Frugal Gift Giving: Gift Ideas

by Kelly · 8 comments

in Living Frugally

As a follow-up to Wednesday’s discussion of for whom you should buy gifts, today we will talk about the other aspect of frugality in gift giving: frugal gift ideas.

For me, frugal gift ideas can be divided into seven categories.


Obviously this can be something that you make yourself (a quilt, jam, cookies, a journal) but it can also be something handmade by somebody else. Etsy is a fantastic resource for finding handmade treasures, usually quite inexpensively, and the money goes directly to the creator, not to a conglomerate.

Bought on Sale

Sales, especially the big clearance sales held after the holidays, are an opportune time to stock up on gifts, both ‘just in case’ or for a specific person. I’ve held onto things for more than six months, after buying them on sale. Usually I take advantage of the twice yearly sales in France to buy little things for a gift box; for example I now have a few inexpensive votive candles and holders set aside for housewarming or hostess presents. Bought on sale at Ikea during one of the official sales periods, they only cost me about รขโ€šยฌ1.


Does your wife enjoy adventure? Give her a gift certificate for a hang-gliding class. Your kid likes music? Buy them music lessons. Grandparents could buy annual passes to the zoo instead of yet another stuffed zebra. In the past, people have paid for magazine subscriptions for my children; this too is a sort of experience. For our wedding present, some dear friends gave us ten sessions of dance lessons (I suspect it was a hint, after having seen the way we cavorted around the dance floor!).

Gift-Certificates or Money

This is almost like an ‘experience’ present, except it’s a little less specific. You have some friends who are getting married, and you’re not quite sure what to get them. You could always give them an envelope with some cash inside (quite the accepted practice here in France; we received almost $2000 at our wedding) or you could get them a gift certificate to a store they like; I recommend Target and Ikea (!). What makes this option frugal is that you get to control the amount down to the penny, only giving what you can afford or wish to spend.


Ah, the dreaded package of socks and another of underwear that every child learns to expect at least once a year. So maybe it’s not the most exciting of gifts, but a gift that is both useful and practical is definitely frugal. And it doesn’t have to be unwanted either. The best birthday present my husband has ever given me is a kitchen mixer like this one; I still use it almost daily, eight years later.

Secondhand Finds

Anyone who is a thrift shop connoisseur knows the joy of stumbling upon the perfect item while thrift store shopping. Even better if it’s the perfect gift for someone else… only it either has to be in such perfect condition that the other person won’t realize it has been used or the recipient has to be the sort of person who appreciates thrift store finds. Either way, a gift from a thrift store is probably the most frugal choice on the list, excepting the homemade option. Even better, some thrift stores now offer gift certificates! This sort of gift is really only for a certain sort of person, those who already enjoy and appreciate shopping secondhand.


For the person who has everything, or even those that just have most things, think of those who have nothing. Honestly, I don’t need anything, and if somebody wanted to buy a cow or a flock of chickens in my name through Heifer International, I would be thrilled. It doesn’t have to be a large donation either, I gave my mom a flock of chicks once, costing $20. I’ve also donated money to local animal shelters in the names of family pets who had died. Choosing the sum of money to be donated myself allowed me to control my own budget while still making a worthy gesture.

What we’re doing this year

I thought I’d share the gifts that we’ll be getting our kids this year for Hanukkah and Christmas. They can’t read yet, so the surprise won’t be ruined! In december my children will be almost six, four and a half and fourteen months old.

We give presents on the first two nights of Hanukkah and on Christmas, some of which come from Santa, some which come from us and some which they choose for each other. So, for each child, that’s two presents for Hanukkah, one from Santa, one from us and two from the siblings, for a grand total of six presents. You see the need to be frugal!

They will each receive at least two books, one each in French and English. The older two will receive a leap pad book for their leap pad system and the baby will get another regular book. I’ve already bought a movie for each of them through my MyPoints membership as well as a small Spiderman guy from the local thrift shop and a new bath towel for my daughter from Ikea’s ‘as is’ section. The final gift will probably be some new item of clothing; last year we bought them new belts, hats and gloves. This year will probably be socks and underwear– how exciting! They will choose the toys to give each other, but I usually try to steer them towards books or playmobiles.

What are your favorite frugal gift ideas? Do you have another category to add here? How would you feel if somebody gave you a gift that obviously came from a thrift store?


1 Lucie August 29, 2008

I love getting gifts from thrift stores! Those have been some of the best gifts I have received.

