Friday, January 3, 2014

Inexpensive Gift Ideas: Downsizing Gift Giving

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(Photo credit: DavidErickson)

English: Gift, card and flower shop, Formby De...
English: Gift, card and flower shop, Formby Derbyshires.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our debt-laden society is partly the result of over-spending out of misguided love. We are inundated with pleas from commercials and media-driven values of costly clothes or toys. An occasional gift which is extravagant might be acceptable, and the rarity of it will also highlight the value of the gift. But, for the most part, birthday and holiday gifts needn't be expensive, and for the non-crafters, they also don't have to be home-made. It's just a matter of re-focusing on the thought and the recipient. We need to down-size our gift giving habits so we can right-size our values and our finances.
It's not smart to frequently go into debt over gift-giving.

I personally try to be creative with our gifts by thinking in a "less than ten dollar" range. For some special people in our lives, we may stretch it to twenty dollars, but honestly, anything more than that has to be for a gift for someone I gave birth to or married.

Play-Doh Retro Canister
Play-Doh Retro Canister (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: Typical Dollar Store, San Francisco
English: Typical Dollar Store, San Francisco (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I think it's also smart to keep gifts "small". Large gifts, especially when it comes to art or small furniture, are cumbersome and require the recipient to inconveniently re-think their home and require them to have it visible to you when you visit. If you buy something "bigger than  breadbox", you are in the "white elephant zone".

Lastly, if I can, when appropriate, I try to include a sense of humor in the gift, like PEZ© candy dispensers in the shape of their favorite comic book character, a key-finding gadget for the often lost keys, a power surge protected extension cord for the computer enthusiast, or flashlights labeled "You are the sunshine in my life" (or "Let Jesus shine a Light Unto Your Path" as a Christmas themed gift). Thoughtful gifts which are also useful are fun to get and to give.

Consider shopping at second-hand or thrift shops for tea cups, books, figurines, jewelry, purses, scarves, hats, etc. You may be surprised by the hidden bargains you find. Some libraries also have second-hand books for sale at very reasonable prices. Your aunt who enjoys knitting may actually like the "Dictionary of Knitting Terms" , which is an example of the beautiful coffee books that end up nearly untouched at these places. Using these places is also a form of recycling.

Video games and their accessories are de rigueur for so many children, but use a birthday as a chance to gently permit them to un-plug with reminders like a book, a framed picture of them and their best friends or playing cards and instructions for a classic game like Crazy 8s or Hearts. Provide them with tickets to have "lunch with you" or a "special day at the park with Dad." Many children often jump at the chance of special time with a loved one.

Youth to Pre Teens
Preteen girls enjoy experimenting with make up or nail polish. With their parents' permission, buy a few nail polish bottles at the local dollar store. Occasionally these same places will have "jewelry" for nails, a popular trend in some areas. Other thrifty ideas are a beautiful hair accessory. Bejeweled hair combs can be purchased for under $10 in many places but create a huge "Wow" effect. Earrings are also a joy to pick out and to receive. Boys (or girls) of nearly all ages love those giant $5 balls that mom or dad won't buy at Wal-Mart because they are trying to leave. Water balloons, water guns for a summer birthday are great. Play-Doh© with a plastic mat from a dollar store (so mom or dad will be relieved there is a place for them to play without putting the stuff on their table or carpet) is sure to be met with enthusiasm for the younger set. Replacement hobby and toy supplies are a good choice, too. Think about darts for their Nerf© guns, Lego© parts, paints and paintbrushes, or other hobby or toy that they no longer play with, and not because they lost interest in it, but because they ran out of the supplies for it.

English: Assortment of gift cards
English: Assortment of gift cards (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Older gift recipients might enjoy their favorite home-baked cookies or a gift card to a movie theatre.  I've not met a young teen aged lady who doesn't enjoy jewelry, and with the right eye for a sale, you can choose something with silver or gold plate or cubic zirconia which may fit within your budget. Costume jewelry is also a big hit. You can personalize a to-go coffee container from a dollar store with markers (or don't - in case you hate your handwriting) and include a $5 gift card to a local coffee shop. Teens are usually wearing the latest fashions (or want to) so an observant person might provide a $10 gift card to a local teen haunt, or gift an accessory (outfits are too expensive and you will never know if they will wear it) which appears to be popular on the local teens, like a belt, beanie or fingerless gloves. Always include the receipt and encourage them to return the item if needed, without guilt. Fashion is very difficult to assign to another person, especially after they reach the double-digit midget stage (ages 10+).

