Frugal Gift Giving: Who Do You Buy Gifts For?

by Kelly · 21 comments

in A Frugal Family

We’re getting dangerously close to a dangerous time of year for my family. The period between October 16th and February 16th contains all of my family’s birthdays except those of my husband and youngest son, as well as my wedding anniversary, Thanksgiving, and two small, relatively minor gift-giving occasions, what were they again? Oh yeah: Hanukkah and Christmas*. So you’ll have to forgive me if it’s August when I start talking about gift giving and my efforts to do so frugally.

After all, preparation is half the battle. It’s a lot harder to buy presents, good presents, inexpensively if you are doing so last minute. During the year I try to think about ideas for birthday or holiday presents for people and then I write those ideas down. But even before I think about what I am going to buy, I think about for whom I am going to buy.

My husband and I buy presents for our children, a mix of the practical and the fun. We also buy presents for each other, although those presents tend to err on the practical side of things. Last year my husband received electric toothbrush heads as one of his Hanukkah gifts. He traditionally gets at least one pair of socks for his birthday, from his mother and from me.

I almost never buy presents for my mother, at least not presents for an occasion like her birthday or Hanukkah. If I see something I think she’ll like I’ll get it just because; she does the same for me. Nor do I buy presents for my brother; sometimes we send him a gift certificate to something like Amazon. I rarely buy presents for my father either, which is a problem in our relationship. I know that it hurts him when I don’t, and that’s a problem for me because I don’t want to hurt him, especially not over something like presents. We buy one present each for my in laws, because that’s the way they like to do gift-giving occasions.

It seems to me that giving gifts or not giving gifts or giving lots of gifts are all appropriate ways of celebrating occasions, as long as the gift-giving dynamic is accepted by both parties. It’s when it is not that problems arise.

Friday I’ll be talking about ideas for frugal gifts, and how to stretch your budget. You won’t want to miss it, so make sure to subscribe! But for now I’ll turn the floor over to you:

How do you choose to whom you give gifts? Does it stay in the family? Do you give gifts to friends? How many gifts do you give? Do you ever just give money or send a card?

*I’m Jewish but my husband and my father are not. So I was raised in a household that celebrated both Hannukah, which is a relatively minor Jewish holiday, and Christmas. We are doing the same with our family now.


1 Emily August 27, 2008

Oh, isn’t this just the stickiest subject? And you better have an idea of the value of the gift you’re going to give/receive, or it opens a whole new dynamic of guilt on someone’s part!

This year, with the financial picture we’re looking at, my family is buying gifts for the little ones (3 between 3 and 5), and exchanging names for the adults. This is really hard for me, because I’ve been doing the shoebox gift method for the last few years (think Operation Christmas Child, but for grown ups), and I start buying next year’s presents in January. So I’m 3/4 of the way done shopping for everyone, and then they decide to exchange names. Just my luck.

I guess they were tired of feeling guilty when they opened our gifts. My bad.

I can’t wait to see your frugal gift ideas!

Emily’s last blog post..School Daze

2 Nicole August 27, 2008

I buy for immediate family only though I have been known to send a far flung friend a thoughtful (usually homemade or inexpensive) gift via the post. It’s better if people don’t expect it I think, otherwise it becomes an obligation. I do like to send cards for mostly every occasion though. It is the thought that counts after all!

3 neimanmarxist August 27, 2008

I’m pretty similar in my gift-giving habits with my immediate family- my parents don’t really want or need anything. I tend to get them gifts when I spot something I think they’ll really use/love, but a christmas gift is a rarity. I always buy my brother itunes since it’s all he wants. My husband and I give each other homemade gifts- he’ll learn to play a song i really like on his guitar, I’ll knit a scarf. Our first christmas together we gave each other ostenatious new-couple gifts , but how many watches can you give a man, anyway? We buy gifts for husband’s family. One for each member. We’ve already started saving so I don’t think you’re putting money away too early at all!

