something the person actually wants and needs and you happen to have lying around your house, or you happen to find a fabulous clearance deal on that exact item.

CHEAP:

Something you didn’t put any thought into but simply dumped in a crumpled gift bag (or plastic grocery bag) 10 minutes before you head out the door. (Yup, I’ve gotten some of these)

FRUGAL:

Something you put extra thought into — including the wrapping. It could be as simple as wrapping it in your children’s artwork, a calendar page with the special date circled, or their favorite comic section of the newspaper. Nothing expensive, but still nicely presented with obvious thought and attention to detail to make the other person feel important.

CHEAP:

A used item that is clearly “past it’s prime” and has very little useful value left (yes, I’ve personally received more than one of these gifts!)

FRUGAL:

A used item in excellent condition and something the other person actually wants and can still use for a long time . (I have absolutely NO issue with giving or receiving used gifts as long as they are still useful)

CHEAP:

Toiletries, cleaning supplies, or other items purchased frugally or free after rebate but have no use to the other person (like dandruff shampoo for someone who doesn’t have dandruff or hardwood floor cleaner for a home with all carpet).

FRUGAL:

Toiletries, cleaning supplies, or other more practical items (possibly free or discounted) that the person can most definitely use and will actually need. We did this for my sister’s wedding shower last summer and it was a huge hit – no they weren’t all free either!

CHEAP:

Gift cards you received and don’t want but aren’t sure if the other person will either (I’ve gotten gift cards for stores that aren’t even within 100 miles of my house and don’t have online shopping!)

FRUGAL:

Gift cards for anything you are fairly confident the other person will want, use, and enjoy. NOTE: I’m a huge advocate for giving gift cards as long as I know the other person will most definitely be able to use them — even something as simple as grocery or gas gift cards.

So those are just a few of my thoughts and opinions when it comes to cheap versus frugal gifts — and to reiterate, the point of this post is NOT to intentionally offend anyone else; it’s simply for discussion.

I could totally be off my rocker, but after talking about this topic with several friends and family members, they were all in agreement with the examples I gave above.

As you probably know by now, I’m a big fan of saving money whenever I can, using coupons, finding great deals, etc. etc. — and that philosophy transfers over to my gift giving as well… but only to a point.

If it’s a choice between saving a few extra dollars or getting the person EXACTLY what they want, I will most definitely spend a little more. No questions asked. (I’m saying this related to parents, brothers, sisters, etc. not for Nora — she doesn’t have a big opinion yet and gets plenty of gifts!)

I suppose I should mention that “Gifts” are one of my top “Love Languages”, so to me it’s even more important that any gifts I give have a lot of thought put into them (not necessarily money though). I like the gift wrap or tissue paper to look nice, I almost always use twine or ribbon of some sort, and I usually make a cute (but very simple) gift tag out of construction paper — which ends up saving me a ton on buying cards.

I usually spend nothing on the gift wrap as I save all my old bags, tissue paper, ribbons, tags, etc. However, my gifts always look nice and there is often a theme that I’ve thought of in advance. I don’t wait until the last minute to buy gifts and honestly, I’m ALWAYS thinking of gift ideas for people on our holiday gift list.

I realize that’s just me and not everyone is super into gift-giving… but I still think there is a distinct difference between giving frugal gifts and cheap gifts.

Don’t you?

I feel that if someone has shared their Christmas or birthday wish list with me (usually because I’ve asked for it), or they’ve registered for specific wedding/baby items, it’s the least I can do to simply give them a gift they actually want. Even if I use coupons, gift cards, or wait for the item to go on sale — I still feel it’s important to give them something they actually want.

And if I’m not sure exactly what they want, I’ll probably go the route of a gift card or cash.

For example, last Christmas, Dave’s brother-in-law asked for a lap desk for his laptop. We had no idea what kind of lap desk he would want, but we had an extra (unopened) lap desk lying around our house and a $30 spending limit. So we decided to go ahead and give him our extra lap desk… BUT we paired it with a $25 gift card to Staples and 2 bags of peanut M&M’s — which are one of his favorite candy.

This way, we figured that if he loved our extra lap desk, he could use the gift card on something extra. If he didn’t love our lap desk, he could donate it and buy one he liked better with the gift card. Plus, we added a little personal touch with the M&M’s.

