Lots of personal finance bloggers have a “no presents” policy.
I really enjoy making and buying and giving presents. I enjoy it so much, that I usually can’t wait for the event, I usually give the presents right away.
My hobby is quilting, and I love giving quilts as gifts. But because the quilts take me so long to make, I don’t get to give them as often as I’d like.
For kids – most of the presents we buy are for kids – I’ve found that presents are typically super hit or miss, and never the way anyone anticipates. I was obsessed – obsessed! – with buying adorable twirly skirts for my nieces a while back. The skirts were crazy expensive, $56 each, but I loved them and I was convinced the nieces would love them too. Nevermind that I haven’t spent $56 on a skirt for myself in years. The nieces did not love them. I’m not sure that they’ve ever been worn.
The twirly skirts were an important lesson – I now try to spend the least amount of money (aside from the quilts) on gifts, as the “miss” probability is so high. Kids love to get gifts, but they just don’t give a hoot about how much you paid for things. It’s not on their radar.
I’ve had some success with Venus Fly Traps for kids under 8. ALL kids under 8 love Kinder Surprise Eggs. This is a no-fail gift, and not too expensive per kid (they’re a little hard to get, but worth the reward if you can find ’em). For kids 9 and up, for Christmas and birthdays, I like to go to the bank and get a stack of $2 bills and Sacajawea coins. $3/kid is very reasonable in my book. Water guns are a hit at every age, adults included. Bike bells are another win with younger kids. I got half a dozen headlamps last Christmas at $2.99 a pop (batteries included) and I was hero for a good 45 minutes. And who doesn’t love a brand new bouncy ball?
My point is that over the past year, while we’ve been focused on paying off the mortgage, we haven’t by any means stopped giving gifts. We’ve just re-evaluated and scaled back.
For adults, my favorite gift is a dessert or a freezable meal. The casserole! Whatever happened to gifting dinner? Or extending an invitation to dinner? When and why did giving food fall out of style? Did it happen as we collectively decided to stop cooking and start squandering our retirement in restaurants for several meals a week? Food is the nicest gift you can give, so much nicer than a gift certificate to a restaurant. The recipient knows you put time and love into the gift.
When we spend Big Money on gifts, it tends to be for weddings, and we usually stick with two things: doormats and address stamps. Doesn’t sound too appealing, right? But actually they’re both great gifts, I promise.
The personalized 22″ x 36″ $69 coconut husk doormat is the best thing Pottery Barn sells. Frankly, it’s the only thing they sell that’s worth buying firsthand, in my opinion (I own several Pottery Barn items via Craig’s List). Grab a 20% off coupon (only a fool would pay full price at Pottery Barn) and order this thing for your best pals, particularly if they now share a last name.
The personalized address stamp is my other favorite go-to. Practical and pretty! Sign up for the Expressionery emails and only purchase during 50% off sales events.
If we really like someone, we’ll buy them a t-shirt. We’ve bought a dozen “Another Beautiful Day in TOWN, STATE” shirts from Ann Arbor T-Shirt Co (also available for men). Always a big hit, and without breaking the bank.
Gifts don’t have to be expensive or excessive. A 6-pack of skull spoons is $11.99 – that’s less than $2 a skull spoon! Affix a ribbon and Voila! You win the night’s gift-giving competition. Coworkers, gift swaps, relatives – who doesn’t want a skull spoon?
Nostalgic aside: There was an elderly beekeeper near where I grew up who used to sell local honey for $5/pound. Even later when he raised the price to $6/pound, it was such a bargain. It came in a nice jar, with a pretty blue label. I would buy a dozen 1-pound jars of honey each Christmas season, my husband thought I was nuts. Sadly the beekeeper passed away a few years ago, in his mid-90’s. I still kick myself for not having the foresight to buy several years ahead…. it was such an awesome gift.
Back to the point –
The most important thing about gifts is that they work within the week’s budget. If there’s no money for a gift in a given week, there’s no gift. End of story. Gifts are a luxury.
For each other, we also work gifts into the budget. It’s not like birthdays and Christmas hit us out of the blue. Most years I end up buying my husband a t-shirt for about $20. I need to come up with a new gift this year, he’s run out of space and begged me to stop buying t-shirts 🙂
If you see that a huge portion of your money is going towards gifts, it’s time take a step back and re-evaluate. Spend time with the people you love. Call them on the phone, write them notes. Buying and giving gifts is a blast, but you don’t need to spend a whole bunch of money to let someone know you care.