Gifting For The Holidays, Penny's Way

Every year as the holiday season approaches, I have a dilemma about whether or not I should post about gifting for Christmas, because overall in the world I feel there is so much of an emphasis on consumerism. Christmas brings out the worst in consumerism, with so much pressure to give so much, keeping up with the Joneses, so as to not disappoint people, and I have a problem with that.
That said, while in other years I decided to give homemade gifts for the holidays, my kids have grown up and they realize that many of the homemade gifts I've made them in the past are "less than" and they really would prefer something store bought, even if cheap, over my homemade stuff, no matter how much love they were made with.
And fortunately we're in a place that we can afford to buy my children new toys, even if they're cheap. And we don't go overboard...
So while you can start to save money by sending e Christmas cards, here's my guide for how to gift for the holidays- in a way that is in line with my values- making your money spent worthwhile, but not breaking the budget.

My first rule for gifting is to give what someone would enjoy and not waste time, money and energy on something that they wouldn't.
As much as I think it's cute that there are so many different posts out there on the internet on different homemade gift ideas, unless you personally know that someone would appreciate a homemade gift, it generally is a waste to give them that. Sadly, too many people don't appreciate (most) homemade gifts and those tend to go into the garbage. The few exceptions tend to be knitted or crocheted gifts, some wood work, or otherwise some homemade gifts that take exceptional skill to make, and are on the same level as artisanal options people might buy on Etsy. One year, someone I know had their kids make a craft out of a clay like substance, and then gave everyone this project, which they turned into key chains. To be honest, this gift wasn't appreciated by pretty much anyone; it felt like they were just doing arts and crafts for fun, and then pass them on as gifts.
Instead, try to figure out what someone actually would enjoy, and give them that as a gift. This might take a little more energy, but if done properly, you can get cheap gifts (or even homemade, depending) for them that would be appreciated more than a more expensive gift not to their taste. For me, for example, I'd much rather have a pair of cheap costume jewelry- earrings, necklace, or bracelet, that can be bought as cheaply as 25-50 cents a piece, than expensive lotions and body creams.

My second rule of gifting is that gifts can definitely be something that you need.
My ten year old told me yesterday that he doesn't want to be a grown up because "when you're a grown up, you get socks and deodorant as presents instead of toys". Welcome to my world. My mother in law likes to give presents like that are useful, and kids, like my children, don't necessarily appreciate that, but as adults, my husband and I definitely appreciate her useful gifts of socks, undershirts, deodorants, soaps, napkins, etc... Wrap something up and present it nicely and it's a gift.
If you need or want a new appliance- for example if your vacuum cleaner broke, read up on how to choose the perfect vacuum cleaner, and as long as the vacuum cleaner is a gift for someone who'd appreciate it, it's a perfect thing to give as a gift.

My third rule of gifting connects to the second one- save up things you would have bought anyhow and give them specifically for the holiday.
For example, if you are buying your family new winter pajamas, wrap them up and present them as gifts. This can be in addition to or instead of other gifts, depending on how your family dynamics and finances work.
There are so many things I'd thought about getting for my children, and I could have gotten them for my kids then and there, but instead I decided to save up these things and buy them specifically for the holidays.
Like my son is just starting to enjoy reading for fun. He's read the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, I got him to read the My Weird School Daze series, and I'm trying to get him to branch out into other series of books as well (he wants books to have pictures every page, even if he can read just fine without them), so I decided to buy some books to tempt him. I bought the Wayside School series by Louis Sacher, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and the first book of the Happy Hollister series, all books that I grew up with and loved. And this is definitely something I'd consider a homeschooling expense, something I would have gotten for him anyhow, but I specifically ordered it to arrive in time for the holidays, because why not present it as a gift?
Another thing is that because of my style of parenting, influenced by Dr Gordon Neufeld, I want my home and myself to be the biggest influence on my children, so that they are parent oriented instead of peer oriented. For that reason, I want my house to be the "go-to" place for my children and their friends; I want my house to be fun and exciting to visit and play there. To entice my children to want to play at home I want my house to be well stocked with good toys, and I've paid attention to which toys and style of toys my children love at friends' houses, and tried to stock my house with those same things. Last year I bought my children one big present to share- 2 sets of a Magnatile knock off that I bought through a Groupon like website. It was a large expense, but these toys are still used daily around my house, so well worth it.
For this year, I bought my children toys that I knew they'd enjoy since I'd seen them enthralled with similar games at friends' houses- 2 different sized Perplexus type maze balls, 2 different sized Rubik's cubes, the game Penguin Trap, and the card game Sushi Go. Plus the aforementioned books. Since Anneliese is turning 6 during the holidays too, she also is getting two extra presents- a giga pet (remember those? She wanted a hatchimal but those are out of stock and a fortune, but I figured the giga pet type thing would give her the fun of "raising" and "taking care of" an animal) and a Barbie doll with a few changes of clothes.
For myself and husband, I bought some new clothing and a card game I'd heard rave reviews about.
No, I didn't buy a large amount of gifts, but I don't want my children to grow up needing tons and tons of gifts to be happy. But each gift I bought was something I'd planned on buying anyhow, and I just timed the purchase for the holidays to make it more special.