In terms of boring gifts I also really appreciate whenever people give us gift cards to somewhere like the grocery store. Huge help!

I have found “service” gifts are a great bet also. One of the best gets we ever got was a gift certificate to a restaurant with an offer to babysit. You can also give your wife “coupons” offering to clean the kitchen, cook dinner, etc.

Great post!

Lucie’s last blog post..Getting Back in Shape – Find Your True Inspiration

2 neimanmarxist August 29, 2008

at christmas we bake everyone pumpkin bread in these cute loaf pans (little ones ) that we get for $1 at michael’s craft store. we wrap them up pretty with green cellophane so they look nice and take them to holiday parties and to the annual family xmas celebration ,which usually has abotut a dozen families. I make about 16 loaves of pumpkin bread for about $10 in ingredients, cellophane and ribbon , and $16 in loaf pans, so 16 gifts for $26! A good deal, and nice- looking and tasty so it isn’t like we’re being cheap.

how would I feel if someone gave me a thrifted gift? i think fine, if it were well-chosen. I think once you’re grown up it truly is the thought that counts. We don’t need anything so i am happy to just get people’s christmas letters ๐Ÿ™‚

neimanmarxist’s last blog post..Filing Joy

3 Holly August 30, 2008

I have received several gifts from thrift or antique stores, and I love them! One friend rounded up a big stack of magazine back issues that she knew I would enjoy and bundled them all together for a very attractive gift. It was great!

Now that I have children, making both time and space even more precious than ever, I really appreciate gifts that are both practical and consumable. “Experience” gifts are fantastic. Last year my husband gave me tickets to The Nutcracker and arranged for a babysitter. It gave us both an evening out and a beautiful cultural experience, and it didn’t take up any space in my house.

I have given donations to Heifer and other places as gifts in the past, and these have always been tremendously well received.

The other great thing about these sorts of gifts is that they typically require very little packaging (saving time, money and natural resources) and they cost very little to ship. My husband and I realized last Christmas that, with family all over the United States and overseas, we were spending nearly as much in shipping as we were on the gifts themselves. We’ll be simplifying our gift-giving tremendously this year.

Holly’s last blog post..How To Make Mama’s Day

4 Kelly August 30, 2008


I think one of the reasons I have stopped sending people gifts is because of the outrageous shipping charges. Not to mention, as you pointed out, the packaging and time constraints!

5 Denise August 30, 2008

while out camping last weekend, I suggested to my family (mom, dad, brother, sister) that we all list 5 things that we would like to receive for Christmas. Just like kids! My mom has bought us gifts from the thrift store just “for fun” yet we still didn’t need those things and we end up donating them right back.

Denise’s last blog post..mama’s home alone

6 Big Winner August 30, 2008

I really like giving food for gifts, whether it’s taking someone out to dinner or giving them a box of chocolates. That way I can share the experience with them, and the recipient associates me with positive feelings.

7 Abby August 31, 2008

Times are definitely tight for my husband and I this year — he’s on unemployment, I’m on disability — so homemade gifts will be popular in my category. I’m working on a few beading projects. Perhaps if I find a good crocheting/knitting project I’ll take one or two (small) ones up.

Homemade gifts always seem to go over well because people are touched by your effort. Heck, I’ve given crocheted scarves to people who knit, and they gushed.

Personally, what matters to me is the thought. I will always be polite and thank someone for any gift. But I’d rather have one present that was really thoughtful and sweet than a bunch of stuff clearly picked up on the run. So homemade gifts are great! My aunt and uncle have a standing birthday present for me of homemade pesto and jam plus a nice card. And every year I’m thrilled.

I know for a fact that many of my mom’s gifts are either free-to-her (via rebates or MyPoints for gift cards) but they’re still useful and great to receive.

Honestly, the whole thrift store question is a bit of a conundrum, though. You said if it “obviously” came from a thrift store. This to me means it’s obviously worn or used. If it looked like someone ran into a thrift store, closed their eyes and pointed to find the gift… well that would kind of suck. If it were still useful and/or thoughtful, I wouldn’t care.

But then I am planning on going to Value Village’s big 50% off sale tomorrow to see if there are any great gift finds. So clearly the source of the present isn’t as important to me as the thought behind it.

Abby’s last blog post..Frugality can be great exercise!

8 Abby September 1, 2008

Thanks for the comment on my site. So far, we’ve already gotten two other comments about gift-giving and, since I’m doing a giveaway, I’m expecting at least a few more.

Abby’s last blog post..Frugality can be great exercise!

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