How to Give Frugal Holiday Gifts without Looking Cheap

christmas gifts

Flickr Image by Mackenzie

Remember how exciting Christmas used to be as a kid? You would wake up early, sit under the Christmas tree in your pajamas, maybe read the Christmas story, and then tear open your presents. But, as you grow up, Christmas becomes more stressful than fun, especially when you are on a tight budget. It can be hard to find a good gift that is inexpensive, but not cheap!

I’m not a stranger to cheap gifts. One Christmas my brother and I received calendars that were from the previous year! Another Christmas, a friend of mine received a set of hotel toiletry items! Maybe you’ve experienced a similar situation. Have you ever received a gift that has clearly been used—a half eaten box of chocolates, tarnished jewelry, used makeup, even used undergarments? What about a gift that was clearly free—promotional pens, rebate drug store items, even happy meal toys?

While we can all laugh looking back at these gifts and tell ourselves that we would never do something like this, it’s hard to be frugal at Christmas. We want give something special to all of the important people in our lives but we feel caught between racking up the credit card debt and resorting to the sort of cheap gifts listed above. I think the difference between cheap and frugal gifts comes down to the heart of the gift. Are you giving for the sake of giving a gift? Or, are you giving for the sake of the person? If you have the receiver in mind, as you think about frugal gifts, you aren’t likely to go wrong.

Here are some ideas for heartfelt, inexpensive gifts:

  • Write from the Heart: Make or purchase a nice card and write the recipient a heartfelt note about why you appreciate having him/her in your life.
  • Frame It: Find a nice photo of the recipient and frame it. Or, gather some photos and postcards from his/her favorite destination and frame them. You could also frame the recipient’s favorite poem.
  • Thrifting: If you have a good idea of the recipient’s style head to the thrift store for some great frugal finds on clothing and accessories.
  • Fun Reading: Head to a used bookstore and find a few classic books that fit with the recipient’s interests. If the recipient prefers magazines, find some current editions of their favorite magazines for a little light reading over the holidays.
  • Homemade Items: Spread some Christmas cheer with homemade cookies, bars or candy. Try out some of these recipes! Use your creative skills to knit some mittens, make jewelry or write a song. Try your hand at some of these homemade gifts!
  • Gift Baskets: Create a personalized gift basket with some of their favorite items. Depending on the recipient’s interests, you might create a movie theater basket, spa basket, snack basket, grocery basket, the possibilities are endless!
  • Gift of Experience: Give the recipient tickets to an upcoming movie, museum, concert or event. You and the recipient can enjoy the event as well as some time together.

Join the Conversation: What frugal gifts have you given that have been well received? Have you ever given a frugal gift that didn’t work out?

This entry was first posted Dec. 4, 2012.

Stewardship with Adults under 40: Possibilities Abound

Hello lovely readers! This week there will not be a formal post from frugal-community because I will be speaking at and co-hosting the Stewardship with Adults under 40: Possibilities Abound Kairos event at Luther Seminary this week. I am eager to engage people of all ages on this topic! Along the lines of this conference, I would love to hear from YOU dear reader whether you are under 40 or over 40: Why do you give? What is your number 1 reason for giving time and/or money to non-profit organizations? Leave a comment on this post with your response or tweet your answer to @frugalcomm #stewunder40. I would love to hear what you have to say and your response just might be shared at the event!

 

Frugal Entertaining: Hosting a Party on a Budget

Photo Credit: Jason Barnette Photography

Photo Credit: Jason Barnette Photography

Summer is the perfect time of year to host a party whether it is a backyard BBQ, classic dinner party or a Fourth of July bash! So how do you host a frugal party without looking cheap? Here are some tips for how to entertain without breaking the bank:

