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Monday, December 19, 2011

Gift Giving Appropriately and Frugally

Its that time of year when gift giving is heavily on our mind. Who to give to, what to give, and how to acquire those gifts you'll be giving. When we give gifts, we may have many considerations on our mind in order to put together the perfect gift. You may be trying to get a gift tailored to the recipient's personality, or might be on the lookout for the best bargain, or may have other specifications, like giving only gifts that mesh with your values...

How do you gift give appropriately and frugally? 


Well, to do this, you first have to define what an appropriate gift is, and think about what frugal really means...


I remember one year I was determined to make everyone homemade gifts in an effort to save money. One relative is relatively "natural", so I made her an herbal medicinal salve, which didn't cost me too much money. Frugal perfect gift, or so I thought... until I discovered it a year later in her house completely untouched. Can something really be a great gift if the recipient never uses it? If you spend a small amount of money on something that ends in the trash or unused, can that really be called frugal?

A relative of mine year after year gets me the same type of gift; its something that I have no use for, and I just end up accumulating more and more of that type of item every year. While I doubt this person is spending a fortune on these gifts, in my opinion, those gifts are decidedly unfrugal because they're a waste when given to me.
On the other hand, a relative once got me a set of wooden salad forks. They weren't so cheap (I think), but this relative got them for me because she knew how much I loved serving salads and having beautiful serving equipment, and her thoughtful gift gets tons of use from me all the time. Because the gift was given thoughtfully, taking into consideration my likes and dislikes, it has been one of the most useful gifts I have ever received... and if you divide the times it was used by the amount of money spent, I'd say its probably one of the most frugal gifts I've gotten.

When it comes down to it, the true frugality of a gift is tied into how much thought was put into the gift to determine what the most appropriate gift for that person would be. This is partially why this year, my husband and I decided that we're only giving gifts to our kids (well, that on top of other reasons), because we're not going to waste time and energy on giving gifts to people that we don't know well enough to know what they'd actually like. I see no point in getting a generic gift for someone that won't be appreciated; my mother used to talk about people that give gifts to others based on what they'd like to get as gifts, and not based on what the other person that would like to receive. (Last year, I gave everyone homemade soaps, and even if these weren't the most thoughtful gifts catered to individuals, everyone needs soap in their life, and all the recipients used the gift, making it at least a practical useful gift, even if it wasn't tailored to each recipients' life.) I may end up giving one or two other gifts to people I am close to that I know I'd be able to get or make them a gift they'd appreciate, but I may not, as preparations for giving birth are foremost on my mind.

So, when it comes to getting gifts for my kids, how do I decide what is an appropriate gift? (This method can be applied for anyone who wants to get gifts for other people, but is especially applicable to giving gifts to children.)

Ever see children pining away for a specific gift, sure that that's exactly what they want, then you spend a lot of money on buying that gift, and after only the first day of having that gift, the novelty wears off and its relegated to the back of the closet, and either forgotten about entirely or played with only once in a blue moon?

I'd hate to spend money on a gift, or time and effort making a gift that will just sit on the shelf unused; I want whatever gifts I give to be well used. The way I do this is by looking out for cues to know what my kids really want and what will actually be used.

This year, I got my children a few different gifts. (Both for the holidays and for when I have a baby; I believe it to be a good thing for older siblings to get gifts when they have a new sibling to help with resentment issues.)

My children have been asking me for a toy kitchen for a while. They are home with me all day. This blog might give you a good clue that I do spend a lot of my time in the kitchen preparing all sorts of yummy foods. My kids love to help in the kitchen when they can; they want to learn to cook already. (My 2 year old already asks me recipes for foods he loves and my 4 year old can tell me what foods he wants me to make and approximately how to make them.)
Two of my kids' friends have play kitchens. Whenever we go to their house for a play date, that is what they play with the entire time. They "cook foods", serve me food, make various concoctions, etc.
And they keep on asking me for a toy kitchen of their own.
Personally, I know a toy kitchen will be used by my kids, precisely because they've shown me how much they love the toy by playing with it sooo many times at friends' houses.

I was going to build them a toy kitchen and even picked up some scrap wood from the dumpster outside the local carpentry shop with which to build it, but then I found a toy kitchen in the garbage outside my home a few weeks ago.
It was caked in dirt, filled with mud and leaves, was missing a door to the oven, had all the stickers and decorations removed (aside for some sticker remnants) and was a very "blah" piece of plastic, but otherwise in good condition.
My husband and I cleaned off the toy kitchen very well, then scraped off the sticker residue. I then used a permanent marker to decorate the boring plastic somewhat and drew on a burner, numbers for the dial, sink drain and a clock (son's request) with permanent marker. We used some scrap wood and duct tape to make a door for the oven that opens and closes, and then used a glue gun to attach clothes pins to the back of the toy kitchen to hold up towels that I cut out from the scraps left over after making my homemade postpartum pads.

I wanted to make my children felt food to go with their toy kitchen, but one trip to the fabric store discouraged me. Felt is really difficult to get in my area; if you want to buy it, you need to buy minimum 1 yard of each color, and since felt is far from cheap locally, making my own felt food would be a very expensive project. (Thrift stores don't either have wool sweaters that I could felt myself.) Even if I wanted to buy other fabric with which to make the toy food, I'd have to buy minimum half a yard of each color, which would quickly add up. Instead, I came to terms with the fact that it actually is cheaper to buy my kids the toy food instead of making it. Same with toy kitchen tools. I found some toy food and utensils, pots, pans, etc... for pretty cheaply but at the same time, not junk quality (which would just end up in the trash in 5 minutes), and that's all we ended up investing on accessories for the toy kitchen.
In addition to the bought accessories, my kids will be using can covers as plates, and using a cheapo kitchen sponge, and an old spice container and a second hand rolling pin in their new kitchen.

