Ideas for Frugal Gift Giving

By B. Francis Morlan

“The year was 1931, I was 7 years old and I had the best Christmas,” Charles Barsdale says. As he nears age 87, his wide open grey eyes appear to twikle. The memory touches him deeply. “My father walked me to the store and spent fifteen cents on my Christmas present.”

The sparkle in his eye turns to a tear. His nose turns read and he stops for just a second, pulling a neatly folded hankerchief from a pocket to wipe his eyes. “He bought me a new wheel for my old wagon,” Charles said. “That was all he could do.”

Charles then explained the real gift of that Christmas. “I recall walking home and it was Christmas Eve and Dad explained to me that we should be thankful to have a Christmas where were had a home with a roof over our head and food to eat.” he recalled. “Our Christmas dinner was bread and milk. That’s it. But what fun we had that night. We sang, we played games, and we waited for Santa. He came, too. He put an orange in my stocking. Christmas day was even more wonderful. I learned that we had each other that Christmas.”

While Christmas in recent times likely could not rival the tough economic circumstances of 1931 they are tough enough for millions of people.

“I’ve never seen times like these,” admits Cheryl Grossmont of San Diego, California. “My husband is now on disability and cannot find a job to fit around his stay-at-home status. And I got downsized in 2008 from a great job and now make less than half what I once did. That life almost feels like a hundred years ago now. We need Christmas to be less of a financial strain. We don’t even hang our lights outside any more, to keep the utility bills down. We have to find ways to celebrate Christmas with less. That’s just the way it is.”

Many are looking for ways to give meaningful gifts on limited funds this Christmas.

Here are some ideas for frugal gift giving:

— Gifts of Service —

“My kids are so resourceful,” Mary Ann Smith, of Ogden, Utah, says. “For Christmas my 11 year old daughter Emily made a coupon book — drawn in pencil and colored in crayon. It had coupons for things like ” One Free Back Rub” and “One Free Car Wash”. She even had a coupon in there for “One Free Night of Babysitting” so that her father and I could have a date night.”
Gifts of service are a great way to give something meaningful.

— Gifts of Memory —

Adele Smithson of Auburn, California, is an avid family history researcher, spending most of her time on family search sites such as Ancestry.com. “A couple of Christmases ago I was able to piece together the family line of my husband’s mother,” Adele tells us. “I was able to find a newspaper clipping of the obituary of her grandfather and I dug up a picture of her own mother that she had never seen. We put all the information we found into a book and gave it to her as a gift. Our relationship has never been the same, things have become so sweet as a result of that gift.”

Gifts of memory were a popular option mentioned by many people we interviewed in soliciting ideas for this article. “An old picture or a group of pictures from long ago is instantly cherished as a gift,” said Carly Baines, of Ocala, Florida. “Anyone over the age of 30 with kids is going to get the importance of such a gift.”

“I wrote down my memories of my mother,” said Gerty Hanford, of Morgan, Utah. “We had lost Mom earlier in the year and we were all feeling pretty sad. So I sat down and tried to remember times when she wasn’t sick or hurting, when she was just Mom, you know? And we cried and laughed that Christmas morning, my sisters and me. Oh it was the best Christmas morning and Mom would have really liked that.”

— Gifts Homemade —

Hard economic times have seen a return to the homemade trend in gifting. “There is so much you can make these days compared to the days of just needlepoint, clay and paint,” says crafter Holly Petersen. “Scrap books of family memories are easy to do these days. Scanning old family photos and organizing them on a CD is a great gift. Flower arrangements, a wreath, and even homemade candles are gifts that are easy and cheap to make and have a lasting impact.”

— Gifts of Donation —

Wendy Lawson of Pine Creek, Oregon writes that some in her circle of family and friends have taken to just sending a card at Christmas that indicates a donation has been made in the name of a friend to a favorite worthy cause. “I had a friend who lost her mother to breast cancer.” Wendy explains. “I made a donation to the Susan G. Komen Foundation and put the little pink sticker they gave me in a Christmas card. She was thrilled and told me it was the best present I could give her that year.”

Just because a gift is frugal doesn’t mean it isn’t a good gift. In fact, as these examples above show frugual gift giving can be more significant than just about anything bought from a store.

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