Simple, practical, thoughtful, useful. 

I certainly do not think a good or appropriate gift needs to be expensive or elaborate — and obviously, sometimes the physical gift isn’t nearly as important as the person who is giving the gift.

I just personally feel that by giving it a little extra thought and attention to detail, we can give fabulously frugal gifts WITHOUT being cheap.

If you’re interested, here are a few more posts I’ve written about gift-giving.

baby shower gifts

What are your thoughts on cheap vs. frugal gifts?

What are some of your favorite frugal gifts?

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48 comments

  1. Deni

    10/07/2013

    Great post, Andrea! Also a nice little reminder for me to get started on an upcoming birthday, and for Christmas. I also agree that a little bit of time spent on the packaging makes a big impression and lets that person know how special they are. I would love to see some more of your frugal tips on the packaging and tags. And I love the way you have it all organized. Thanks again ;)

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  2. Stel

    10/07/2013

    Love this post. Gifts don’t have to cost the world. One of my best birthday presents ever, was a shopping bag with three of my favourite magazines and a cheap chocolate slab. A friend of mine loved getting a packet on Wine Gums. If it’s well thought out, if the giver knows what the recipient would love, it will always work out right. But a generic, expensive “let’s-just-give-her-something-this-should-impress” goes straight to hospice where somebody can buy it for R20.
    As for this Christmas – I’m crocheting small washcloths with all my leftover cotton and bamboo and I already have two requests. Christmas gifts are wrapped in newspaper or brownpaper, and my boys either paint something on it, or I’l print a photo of the recipient on plain paper and stick it on.

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  3. Emily

    10/07/2013

    Great post Andrea, I agree with you 100%!! You have me inspired for the holidays! We are in the process of putting our home up for sale in hopes of downsizing (now that the market in West Michigan has turned). I have been purging like crazy and love how your posts are always super inspiring about living simply! Thanks!!

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  4. Heather

    10/07/2013

    I agree with you, but would like to add that I think that the sincerity of the giver is most important. I have received some downright awful things (for my taste, wants, needs, etc), but when given with sincerity, it couldn’t matter less. On the other hand, I have received some very useful things (gift cards for places I love, etc), but knowing that the gift was not given with sincerity ruins the whole thing completely.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Yes, I totally agree Heather! That’s why I added this at the end of the post “I certainly do not think a good or appropriate gift needs to be expensive or elaborate — and obviously, sometimes the physical gift isn’t nearly as important as the person who is giving the gift.” :)

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  5. jodi

    10/07/2013

    I LOVE frugal gifts, both giving and getting them. We’ve tried VERY hard over the past 10 years (and now 8 since kids came along) to introduce the idea of clutter free gifts around the holidays and birthdays. It’s a touchy subject because my MIL believes in the art of giving, so a gift card seems like a cop-out to her and is impersonal. Where we’d much prefer the freedom to choose our housewares, photo-frames and decorations simply because we have such different tastes. Our kids end up getting too many gifts, but not many of quality and we battle this every gift-giving season. Most of the time I think a day out (time spent together) would actually be sufficient for our kids or even us as a family but then it seems like there’s nothing sitting around our house to remind us of the giver (hence the paradox of gift giving as an art) … it’s interesting, and we’ve learned to roll with it the best we can. I love your ideas! And think Gifts is one of my top love languages too, but it’s not what’s in a bag that matters – it’s more the idea that someone really knows me. (So a magazine and butterfinger would fill my love tank way more than a sign from Hobby Lobby with an inspirational quote.)

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    Andrea Reply:

    amen — I’d take any food gift over something for my house (that most likely won’t be my taste) In fact, last Christmas, I specifically asked my mother in law (Who loves to bake) for 2 batches of frozen cookie dough. Best gift ever!

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  6. Steps to Save

    10/07/2013

    I totally agree Andrea! I would label myself frugal, but not cheap. I like to get things I know others will use,enjoy, and that my budget can afford.

    I tend to find the best items at yard sales. I have found brand new clothing, jewelry, shoes, baby items, toys, etc. and the people I gifted them to loved them.

    We are invited to a lot of birthdays (mainly school age girls) and I will use coupons to get free or cheap fingernail polish, cute hair accessories, stationary, candy, etc. They are thrilled to get a variety of gifts they enjoy, while I’m thrilled to fit it easily into my budget. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and I hope you have a wonderful day!