Right now we’re contemplating re-gifting. Someone gave us some lovely china for our wedding but we aren’t going to use it. I feel kind of guilty about it… but I know it’s something my mother-in-law would like….

neimanmarxist’s last blog post..Filing Joy

4 Kelly August 27, 2008


Maybe you could give the china to your MIL 'just because' and then as a gift for an occasion you could give her dinner on her new china.

5 That Perfect Somethi August 27, 2008

For many years I gave gifts to my family, my closest friends, and my boyfriend. I love gift giving so throughout the year I would scope out gifts for my family and friends. But I have to admit it can be financially draining especially around the holidays. Last year my friends begged off exchanging gifts. I have to admit it's a little difficult for me to honor their request. I always sneak in a gift here or there and tell them "oh I just got you a little something". lol. Gift giving is so ingrained in my life that's its hard to give it up. Maybe this year will be the year I'm able to do so. Well, at least with my friends.

6 FruGal August 27, 2008

I LOVE giving gifts to the people I love. I do gifts for immediate family and family in-law at christmas, and it does get expensive, but it's something I put money aside for over the course of the year. This is the 2nd post I've seen on Christmas topics today – I can't believe it's nearly that time again! 🙂

FruGal's last blog post..Summer recipe

7 Angela V-C August 27, 2008

I've just found your site today and it's really great, so thanks!

We (my wife and I) buy birthday gifts for our parents and her siblings (on a rotating basis so we only buy two gifts a year). We sometimes buy gifts for each other, but not always (usually we give a birthday gift, and sometimes a Channukah gift). We both have non-Jewish families, and we get parents and rotating sibs holiday gifts. We sometimes buy gifts for our 2-year-old daughter for birthday/Channukah, but that frequency will probably be increasing as she gets older and notices holidays more. We also do gift cards for the teachers at daycare.

Honestly, the whole gift-giving and gift-getting thing really stresses me out. I hate the idea of buying people things they don't want/need, and we live in a very small house, so I don't really want gifts from other people that take up space (although honestly most of our family is really good about respecting our space issues). I know gift cards would solve the "need/want" issue, but I don't feel comfortable with it because it's impersonal and because I'm a cheapskate. Also, gifts are pretty important in my wife's family, so it's an area in which I feel some pressure to do a good job!

Angela V-C's last blog post..Dispatch from Woods Hole

8 Amiyrah August 27, 2008

I just wrote a post about this almost a month ago called Getting ready for Christmas. We have been collecting gifts for Christmas since February and I now thank goodness that we were smart enough to do it this year. We have gifts for 4 of the 11 people we have to buy for and most of it were found at discount stores and even the drugstore! Once the holidays are over, I have been surprised to see the type of things that go on clearance at the drug store: cute little bags, bath sets, picture frames, etc. I am a lover of giving multiple gifts so I tend to collect cool clearance items all year anyway. Its going to be great to do this completely for Christmas this year. I even have my Dad and my sister's birthday gifts all set, and my Dad's birthday isn't until next March!

Amiyrah's last blog post..A Panic attack saved my sanity….

9 Sarah F. August 27, 2008

My husband and I give gifts to our immediate families on both sides. We usually don't give gifts to each other on Christmas, though. We're starting to put money aside now for the gift giving season (that's fast approaching!) Last year, we had a set amount of money that we decided that we would spend on each person, that way we stayed in the budget.

Sarah F.'s last blog post..It's Friday

10 Frugal Trenches August 27, 2008

I always give presents to my parents because they get such little thanks for years of raising me. I try to find something that will be special, and/or a treat that wouldn't normally be purchased.

I also buy for my niece.

Re friends, only the very good ones, the rest get a card!

Frugal Trenches's last blog post..Groceries and Daily Spending

11 Kelly August 27, 2008

I think it's so hard combining frugality and gift giving! Like Frugal Trenches said, getting somebody a treat is a nice idea. It also sounds like most of us make children a priority (without overindulging of course). Like Angela V-C I live in a small house too. I don't want people to get me gifts, really, because it means I have to find a place for them. I mean I do, and I don't, but really I don't ;)!