  • Choose a Theme: A theme will help you keep the party food and décor cohesive as well as keep you from splurging. You might choose a seasonal theme (Summer), a type of food (Mexican), a holiday (4th of July) or something entirely different. Be creative! Take a look at this wisebread article or my article on hosting a party for some fun party ideas. Also, check out House Party and apply to host a party with some fun freebies.
  • Vary the Time: If you want to host a party, but you’re not sure you can handle a dinner party. Why not throw a brunch party, it is just as fun but a lot cheaper. Or, throw a dessert and drinks or wine and cheese party later in the evening.
  • Splurge Strategically: Keep the party menu simple, using as few ingredients as possible, splurging on a few special  items like an expensive cheese or a signature drink. Use in season ingredients as they are likely to be cheaper and more fresh. Check out frugalfoodiefamily or The Frugal Chef for some fun frugal recipes.
  • Shop Smart: Set a budget and stick to it. If you have trouble with this, bring cash to ensure that you don’t overspend. Have a defined menu in mind, but also have an open mind in case you stumble upon some really good deals.
  • Nail the Presentation: Presentation is everything. Buy inexpensive garnishes such as herbs and fresh fruit, to dress up your plates. Take extra time to arrange your dishes, this makes any dish look more appetizing, even if it is just Oreos.
  • Let the Guests Help: Try a spin on the traditional potluck by assigning each guest a different course according to your theme. If you decide to do most of the cooking yourself, have your guests bring a starter, bread, or a dessert that they can easily pick on the way to your party. If you decide to have a wine + cheese party or a dessert + drinks fête have your guests bring along their favorite drink or mixer.
  • Décor: Use what you have creatively and borrow anything that you don’t have. At my first dinner party I used my grandmother’s china that I inherited and had a friend bring over his inherited china and we alternated place settings. Even though it was mismatched, they looked great together and we both got use out of china that we never use. If you must buy, check the dollar store for napkins, plates, silverware, and décor.
  • Fourth of July: Hosting a Fourth of July party? Check out this wisebread article for some creative party ideas. Take a look at beating broke and kens5 for some delicious and festive recipes. Happy hosting!

Join the Conversation: What are some of your favorite frugal party recipes? Leave a comment on this post.

Spring Green: Frugal Sustainability

Spring is finally here! The grass is green and plants are finally beginning to grow in Minnesota! All of this green, reminds me of all of the great reasons to live more sustainable lifestyle. Curious how you can save the earth and save money at the same time? Check out some of these frugal sustainability ideas:

  • Eat Local: Frequent some of your city’s sustainable restaurants and coffee shops if you are in the twin cities check out these. Buy your groceries at the Farmer’s Market or your neighborhood co-op, join a CSA, or grow your own produce in a garden. Don’t have enough space for a garden in your yard? Reserve a space in a community garden or urban plot.
  • DIY: You can save a lot of money by creating your own green products. Make your own household cleaners and beauty products. Grow your own medicinal herb garden. Make your own gifts!
  • Shop Smart: Buy eco-friendly, local products with less packaging. Don’t buy more than you need, only buy what you will use. Transport your groceries with refillable canvas bags, if you must use paper or plastic bags reuse them.
  • Save Energy: Unplug appliances. Switch off lights when you leave the room. Turn down the thermostat a degree or two, for every one degree you can save 3% on your bill. Consider three-way lamps; they make it easier to keep light levels low when you don’t need a lot of light. Change three of your household light bulbs to compact fluorescent light bulbs.
  • Save Water: When washing clothes wash only full loads, use cold water and dry your clothes on a clothesline. Knock two minutes off your shower time.
  • Transportation: Bike to any destination within 1 mile of your home. If you must drive, combine all of your errands into one trip.
  • Reduce, Reuse and Recycle: Recycle and Compost. Bring a refillable water bottle rather than drinking bottled water. Bring your own coffee mug to the coffee shop instead of using disposable cups. Don’t print documents that can be easily read electronically. Use refillable binders instead of notebooks. Buy used clothes, furniture, and books. Check out freecycle.org a non-profit movement of people who are giving and getting stuff for free to promote less waste. It’s like craigslist but it is free.

Challenge yourself by incorporating at least one of these habits into your lifestyle! For more information visit this site on Frugal Sustainability.

Join the Conversation: How are you going green on a budget?

Frugal Fashion: Thrift Shop

One of my favorite songs on the radio is “Thrift Shop” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis because it is so catchy and it has a really great overall message – you don’t have to spend a lot of money to look good! A few weeks ago, I went thrift shopping with a friend and had a wonderful time. It is amazing what kind of clothes you can find with such great prices!

