Sunday, December 9, 2007

Frugal Holiday Gift Ideas

December 9, 2007

The following ideas were sent out to a forum of which most of the authors and co-authors from my publishing company use to stay connected. Many of the ideas came from several of the Ask Amy columns that are published in the Los Angeles Times, so I take no credit for originality, nor do I want to be accused of plagiarism.

When I was young, many, many, many years ago, I would go crazy trying to find the "right" gift for family and friends. As an adult I have changed dramatically. As an adult I recognize people have different ideas about gifts. I hate, as in "HATE" object gifts, like a tie, sweater, souvenir, plate, vase, knick-knack, watch you name it. I only allow my family to give me a gift I can consume: Candy, soda, movie tickets, video rental coupons, restaurant gift card, etc.

If I can't consume it, I don't even accept it. I realize that is pretty bold, and can even be considered obnoxious, but my family and friends know what kind of gifts I would prefer. And, isn’t a gift about giving what the individual truly needs or wants. Some folks want diamonds; I want a gift certificate to the Cheesecake Factory. This year my children did well. My daughter created a scrapbook of pictures from her childhood to having her own children. My son gave me a calendar he made from the photos stored on Snapfish and the Kodak Gallery with his son. And one of the photos has all three of my grandsons together. That’s what I really wanted.

One time my partner found a unique antique toy truck, very similar to the real antique truck that I own. I have a 1945 Dodge pick up and it is not a “thing” in my life. It is a working truck I use to haul lumber, stoves, refrigerators, and etcetera for my apartment buildings. I looked at his “potential gift” and said how cute it was. And he could see by the look in my eye that I did not want to have it in my life. I have enough “things” in my life, regardless of how cute they are.

Now to the point of this rant; how to cut down on both the amount of gifts you have to buy, the expense involved, and providing people with what they really need or want. Here are some ideas to make the holiday season easier and profitable on everyone, except perhaps retailers. I and/or my family have done many of the items on the following list.

1. (From Debbie Moore, Denver, CO) - This is what Gordy and I do for each other. We each have an envelop with our names on the envelop. Throughout the year as we see things that we would like we tear them out of the catalog or write them down on a piece of paper and put them in the envelop. Then when holidays or birthdays come we go to each other’s envelope and choose the gifts from among the ideas in the others envelop. It works really great! We are always surprised with the gifts we receive and they are always something that we want because we put them in our envelope. Only one rule to this little game; once you have put something in your envelope you can never look through your envelope. This was you are always surprised at holiday and birthday time. It really is a lot of fun and we always get gifts that we want!

2. Charity White Elephant - Large group activity: Each person brings a small wrapped inexpensive or white elephant gift to a potluck get-together. The gifts remain unopened, they are auctioned off starting at $1 and one or more charities receive the money raised. 15-20 people could raise $500 or more. Usually the more beautifully wrapped gifts fetch the most money, but could have the tackiest items.

3. Musical Gifts: Each adult buys a set number of gifts from 1-5 that cost no more than $5 each. At the get-together the adults play a game of "musical gifts." We person holds a present and the music plays. When the music stops you open the gift that is in your hands. This is a fun way to buy presents and avoid the stress of getting the "right" thing for the "right" person.
4. School Project Donations: is a website that allows you to donate any amount of money to fund a specific classroom project, either part or the entire project. An athlete can donate to a sports uniform, a book lover can donate to a classroom set of Shakespeare, a traveler can donate to fund a group of students trip to a new city or state. If you fund the whole project you get thank you notes and photographs from the recipients.

5. Charity Check Up: You can find out the quality ranking of charities, foundations and non-profits based on their use of funds at

6. Set a limit, like $10, and go to the 99 Cents store and get items you think your recipient would enjoy. This works best between couples or children. A child’s limit could be $3-$5. Suggest this for other family members, grown brothers and sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles.
7. Forget about gifts altogether: Recognize the holidays are really about families getting together, especially when they are scattered around the country, or world. Recognize ahead of time that the purpose is to simply enjoy each other’s company.
8. Spend your time help those less fortunate: Donate your time, not just your money, to a homeless shelter, food bank, or bring groceries to a battered women’s or children’s shelter or orphanage. Combine # 3 with this, bring the whole family, and have it become a tradition.
9. Gift exchange: Again, pick a dollar limit, write down the names of all the people you expect and draw names a few weeks prior to the event and get one gift for the person who’s name you picked.
10. White elephant gift exchange: We have all received things we do not want. Now is the time to have fun with them. In this game people draw numbers from a hat, based on the number of people at the event. The more people the more fun. If there are 20 people, then there are 20 slips of paper in the hat numbered from 1 – 20. Each person comes to the event with one gift, and places it on a table. It is best when no one knows who brought what. Number 1 goes first and picks a gift from the table.
Number 2 can either pick a gift from the table, or if they like what # 1 has, they can “steal ” that gift. Number 1 now picks another gift from the table. Number 3 can take a gift from the table or from # 1 or # 2, and so on. Place a limit on the number of times a gift can be stolen. Sometimes it is something desirable, like a board game. Other times it is dreadful, like an ugly monkey coin dish. We have done this for about 10 years now, and it just so much fun to see who can get the ugliest or funniest gift.One year an auto mechanic friend of ours beautifully gift-wrapped a used motor piston. The last part of the game after all the gifts have been selected is to guess who brought the gift. A final option is to have 2-3 extra gifts. First let anyone plead their case as to the worst gift and why. Then take a vote and allow a winner or two or three to pick one of the extra gifts from the table.

11. Make charitable contributions to the organizations that your recipient favors in their name.

12. Donate books to your local library or school. Pay for a textbook for a struggling or underprivileged college student.

13. Give the gift of time by doing a difficult chore for family, elders or neighbors. Examples: Put up storm windows, rake leaves, clear snow or rain gutters, paint trim…

14. 10. Finally, check out for worthy projects that benefit children, women and families in other parts of the world with food, medicine, water, etc.

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