12 Angela V-C August 28, 2008

Kelly — We’ve tried to encourage our family to get us magazines, food, and other “consumable” items. We then get to have something fun that we wouldn’t normally buy for ourselves, but it goes away and we don’t have to permanently store it.

Angela V-C’s last blog post..Costs of car ownership, part I

13 Shannon August 28, 2008

As a single mother who is currently a full time student, and working only 20 hrs a week I announced to my family that this year I would be buying gifts for my daughter and everyone else is getting a $20 gift card each and asked them to give me a list of 3-5 places they would enjoy getting a gift card from.

This will allow me to

1. spend less (I usually spend $40-$75 a person)

2. save gas by not running all over town (most stores they listed are either places I reguarly shop at like walmart, or they can be ordered online with no shipping chg)

3. save on gift wrap, (I usually go all out with special gift wrapping and wired ribbon)and less stressed by running all over town trying to find "the perfect gift" and still being stressed that I did't chose the right thing.

14 Shevy August 28, 2008

We give birthday presents to each other, 4 kids, 2 spouses, 3 granddaughters, and my in-laws. That’s 13 people! And Hanukkah presents, although we only do a present a night for the 4 little girls. Big people can survive with one gift each!

One year I bought most of my youngest daughter’s and my granddaughters’ Hanukkah gifts months ahead of time at The Disney Store when they had a gigantic sale prior to closing for remodelling! I got things like washcloths for $1, toy cell phones, cups, pjs for everybody 50% off, socks, Jasmine dolls, it was great! Since I always give chocolate gelt and dreidels one night, that was almost everything they got that year.

Another year I used an arts and crafts theme. One night was a pack of crayons, another a pair of blunt nosed scissors, yet another night packs of stickers or a colouring book.

I should put money away every month but for the birthdays I usually just freak out and come up with the money from somewhere. I’m better about Hanukkah but I have to have good hiding places. SOMEBODY found a couple of gifts shortly before Hanukkah last year and I think she was actively hunting!

15 Shevy August 28, 2008

BTW, all of a sudden CommentLuv doesn’t seem to be able to find my posts. Any idea why that would be?

16 Kelly August 28, 2008

@ Shevy, re: Comment Luv. I don’t know why it does that. It sometimes does that to me at other sites like Simple Mom. It will come back!

17 Kelly August 28, 2008


Have you thought about My Points? I earned enough points this year for four $10 gift cards, by clicking on the emails that they sent. You probably don’t have enough time to accumulate enough points for this year, but you could for next year! I’m happy to send you a referral invitation if you want.

18 Mama Koala August 28, 2008

I’m looking forward to your thoughts on frugal gifts! This will be our first ever no credit card Christmas, and I need help!

Mama Koala’s last blog post..Wordless Wednesday

19 Kai August 28, 2008

A while back we decided to send my wife back to school to work on an AA which turned into a BA and then became graduate work. Knowing that cutting our income in half was going to be hard, we made a pact to not buy ANY gifts for each other for birthdays, anniversary or Christmas. We also asked our friends and family not to exchange any gifts with us (except for sending money to kids of family and friends.) Surprisingly, they all understood and (mostly) abided by this. (We’re pretty tough to buy for anyway so they might have been relieved.) Quite a few years later, we now are out of the habit of automatically buying gifts just because it’s a “special occasion”. Instead of spending time hunting for gifts, we use the time handwriting a special note in a card and enjoying time together.

20 Andy @ Retire at 40 February 27, 2009

I usually just buy for a select few people. It used to be my close family but now it’s just my nieces and nephew. I also buy for just two of my friends since we’ve always done it.

Andy @ Retire at 40´s last blog post..Personal Finance is Not a Destination, it’s a Journey

21 parag May 18, 2010

I would like to buy a gift for my sister. My budget is around $50.
.-= parag´s last blog ..Will Credit Card Debt Consolidation Ruin My Credit Score? =-.

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