I absolutely love fashion, clothes, and accessories but I have found ways to express my love for fashion in a frugal way. I am overjoyed to offer you a few tips on fun and frugal fashion this week. Whether you’re a budding fashionista or you could care less about fashion, I hope that you will find a few helpful tips about shopping and keeping your style in tip top shape!

  • Get Inspired: Fashion magazines, websites, and blogs are great inspiration for reinventing your style and your closet. Lucky Magazine is all about shopping and the subscription is very cheap. For online inspiration check out frugal-fashionistas or The Fab & Frugal blog.
  • Reinvent Your Closet: If your style feels flat and you’re out of money the best thing to do is to take some time to sift through your closet. How many new outfits can you create by mixing and matching some of your old pieces? You may even find that gem that stuck in the back of the closet!
  • Tailoring: If you really enjoy an old piece of clothing or a pair of shoes it is often easier to get them repaired than buy new ones. Just make sure to find a good tailor and/or cobbler.
  • DIY: Update something old. Put new buttons on an old jacket. Dye your old jeans. For inspiration check out these DIY fashion blogs. I recently added some sparkle to one of my dresses using a silk sash and vintage pin that I already had in my closet.
  • Real Vintage: There is always talk of “vintage” style, instead of investing money in “vintage” clothing why not scour some of your mother or grandmother’s old clothes and accessories? Some of my favorite jewelry came from my great aunt; it is fashionable and it tells a story.
  • Clothes Swap: Clean out your closets, grab some friends and have a clothes swap. Your old clothes will find new life and you might just find a new treasure!
  • Borrow: In college I had an “open closet” policy, many of my friends borrowed my dresses for dances or dates. If you have a special event coming up, consider borrowing instead of buying new and encourage your friends to do the same.
  • Invest In Quality: Although it can be alluring to buy a lot of pieces from a cheaper clothing store, instead of just a few from a more expensive store it is often better to invest in quality over quantity. Invest in quality, versatile pieces that you can reinvent for any season. Then you can buy a few, cheaper, seasonal pieces.
  • Sales: My mom is a fantastic shopper and her cardinal rule is to beeline for the sales, you can see the other items when they go on sale. Collect coupons, many stores will let you combine deals just keep an eye on the small print. Limit yourself to shopping during big sales, just be careful not to overbuy.
  • Thrift Shops: Thrift/Second Hand Stores can be hit or miss, but often they are chock full of good deals if you are willing to sift through everything. My favorite second hand store in the Twin Cities is Second Debut 2. The one I went to last week is called Turn Style. There are many great boutique and chain thrift stores you just have to do a little research to find them.

Join the Conversation: What is your number one frugal fashion tip?

What’s Your Favorite Frugal Recipe?

Do you struggle to find frugal recipes that are both healthy and delicious? Do you wish that you could find some more recipes to add to your collection that have been recommended by other frugal people just like you? Look no further! Let me introduce you to a potential new addition to the right side bar of the frugal-community home page: Featured Frugal Recipe. Starting this week there will be a different featured frugal recipe each week. This week’s featured frugal recipe is California Grilled Veggie Sandwiches. Just click on the image in the right side bar to see the recipe. This is one of my personal favorite frugal recipes. It is cheap, easy, and absolutely scrumptious!

However, adding a new frugal recipe each week is quite a daunting task. So, I need your help! Please share with me your favorite frugal recipes by commenting on this post. All that I need is the title of the dish and a link to the recipe. If your recipe isn’t online please email me a copy of the recipe at: dduddy002@luthersem.edu. Pictures are appreciated! Don’t think that you have a great frugal recipe? Think again. I’m looking for anything from brown bag lunch recipes to crock pot recipes to brunch recipes. As long as it is frugal and delicious it qualifies!

If I can get at least 25 recipe submissions by next week, I will keep the Featured Frugal Recipe side bar feature as well as share all of the recipes that I receive on the frugal-community facebook and twitter pages for all of you to see!

So, what’s your favorite frugal recipe?