My fourth and fifth rules go together- buy presents from discount sources, and plan for presents early to get the best deals. 
If you know what you want to purchase as gifts, keeping a look out for months in advance can help keep down your costs. Things randomly go on sale throughout the year, and you might be able to spot something on your list at a fraction of the cost they would be otherwise. Additionally, buying things from bargain websites like Ebay, Aliexpress, or Wish often entails long shipping periods but they can be bought very cheaply. This year I bought all my children's presents off of, since I find it to be very cheap and with much faster shipping than Aliexpress. I bought things at least a month ago, and as the items arrive, one at a time, I put them aside until it's time to present them to my kids.
When I was looking for gifts, the way I actually did it was by going to Wish, looking through the toys and games section, scrolling through until I saw a toy that I had considered buying, then put it on my wish list, and then once I had chosen them all, went through my wish list and compared prices (sometimes there were a few versions of the same item, so I went with the cheaper item) and then narrowed it down, and ended up with the selection I did.
You have to know who you're gifting to, and if they'd be the type to enjoy something great bought second hand, yard sales and craigslist and other online second hand forums are wonderful ways to find things low cost and second hand, that many would appreciate as gifts.
Thinking in advance allows you to spend less on the same item than you would have had you bought last minute. Though, sometimes things happen and you couldn't buy things in advance, so here are some awesome last minute Christmas gifts ideas if you're still looking.

Lastly, not a rule, but just a suggestion- especially with growing families, it gets expensive to buy gifts for siblings, siblings in law, nieces, nephews, grandparents, etc... At a certain point we decided in our families that people only gift to their children for the holidays, and grandparents also give if they want, but it definitely is worth a conversation with family about lowering expectations about who gives what, so it's not such an expense. If people do want to give gifts to family members outside just their children and spouses, doing a Secret Santa or some other similar gift exchange (like with a grab bag) also works and keeps costs down.

What are your rules for holiday gifting? Do you follow my rules, have a different set of rules, or really not follow any rules at all, and just give what you want? How do you keep down the costs for holiday gifting, while making sure that gifts are appreciated?

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. This post reminded me of an item (a set of reference books) that my husband once mentioned he would like. I filed it away in the back of my mind and as his birthday approached I posted in various Facebook groups to ask whether anyone was selling a Seth in the end someone gave me a set for free, and my husband loves it!

  2. What about dumpster diving for gifts?

    1. That would go against rule 1. Unless you managed to dumpster dive some really awesome stuff that your giftee would appreciate.

  3. Sorry, but "wrap up the stuff you would have bought anyhow and make it into a gift" is not gifting. It's just being cheap. Here, kids! New toothbrushes for Christmas! Yay!

    1. That goes back to rule one- give something they'd enjoy. Toothbrushes probably wouldn't be appreciated, so no, I wouldn't gift that. But sweaters, hats, pajamas, books, toys you were planning on getting anyhow, why not?

    2. I think it all comes down to ages/expectations/the level of materialism practiced in your home. My kids would all (ages 10,8,6,3,1) think a new toothbrush was exciting. (The ten year old less so, but he would appreciate it). Almost every year I gift a new hat, gloves, scarf etc. to whichever of my kids need a new one. Yes I would have bought it anyway, but it's still fun for them and they love it, because buying new things is not something we do "just because". We also practice a version of minimalism, so each of my kids only has one hat, pair of gloves, coat etc. So when they get a new one it's not just something else to add to the pile, it's something special. We do also get our kids something they want, like a toy, book, or game, but our 8 year old's favorite gift this year? A gift certificate to go out for ice cream with her dad! :)

  4. Thank you for sharing your gifting Rules. They realy make sense.
    As someone who does not like Christmas very much I tend to give presents during the year and well, yes, buy gifts during the year when on sale so my folks get at least one wraped parcel under the tree. I am done one 1st novmber. Since I am realy good in getting free stuff it's a running gag I bring a little gift (mostly free sampels) almost everyday in december for the teenage daugter of a coworker. (A great way of decluttering by the way.)

    I am more the no clutter, PLEASE! person. I realy enjoy gift certificates
    for my hairdresser or amazon or handmade christmass cookies and sweets.
    Might sound harsch but I have realized with time sometimes you need to make it very clear what you want or not want.

  5. My parents would do that to me with school supplies (back pack, etc) because my birthday is in late August. I wouldn't do it with toothbrushes but maybe a pack of plain socks and a pair of some fun ones.

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