Some children are into the dueling card games. These cards can be expensive for the parents to invest in as often as their child would like, but as a one-time gift, for you, it might be all right to spend anywhere from one dollar to a few dollars on the specialty playing cards.


Coffee work desktop
Coffee work desktop (Photo credit: aoitenshi)
Adult gift recipients can never say to their favorite beverage, alcoholic or not. It doesn't have to be wine (unless you're thinking of me, and in that case, there is no other choice). Think ginger ale, root beer, flavored sodas. Party hosts usually enjoy a gift of flowers for their home and/or a quality beverage to share (or to savor after the party is over).

Co-workers are a difficult category because in some industries, they are who help you to survive from day-to-day.  Yet at the same time, while they may be your family away from home, it may not make sense to give them gifts equal in value to those who are related to you. This is your personal choice but I don't encourage celebrating birthdays or holidays with co-workers with anything other than a card or a cupcake, because it sets a cycle of expense that many families cannot sensibly continue. Ideas for co-workers can include specialty coffees and treats for the break room as an appreciation for a department. Also, a box of special candies like Lifesavers© or a big bow on a PayDay© bar or a six-pack of root beer, may be entertaining and can effectively convey your feelings of appreciation for the individual.

Actual pictures, framed or not, are a treasured gift in our digital age, especially if the photo is a beautiful shot. Keep the picture small, like a 5x10 or 4x6. It's a little assuming to think that everyone wants a wall-size photograph of a childhood ski vacation.
Pictures from someone's childhood, retouched and recolored if necessary are bound to please.
If you have a group photo, try arranging to re-create that same shot with the older group, and then present the pair of photos to a grandparent or parent.
Photo gifts are especially cheery to parents and grandparents, such as mugs or calendars.
On the photo note, unframed photos are perfectly fine, too, because I have personally observed many, many times that people will often re-frame a photo to suit their home d├ęcor. You can also see this in the numerous photo frames donated to local charity shops.

In our house, we've gifted the following to both family and co-workers:

  • Lemon curd (this year, we ran out of time, so I gave lemons from our tree and the recipe. Oops! )
  • Homemade BBQ Rub - presented in foil containers from the local dollar store
  • Homemade pins made with oven-baked clay and decorated by our 11 year old artist in residence
  • Framed family photos
  • Hand-made cards
  • The lyrics to GNR's "Sweet Child O' Mine" to my daughter, framed and decorated
    • (If you're not really familiar with the Guns N' Roses song, in my opinion, it's a beautiful lullaby which is also a rock anthem. And... that's my daughter.)
  • Hand-roasted coffee from a local coffee shop (my husband and I encourage supporting local businesses whenever we can)
  • Bookmarks made with favorite icons and characters; also, made with a favorite photo, then sealed with packing tape for durability
Other modest gifts that I've seen others give which were grandly appreciated were:

  • A necklace of stones, for a person who loves stones
  • A wine stopper
  • Hand-sewn Christmas ornaments
  • Hand-made potholders
  • Warm gloves
  • Hand-painted ceramic plates 
  • Hand-painted tea cup
  • A gift card to a book store
In general, I encourage everyone to stay away from fashion purchases, clothing, art or perfume. Although I mentioned these as possible gift choices, these items are very personal and, unless you know the recipient "like a sister from another mister", you'd best leave these normally expensive items off your list. Be prepared to include a gift receipt and encourage the gift recipient to return or exchange the gift if it simply doesn't work. No guilt, now. It'll be unkind.  A less  troublesome present might be a gift card to their favorite store in a modest amount.

If you are generous to a fault normally, you might be a little uncomfortable the first time you present a down-sized gift.   Gift giving is simply honoring a loved one with a considerate gesture. Try to remember that this is not a contest and if you are being judged, perhaps your recipient needs an even smaller gift.

If you focus on the thoughtfulness and love which helped you to select the gift, you'll succeed in presenting your gift with confidence. Your energy will also infuse the gift with an aura of intimacy and care and your gift recipient will truly feel it - right through the PEZ© character’s smile.

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