A reader wrote during last month’s January Money Diet and said that she was trying to be frugal but had several birthdays to celebrate. “How do you balance wanting to give generous presents while still sticking to a budget?” she wrote.
Good question! I suspect many of us are similarly challenged. We want to bless our friends and family and show them that we love them. At the same time, we are trying to be thoughtful about finances and not over-spend.
Here are some ideas, beginning with the very toughest group: teenagers. Some teens really only want one of two things — gift cards or cash.
How in the world do we apply frugality and creativity to cash or gift cards? For either of these options, it pays to plan ahead.
Cash. Try the $5 Bill Savings Plan for a couple months. Or throw your change in a jar, and cash it in for currency at the bank. You could also give your favorite teen the whole jar of coins.
Gift cards. Buy a discounted gift card on eBay. (Look for a seller with a feedback score of at least 100 and a good rating.) Or check out one of the online gift card exchanges like CardHub, CardCash, or GiftCards.com. Costco and Sam’s Club often sell gift cards for less than face value. If you’re patient, you can also earn gift cards by using a site like SwagBucks for searching.
An outing. Make a memory instead of giving a physical gift. Visit the art museum, or the zoo, or a historic home, or take a factory tour. For the past several years, my parents and I have celebrated their anniversary by doing something fun. Last week we spent a relaxing afternoon at the Denver Botanic Gardens, and had such a good time.
A special book. My friend Mindy bought her entire family’s Christmas presents at her library’s used book sale. As an author I may be a little prejudiced, but most people love receiving a book — especially if you find one aligned to your friend’s interests.
Consumables. My sister once gave me a huge, extravagant bag of Ghiradelli chocolate chips for my birthday, and I made treats all year. Anything that’s a splurge-y version of something your friend uses on a regular basis will be appreciated, from a good bottle of olive oil to a generous bag of Arborio rice or a box of citronella candles or some new art supplies or organic potting soil and flower seeds.
Artisan food. I love receiving homemade food gifts, don’t you? Use the produce from your garden to make homemade preserves or pesto. Cook up a batch of roasted almonds, cheese crackers or homemade honey graham crackers. Bake an apple cake or butterscotch brownies.
Something growing. Grow herbs from seed and give a potted herb garden. Force spring bulbs in a pot. Root a cutting from a plant you already have. Look for cool pots at thrift stores and garage sales, and give a potted flowering plant like geraniums or pansies. My friend Gail gave me seeds that she gathered from the lupine growing in her mountain garden, and I think of her each year when the pretty flowers come up.
A photo or family memory. Have a vintage family photo copied and put it in a simple frame. Make a scrapbook. Take your loved one’s portrait. Print out the family genealogy.
A donation. For the person who has everything, give a gift to a worthy charity like Heifer International, Water.org or Mercy Corps.
A party. Invite your loved one’s friends over, make a birthday cake, and celebrate. When people offer to bring something, let them!
How About You?
We’d love to hear your gift-giving ideas and suggestions in the Comments section of this page.
P.S. Don’t forget to enter to win a copy of my new cookbook Berries: Sweet and Savory Recipes, published by Gibbs Smith. You can win a special signed advance copy. Just visit this post from last week for full details. Enter between now and midnight MST on Friday, February 24.