New Year’s Resolutions for 2013: 6 Reasons Why You Should Increase Your Charitable Giving

Are you hoping to increase your charitable giving in 2013? Do you want to give but you aren’t sure if you even have enough money to pay your rent this month? I have good news for you: you can give. Giving can be challenging, it takes some risk for us to give of our time and our money, particularly when those are scarce resources. However, the reward of helping our neighbors, whether near or far, far outweighs the risk. Whether you are giving for the first time or just challenging yourself to do a little bit more, here are some great reasons why you should increase your charitable giving this year:

  • Purpose: Giving, whether of time or money, reminds us that we have a greater purpose  than just satisfying our own needs. Giving brings us outside of ourselves and teaches us that we each have the capacity to help our neighbor and to be helped by them.
  • Community: Giving connects us with the greater community, both local and global. Giving keeps us attuned to the world outside of ourselves and provides us with the opportunity to form new relationships.
  • Multiplication: When we give, what we have is multiplied to meet the needs of others. One of my favorite organizations, Feed My Starving Children, which feeds starving children around the world, can provide someone with a meal for 22 cents. I can’t even think of something that I can buy for 22 cents! Even a small donation can meet a lot of needs. A gift of $10 can provide 45 meals to starving children. For help, choosing a charity that will be able to multiply your gift check out this article.
  • Habit: Even if you can only give a small amount of time or money, this small step will help you begin a habit that will last a life time. Start by giving $10 and 1 hour/month to an organization of your choice and challenge yourself by doubling the amount next year.
  • Creativity: There are some many Creative Ways to Give Back through social media, click giving, recycling and much more, so even if you can’t give money you can still give. There are also many creative ways to volunteer that are both fun and helpful!
  • Two for One: In addition, you can give by giving gifts that give back. These are not only great gifts to give to a friend or relative, but they are also a way to give back to neighbors in your community or across the world. Great examples of this would be TOMs Shoes, The Giving Keys, and Oxfam America.

For more good reasons to give to charity check out this article. Still wondering where you are going to find an extra $10 to give? Start tracking your spending, especially the money you spend on food and drinks, more than likely you will find a few expenses that you could forgo each month in order to give like 2 lattes or one dinner out per month.

Join the Conversation: How are you increasing your charitable giving this year?

Gifts That Give Back

A couple of years ago, my brother sent me a really interesting gift for my birthday, a stove. oau10-36As a person living inside a dorm room the size of a walk-in closet, this seemed like an odd gift. But, as I looked at the card more closely I realized that my brother had given money to Oxfam America, in honor of my birthday, that would provide displaced women with a cooking stove that would both keep them warm and cut down on their need for firewood. It was one of the best birthday gifts that I have ever received.

This week I want to look at a variety of different alternative gifts that give back. Frugality is about much more than saving money, it is about putting your money towards the things that really matter. Here are some gifts that allow you to do just that:

  • Charitable Giving: Giving a donation in the receiver’s name to a charity that the receiver cares about never goes out of style. But what if you aren’t sure which charity they care about? Through Just Give you can give a gift card that allows the receiver to give the charity/charities of their choice.
  • Savings: Tired of giving gifts that sit on a shelf or get thrown away? Why not put money in a savings account toward a specific goal? For a child, you might put money in a college savings account. For adults, you might put money towards a special trip.
  • Gifts in Action: These are gifts like the cooking stove that my brother gave me. Oxfam America offers many of these gifts under $25 including art supplies for kids, honey bees, and blankets. Similarly, ELCA Good Gifts offers chicks, ducks, and water jugs. Lastly, the USO has a similar program that provides items like comfort food packages and phone calls home for the troops.
  • Fair Trade Gifts: If you are looking for a more tangible gift, you might look for fair trade gifts. Too often, especially during the holidays, we are so consumed by finding a good deal that we don’t look into the way that a product was made and/or traded. To find fair trade gifts in your area check out Fair Trade Federation. If you are looking for coffee, tea, or chocolate check out Peace Coffee.
  • Buy One, Give One: These gifts provide a physical gift for your user as well as gift to those in need. TOMS’ company philosophy is one for one. For every pair of shoes or eyewear purchased TOMS will give a pair to a child in need. Similarly, the Feed Project sells bags and apparel with the intent of feeding and educating people in need. For instance you can buy a FEED NYC bag for $30 that provides 25 meals to New Yorkers affected by Hurricane Sandy or you could buy a FEED 1 Bag for $80 that provides food for 1 child for 1 year. Lastly, The Giving Keys employs people transitioning out of homelessness to engrave old, recycled keys with a word of hope to make a pendant for a necklace. The best part is that these necklaces are not meant to be kept, but rather given away to someone who needs the message.