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  7. Anna

    10/07/2013

    This was very well thought-out and articulate. I feel that cheap gifts are usually a waste of time. That said, neither of my parents seemed to think they had the funds to hit the dollar store for a small birthday gift for my daughter. She’d have flipped over a balloon, even.

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    Brenda Reply:

    I agree, Anna. Sometimes, for some people (especially kids) anything is better than nothing. Although, it is always better if you find something inexpensive that the person will actually like. Examples: My MIL can’t afford big presents, but she always finds a book or truck for my boys at the dollar store and they love the fact that they can go out in the garge and play crash-em-up-derby all afternoon at her house. On the flip side: one Chiristmas my kids received a inflatable water toy for the 4-yr-old who was terrified of water and the 12-yr-old boy received a teddy bear puzzle; also, a niece and nephew received out-dated sunscreen on a lanyard for Christmas in Michigan…

    I love frugal, not a big fan of cheap :~)

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    Anna Reply:

    Ha! I remember one year my uncle’s new wife took over the gift giving for myself and my brother and we got half a bottle of shampoo and some chocolate, respectively. My mother was furious!

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    Andrea Reply:

    oh no — no gift for the grandchild! I agree, Nora would be thrilled with a couple balloons!

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  8. Victoria

    10/07/2013

    One of my favorite frugal gifts to give is my hand knit dish cloths. I tie a stack of 3 together and wrap them in ribbon then place then in small gift bag and sometimes include a small sample bottle of my friends favorite hand cream or body wash. I have been giving my friends these as gifts for years so thinking they might be bored of it one year I instead gave out gift cards to my friends favorite coffee shop. All but one friend complained (we are a speak you feelings kind of bunch) so I went back to giving out my dish cloths except to the friend that didn’t complain as it dawned on me I had taught her how to make her own years ago so she gets a coffee card and usually she spends it during a coffee date with me and we knit as we drink coffee.

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    Rhonda Reply:

    I think the knit dish cloths are a great gift. Creative and practical at the same time. It sounds like you started a nice tradition. I wish I could think of something I could make and felt confident people would like to receive. To be honest, I prefer homemade gifts to store bought, but I am nervous that others don’t feel the same.

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  9. Deb

    10/07/2013

    I personally despise mandatory gift exchanges like secret Santa, sister, whatever or parties where you bring a wrapped gift. I went to one and no joke, one of the gifts was a 1 lb. box of See’s chocolate (very coveted gift) and another one was a wrapped up box of kleenex (they were the fancy boxes for Christmas) but really.

    My husband’s coworkers (mostly women) had a great idea to exchange $20 presents one year, well everyone bought gift cards, mostly to places in the strip mall he worked at the time, I mean, really, what a dumb waste of time and effort.

    I love giving meaningful intentional gifts that people want and or need. I hate mandatory/obligatory giving and receiving of thoughtless gifts.

    My favorite kind of giving is really when we are able to do something extravagant anonymously and the person never finds out. We paid a friend’s doctor bill once, it wasn’t even $200 but it might as well have been a million to them, it was 20+ years ago and they still don’t know we did it. I LOVE THAT!

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    Jules Reply:

    Deb, you and I could be twins! Last year my husband’s extended family all got together for an elaborate [ridiculous] version of a yankee swap. Each couple was to spend at least $20 total on 3-4 gifts and there was a lot of trading and carrying on during the ‘party’ At the end of the day, we spent $25 on random items, and received probably $15 worth on junk that I mostly threw away. I can name about 100 ways I would have rather spent my money….

    Mandatory gift exchanges defeat the entire purpose, especially when you don’t even know who ends up with the gifts you bought :-) Paying a friend’s medical bills to me is the perfect way to show you care!

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  10. Anna

    10/07/2013

    One difficulty I’ve run into with trying to give a frugal gift is the idea of returns. Assuming I’ve tried to meet all the criteria above (it’s something I think they ‘ll want and use, in good condition, etc.), what if it doesn’t fit right or they get two or just don’t quite like the style? Then, if they try to return it , they’ll get a very small amount of store credit or money in exchange. That makes me feel cheap, even though it wasn’t my intention.
    Also, I really try hard to buy ahead so my gift shopping isn’t last-minute. But what if the item goes out of stock by the time the birthday or holiday rolls around, so then they aren’t able to exchange it for another size or color?
    So what do you do? Do your best to try to find good deals they’ll like and then hope for the best? Or pay full price so if they have to exchange it, they at least get a decent amount of store credit in return?