My kids have seen us working on the toy kitchen, and even without their accessories to go with the kitchen, as soon as I finished decorating the kitchen, they were all over it and have been busy "cooking spices with some potatoes and chicken" (their words) out of their blocks and stacking cups, and even using a remote control with an antenna as a turkey baster.

A toy kitchen, therefore, in my opinion is an appropriate and frugal gift for my kids because a) it's something they've been asking for, b) its something they've shown they will use, and c) it didn't end up costing me too much money.

Additionally, when it comes to choosing appropriate gifts, there are other considerations I try to have in mind, namely- what is the purpose of this gift? Is it just to occupy the kids and keep them busy, or is there a greater purpose?
I can get my kids an electronic gizmo that my kids may enjoy playing with and may provide them with hours of entertainment, but my point of getting toys for my kids isn't just for them to be kept busy. I think play has so much potential for usefulness; play can be very educational, brain boosting, and teaching valuable life skills; why would I want to give my kid a toy that does none of that and just keeps my kids busy?
Because of that, I specifically prefer giving my kids open ended gifts that allow for imagination, creativity, and free play. My children, lately, have been playing so many imaginative games (I'm amazed at what they come up with); a toy kitchen just gives them even more "tools" with which they can use their expand their mind instead of just occupying their time.

The gift that I picked out for my kids for when I have a baby is a baby doll for each of them.
When Ike was born, I bought Lee a baby doll. I found it helped him feel "big" and connect more to the baby. When I'd take care of Ike, Lee would take care of "his baby". It taught him to be gentle with the baby and in general, I felt it encouraged him to feel empathy for his little brother, and didn't make him feel "out of the loop" and excluded. If you see on the right, he even would "nurse his baby"- "stealing" my nursing pillow, picking up his shirt, positioning the baby on his chest, etc...
Lee loved his baby doll... until it got so dirty and gross and disgusting that I ended up throwing it out.

Lee's asked me for a baby doll for a while already; Ike also has been asking for a baby doll. This asking for a baby doll is partially what encouraged me to get them baby dolls for when I have the baby. On top of that, they've been taking stuffed animals and pretending that they're their babies, and then wearing these "babies" in slings, and putting these babies to sleep, taking the babies for walks, nursing them, etc...
When they can't find these stuffed animals, they make babies out of whatever they can- they stuck a hot water bottle inside a hat and were toting it around, telling me it's their baby. Basically, they don't have baby dolls now, want some, and have been doing whatever they can to play with their makeshift babies in the meantime. This tells me that the baby dolls will be put to very good use. I told the kids that they'll be getting baby dolls from their unborn sibling as soon as he/she is born, and my kids were so excited and asked me "Mommy, when will you have the baby already?" because they can't wait to have their baby dolls...

In case you think I'm ultra feminizing my boys... lol, I'm not. I don't believe in gender specific toys (and I especially don't think babies or cooking are feminine per se- all the big chefs out there are men, and boys become dads one day), and my boys are just about as boyish as they come. They pretend they have guns and are soldiers/police men a lot of the time, they play with trucks and cars and do wild crazy "boy" games. I'm not in the least bit concerned about their masculinity, in any way shape or form.

One last gift my kids are getting this year, this one from my mom, but she asked me what my kids would like, is a soccer ball. My kids love playing soccer, love kicking balls around, and were sad about the fact that they didn't have their own. Again, a soccer ball encourages open ended play, and has the added benefit of encouraging exercise, making it a valuable toy.

So, in summary, how do you gift give appropriately and frugally?
In short- make sure you know what the person really wants. If its something they've been talking about getting for a while, especially if they borrow that item from someone else or constantly use that something else at someone else's house, that can clue you in on what would make a good gift for them.
If you're not close enough with someone to know this about someone, you can either ask someone else who does know them better... or you can just not give a gift (if it won't be taken harshly)... or you can even ask the person what they want. Better kill the surprise and get someone what they want than spend money, time, and/or effort on something they don't want or don't use.
Additionally, if you're buying for your kids, try to get something that has additional benefits, things that aren't just time wasters.
And be prepared to think outside the box, possibly upcycle something from the trash, thrift store shop, make from scratch, or even buy new, depending on what is available and what is cheapest in your area.

What types of gifts are you giving this season? How many people are you giving gifts to? How do you decide what types of gifts to give? Do you think about what the person would want and use, and then buy/make gifts depending on that, or see and buy what is cheap/on sale and then match the gift to the person who you'd think might like that gift most? What do you do about giving gifts to people you don't know well enough to know their tastes? Do you gift give anyhow, or just not give those people, or give them generic gifts that everyone would like?
Do you have specific criteria for gift giving to your children that would differ from the types of gifts you'd give to other people?
If you make homemade gifts for people, do you find the gifts are always appreciated, or do you sometimes find they go unused and end up in the trash or at least shoved in the back of a closet?
Are there any gifts that people keep on buying you without taking into account your needs/ lifestyle/ personality that end up being a waste? What gifts are they?

Linking up to Frugal Days Sustainable Ways, WFMWSimple Lives Thursday Frugal Friday

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