Join the Conversation: What are some of your favorite gifts that give back?

How to Give Frugal Gifts without Looking Cheap

Remember how exciting Christmas used to be as a kid? You would wake up early, sit under the Christmas tree in your pajamas, maybe read the Christmas story, and then tear open your presents. But, as you grow up, Christmas becomes more stressful than fun, especially when you are on a tight budget. It can be hard to find a good gift that is inexpensive, but not cheap!

I’m not stranger to cheap gifts. One Christmas my brother and I received calendars that were from the previous year! Another Christmas, a friend of mine received a set of hotel toiletry items! Maybe you’ve experienced a similar situation. Have you ever received a gift that has clearly been used—a half eaten box of chocolates, tarnished jewelry, used makeup, even used undergarments? What about a gift that was clearly free—promotional pens, rebate drug store items, even happy meal toys?

While we can all laugh looking back at these gifts and tell ourselves that we would never do something like this, it’s hard to be frugal at Christmas. We want give something special to all of the important people in our lives but we feel caught between racking up the credit card debt and resorting to the sort of cheap gifts listed above. I think the difference between cheap and frugal gifts comes down to the heart of the gift. Are you giving for the sake of giving a gift? Or, are you giving for the sake of the person? If you have the receiver in mind, as you think about frugal gifts, you aren’t likely to go wrong.

Here are some ideas for heartfelt, inexpensive gifts:

  • Write from the Heart: Make or purchase a nice card and write the recipient a heartfelt note about why you appreciate having him/her in your life.
  • Frame It: Find a nice photo of the recipient and frame it. Or, gather some photos and postcards from his/her favorite destination and frame them. You could also frame the recipient’s favorite poem.
  • Thrifting: If you have a good idea of the recipient’s style head to the thrift store for some great frugal finds on clothing and accessories.
  • Fun Reading: Head to a used bookstore and find a few classic books that fit with the recipient’s interests. If the recipient prefers magazines, find some current editions of their favorite magazines for a little light reading over the holidays.
  • Homemade Items: Spread some Christmas cheer with homemade cookies, bars or candy. Try out some of these recipes! Use your creative skills to knit some mittens, make jewelry or write a song. Try your hand at some of these homemade gifts!
  • Gift Baskets: Create a personalized gift basket with some of their favorite items. Depending on the recipient’s interests, you might create a movie theater basket, spa basket, snack basket, grocery basket, the possibilities are endless!
  • Gift of Experience: Give the recipient tickets to an upcoming movie, museum, concert or event. You and the recipient can enjoy the event as well as some time together.

Join the Conversation: What frugal gifts have you given that have been well received? Have you ever given a frugal gift that didn’t work out?

Join in on #GivingTuesday: A New Holiday Tradition

We have one day for giving thanks and two for getting deals, wouldn’t it be great if we had a day for giving back?

Welcome Giving Tuesday a new, charitable addition to the week after Thanksgiving!

As the mission statement says, “#GivingTuesday™ is a campaign to create a national day of giving at the start of the annual holiday season. It celebrates and encourages charitable activities that support nonprofit organizations.” On this day there are a variety of ways that you can give back:

  • Volunteer: You can take a little bit of time to volunteer for one of your favorite organizations .
  • Give: You can give money to help support your favorite cause.
  • Advocate: Support your favorite organization by advocating for it via social media.

Like I said in my post on Thanksgiving, I am most thankful for the ways that I have been able to give back. So take a day to give of your time, talent, passions, and money. No gift is too small! Don’t forget to tweet using the hash tag #GivingTuesday!

For more information on Giving Tuesday or some of the organizations involved in this movement, check out the Huffington Post’s series on Giving Tuesday or visit the Giving Tuesday website.

Join the Conversation: How will you celebrate Giving Tuesday?