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    Andrea Reply:

    Good questions. I honestly don’t have the perfect answer — but more often than not, I’ve been trying to creatively give cash or gift cards if I have any doubt they will like a certain item. I generally don’t by home decor items for anyone and I rarely ever buy clothes except for Dave and Nora.

    Also, one helpful thing my family and I do is send each other links to the exact items we want (like on Amazon.com) so we know just what they want. We usually draw names also to eliminate expense and eliminate duplicate gifts. It’s been working well so far — so that might be something to think about :)

    Oh, and here are links to posts I’ve written about how to creatively gift cash and creatively give gift cards. Hope this helps!

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    Kim M Reply:

    Just one thought: before you purchase something that may POSSIBLY need to be returned, check out that store’s return policy. Many of them require returns to be made within 90 days, but I know that some store (Kohl’s, I know for a fact) will allow returns any time, and as long as you get a gift receipt, that item can be returned at any point. With a gift receipt, they will get exactly what you paid for it. Without it though, they’ll get store credit for the lowest price in the system has been.

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  11. Carrie

    10/07/2013

    I would like to add that unless you are absolutely sure of the recipient’s taste, you should never, ever buy something to decorate. One year, I received a large wooden plaque that said…all because two people fell in love. She thought it would be perfect on one wall. Well it wasn’t my style and my husband and I were having marital problems. I never hung it up because it felt insincere. Then after we divorced, I tried to sell it in a garage sale for 2 years…no takers.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Yes, I totally agree!

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  12. Lisa

    10/07/2013

    This has been a rant of mine for years. It’s never about the money someone spends on me. It’s about the thought, Please spend 5 minutes thinking of me.

    I do want to comment on the gift cards. I hate them as gifts most of the time. If I am giving you a gift and I spend 30.00 on a gift card and you do the same. Is there a gift there? That has always perplexed me. If that is all you are going to do, just skip it!

    I prefer to give a gift with a gift receipt. If you hate it you at least know that I made some effort and if I was misguided you can then pick something more appropriate.

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  13. Heidi

    10/07/2013

    Excellent post! It really is true that they say “it is the thought that counts!”

    When I get a gift that is completely thoughtless, regardless of price, it makes me laugh. I’d rather get nothing but a genuine hug or a sincere card rather than a thing that meant nothing to the giver and is handed to me out of some kind of obligation due to the occasion.

    The worst gift: I got a gift card to a store where nothing in it would ever fit me, unless I suddenly became a prepubescent 12 year old girl. Not only would I never wear trendy clothes of a junior high student as a grown woman, it also made me feel super fat, LOL. I did buy $50 of socks, so it wasn’t a total bust ;)

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  14. KIMBERLY

    10/07/2013

    I absolutely love gift cards……..I can shop or go out to eat when our budget is tight and doesn’t allow for those luxuries. So I tend to give gift cards and they also don’t add clutter to the precipitants home. We also don’t live near our family so it also saves on shipping.

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  15. Summer

    10/07/2013

    I completely agree with ‘cheap vs frugal.’ For those of us that take the time to find an amazing deal on something because we thought it would be perfect for someone, even finding it extremellllly less expensive, why should that detract from the thought?! I feel we took our TIME over our MONEY and applied it thoughtfully. It’s the intent by far. This really applies when you have several gifts for classmate birthday parties of your children each year. A cute gift your child (same age loves) bought at clearance, or with coupons, etc. is ripped open at the same rate as the mom who went the day of and spent full price and bought the card, gift bag, paper, well – you get the point… Just because some of us plan and prepare to get bargains, doesn’t mean we care any less, because we spent less.

    I have received hugely expensive gifts, that I have no use for. Giving an expensive gift doesn’t equate a GREAT gift. Sometimes it’s to show off how much that person spent to impress you. Impress me by getting to know me and buying something I would love, not something I have no interest in or use for.

    We are of limited means, but take much time creating gifts, personalized to the recipient. Especially for Grandparents, who buy anything they need when they want to, making it difficult to buy for them anyhow. My mother spends the EXACT same amount on each one of grandchildren (10) and it completely stresses her out, and it appears very imbalanced to the kids too. A 3 year old doesn’t need hundreds spent and a teen wants certain things only. There is no ‘perfect’ balance of ‘gift giving.’ I wish she would just spent it on something she thinks they love! Or yes, give money/gift cards. At least I wouldn’t have to listen to the constant complaints.

    Another complaint, since I joined others on this soap box…. Christmas is December 25th, EVERY SINGLE YEAR. How do people not take the other 360+ days and think of it, instead of being shocked each year that it ‘sneaks up on them?’ Everyone has the same opportunity. We all spend our time and money on what are dearest & important to us.

    In my opinion, some people just throw money at things over taking the time and effort to look for something great for the recipient! I would take a sincere note from everyone I know over buying me anything. Tell me how you feel… take a moment and express why I am important, valued. Btw, my husband did just that our past anniversary. BEST gift ever! It has meant more than anything he has bought me in the last 20 years!

    Andrea, congrats on baby #2! So, happy to hear the conference went great too! Happy Monday!

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    Andrea Reply:

    Laughing out loud as I read your comment Summer!
    I could NOT agree more about not needing to spend the exact same amount on each child — they DON’T care! I know my mom is going to be this way and I’m already trying to explain that Nora doesn’t care at all. Heck, I don’t even care if she spends the same on me as she does on one of my siblings or their spouses. We don’t care!

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    Summer Reply:

    Yeah, I hear ya! We couldn’t care less either. We love that we have the time to spend together, it’s truly a gift! I know too many people that can’t, won’t, or don’t spent time together with family… because they aren’t alive, or can’t afford to see them, or even just don’t talk to them. Sad, but true. We love that they are part of the children’s lives, not what they buy them!!! Holiday laughter and memories are going to carry on forever in their hearts… a new iphone is only hot until the next generation comes out…

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  16. Jenn

    10/07/2013

    Wonderful article. So dead-on. I shared on FB in hopes that certain people I know would read it and take a hint! :)

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  17. Julia

    10/07/2013

    This is a constant battle I have with my husband, who grew up in an even Steven family (and still does to his day). If one child got a bday present that was $25, the other did too within pennies. He thinks this is the right way to do it. Since we are on strict budget this year (the year of the closed wallet), I finally after 14 years convinced him to lower our budget amount per person, especially the kids (who get mounds of presents from each of three sets of grandparents). I hit up a fancy beer and wine tent sale this weekend and picked up a case of fru-fru beer for each of the adult men and a couple of fru-fru bottles of wine for my SIL–all without going over budget! Hopefully he will be a convert after this year!!

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  18. Liz C

    10/07/2013

    We do a lot of entirely homemade gifts, and those seem to be well-received. We customize! Many of the gift-giving situations we have are for children or weddings. We’ve done:

    * Recipe binder with our favorite recipes printed out

    * “Art kit”… personalized clip board or binder, blank paper, themed coloring sheets and word search sheets we print from free sources on-line, pencil pouch with mechanical pencils, sharpener, gum eraser, colored pencils, small ruler.

    * Personalized magnetic paper doll sets: printed from appropriately-licensed stuff on-line, covered in contact paper, with self-stick magnet tape added to the back.

    * Personalized “art gallery” magnets: similar to paper dolls, but smaller images customized to the interests of the recipient, and intended for sticking art to refrigerators and magnet boards.

    * Customized pillowcases (did a horseshoe letter monogram for a horse-mad little girl, for instance)

    * Food gifts: homemade spice blends in re-purposed glass jars, homemade hot cocoa mix (with recipe), bread, etc.

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  19. Amanda

    10/07/2013

    Several years ago, my extended family changed from gift exchange where we drew names and had a price limit (which ended up with hurt feelings, because some people stuck to the limit and others didn’t, and so some people would have these super nice gifts while others had equally as thoughtful gifts, but there was disparity) to a gift exchange where everyone makes something homemade, and we do it white elephant style. My cousin brews his own beer, so he had a 12 pack of bottled beer as his, my aunt and uncle have a lot of land and do a lot of their own fruit/veggie growing, so they had a basket w/ items canned/made from items that they’d grown themselves, another aunt is a very talented painter, so she had a painting, my grandfather loves woodworking, so he built a beautiful bird house, my mom knitted a great scarf, etc. It works out great because there was a lot of thought and love put into each gift. It’s great to have something that you know someone who loves you made. I have an afghan on my couch now that was made by one of my aunts that I got in one of the exchanges. My son loves to hide in that blanket.

    With my husbands family, everyone makes a list. I know I’d rather know what my husbands siblings and parents want. Sometimes we just go out and buy it. Sometimes, if it’s pricey, we’ll buy a gift card to go towards something (my BIL wanted a really nice piece of kitchen equipment, so my MIL, us, and another sibling all got Amazon GCs for him one year so that he could get that item and none of us blew our budgets). It works out, and you know that you got something that you know they’ll like and want!

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  20. Sue@house pretty

    10/07/2013

    Great article! I have been giving tins of home made treats like fudge and peanut butter balls, with a few cookies on the side, for gifts, with a gift card (their choice), or some cash thrown into the mix. Edible and practical all in one!

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  21. Gina, book dragon

    10/07/2013

    The grocery sack had me laughing because that’s what we used to wrap a birthday gift yesterday! There is a story behind it…

    We give cash once the kids get old enough and often wrap it strangely. This time we put the money in an empty milk jug, filled with water and froze it. We did use birthday wrap but I didn’t want it to get wet so we put the gallon jug in a shopping bag first.

    The kid had a blast throwing the jug onto the street to crack open his gift. He even picked up the broken milk jug and threw it away.

    Oh, one time the kids said no shirts as he had enough so we fold singles in to shirts and gave him 15 of them :D

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    Andrea Reply:

    Well, I think your situation is unique! You definitely put a lot of time and thought into your gift — AND you still wrapped it in something else after the grocery bag :) I’ve seriously gotten gifts that were just tied up in a plastic grocery bag with no tag or card or anything… so odd!

    P.S. I LOVE the folded dollar bill gift too — sounds like you are pretty creative!

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    Gina, book dragon Reply:

    Thanks, the kids have wised up to how we wrap stuff and no longer trust what the box says, one time the kid got a can of green beans (there was jelly beans and money inside). This one let us know that we had skipped him and he was waiting.

    We also give them a matchbox car when they turn 16 ‘cuz you know, every kids needs a car. ;)

    Just a grocery sack? Weird, a pillow case would be better! I have to admit to using grocery sacks when I’ve run out of tissue paper but I do remember a card.

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  22. Janice

    10/07/2013

    Last Christmas my husband and I had to be very cautious with our budget so I went shopping at a really nice thrift store for the grandchildren. They love to play with Beanie Babies and luckily people are donating them to charity after the big heyday of collecting them. I was able to pick up several for each child at 50 cents per animal. The g’kids LOVED their Christmas gifts from Nan and Papaw. They are begging for more of the same for this Christmas and they know I buy them from a thrift store. What a blessing for at least a few more years until they get to be teens, then it will definitely be gift cards to Gap and Old Navy. Guess I better start saving money now for our 6 sweeties :)

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  23. Kristen

    10/07/2013

    Any advice for ending a “gift exchange” with a friend? I have one friend who I always exchanged birthday gifts with, but one year I suggested we take each other out to lunch at Panera instead. That’s become a fun tradition :) We still exchange Christmas presents, but I’m fine with that.

    I have another friend who is very well-meaning and sweet, and always gets me both a birthday and Christmas present. We used to work together but don’t any longer, so I don’t see her all that often and when I do it’s usually with other people, so a bit awkward to exchange just the two of us. I don’t know how to suggest we stop exchanging without hurting her feelings. (Saying “We don’t have the money this year” probably isn’t the best idea because they have always had less money than us, yet given nice gifts.) Should I just suck it up and be thankful that I have such a nice friend?? ;) I just always stress out every year to think of a present for her and I think we end up giving each other something nice but unnecessary and “cluttery.”

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    Andrea Reply:

    Oooo, good question! Well, it sounds like you do really have great friends — but since I’m not exactly sure how to answer this, I posted it (anonymously) on my Facebook page. You can follow along with the answers and suggestions here!

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    Gina, book dragon Reply:

    My SIL stopped giving sit-around-and-look-pretty gifts and gives something that’s consumable. Her hostess gift at Christmas was See’s! Too bad I had just found out I was Diabetic. Shrug, the husband’s office loved them.

    Is there any way you could bake her something? My dad loves my bread but that might just be a dad thing. blush

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  24. Vicki F.

    10/07/2013

    The worst gift I ever got was a partially used box of sugar-free cocoa mix (I don’t do sugar-free.) I don’t know what my mother was thinking, but she gave me other things, too. We just pass over the questionable items and know she means well. lol After Christmas there is a bag for the thrift store of things she gave my family that nobody wants. But most of it came from garage sales, and we just laugh at the inappropriate things, and figure it entertained her when she was buying it, anyway. lol

    My husband and I had a long-running battle. I made my own cookbook, which I started using for wedding gifts. He thought it was a cheap gift, because it cost us less than $10 each to make the books. But I see brides years later, and they comment on how much they use those cookbooks. One girl even wrote to me 5 years after her wedding, and thanked me again for the cookbook, commenting how much she uses it. My husband was very surprised when he was traveling for work once, and the conversation of the ladies he was with turned to cookbooks. He mentioned mine, and they got all excited and wanted to see it. That was the first time he got the idea that maybe that was a gift that was worth more than what it costs to make.

    [Reply]

    Gina, book dragon Reply:

    I’d love getting a personal cookbook like that! I have several family/church cookbooks and seem to turn to them first.

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  25. Gina, book dragon

    10/08/2013

    I’m a reader so I love getting books as gifts. Except you may not know what stuff I read, and maybe I already have it. I don’t mind going back and exchanging it but a gift card to amazon lets me buy exactly what I want (ebooks too) without having to drive anywhere.

    I know each family has their own thing but we only give $10-20 and a card for birthdays, they can go buy something big. Then we draw names for Christmas. This year the youngest (6 weeks) “drew” the oldest and gets to buy a gift for Grandpa. That’s on the in-law side, my side gave up buying gifts for each other a long time ago after a horrible (but sort of funny) incident.

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  26. Jennifer

    10/08/2013

    Thanks. I found a lot of great ideas, especially clicking on the gift card link. My family has always been about frugal gift giving, but my husband’s—not him—like lavish. It’s frustrating getting expensive things I don’t like and thinking about better ways that money could have been spent. However, once he and I exchanged one item each at JCrew and were able to get multiple items each on the clearance racks. That was fun!

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  27. Living So Abundantly

    10/08/2013

    Ha! The first Christmas my husband met my mom and step dad(when we were engaged), my mom had taken things that had been in the house for YEARS(mind you, they are heavy smokers, so everything smelled like a giant cigarette), wrapped them in newspaper, and said they had to be thrifty that Christmas because money was tight. We would have rather had them just give us a big hug that year, because everything had an odor of being old and smokey. Then, she did buy my husband one new item, which was a tea mug set with hearts and chic like designs. While she may have thought it was about the sentiment, it really wasn’t. Sometimes when people give gifts, they think of what they would like/want and not what the receiver would like/want. I really appreciated reading your post and laughed thinking about that crazy Christmas.

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  28. Joanna

    10/09/2013

    I always like to discuss gift giving for the holidays ahead of time. We have in the past, exchanged gifts for the children and the adults simply enjoy spending time with each other. I always suggest and encourage home made gifts. Those are always fun to get, whether it is food, crafts or ways to show off individual talents ( sewing, painting, photography, working,etc.) For family far away, a thoughtful gift plus a gift card is always nice. too. Our family loves to exchange gourmet coffees.

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  29. Kerri

    10/09/2013

    Our school is having a few fundraisers this year. One is a company that features a piece of my son’s artwork done in class put on mugs, ornaments, etc. I plan on buying presents for the grands this year thru this organization. It will have a touch of personal from my son’s art plus it benefits the school.

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  30. robbie @ going green mama

    10/09/2013

    I love the gourmet coffee idea! Or you could trade items like regional foods or things from the farmers market. Practical but a fun twist on it.

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  31. SueB

    12/30/2013

    At work we do a secret Santa every year, I have worked there for 15 years so some people know me well, or so you’d think! I’m always amazed at what I receive and only once have I received a gift appropriate to what I like and sadly some of them have been in the cheap category the others just without thought. I always try & find out what the recipient likes, if I can’t then I give a gift card so they can chose.

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