It’s that time of the year again. People all across the world are trying to come up with holiday gift ideas for the frugal and practical people in their life, while the frugal people among us are trying to figure out how to give thoughtful gifts to the people in their life without going into bankruptcy.
Although I’ve written gift guides for people many times in the past (here are gifts to give to frugal/practical people, sub $10 gift ideas, inexpensive last-minute ideas, and a collection of homemade gift ideas), I’m always inundated with queries from interested readers this time of the year asking for new gift suggestions, both in terms of inexpensive gifts and in terms of gifts that their frugal/practical friend will like (I think I’m a proxy for many people when they think of their frugal/practical friends).
For starters, I strongly encourage you to check out those previous guides, as many of the ideas are still quite relevant now. What follows are some additional ideas that I’ve received, seen, discovered, or made in the last year or two (apologies in advance if there are any direct duplicates from the earlier posts).
I’ve divided this up into two sections, reflecting the two types of questions about gifts that I frequently hear this time of the year. First, a section on “gifts for frugal/practical people,” meaning gifts that might be somewhat expensive (or might not be) that frugal/practical people will genuinely appreciate. After that, a section on low-cost gifts with mass appeal, gifts that frugal people might consider for those on their gift list that they struggle to find the right gift for.
Ready? Let’s do this.
Gifts for Frugal/Practical People
Durable high-quality items that they’ll frequently use This is always my default gift suggestion if you’re looking for something for the frugal or practical person in your life. Look for something that you know that they use and get them a high quality and reliable version of that item. Here are some examples.
Socks Buy them a pair of merino wool socks with a lifetime guarantee, like the socks made by Darn Tough. They are rather pricy per pair, but they are extremely comfortable in all but the hottest of conditions, last for an extremely long time, and come with a great guarantee.
Other clothing You almost can’t go wrong with LL Bean or Land’s End in terms of solid quality clothes that will last and last. Both brands offer a lifetime guarantee on their products, so you can buy them knowing that if they ever do have a problem, your recipient can easily replace the item. (If you’re unsure of sizes, a gift card works well – I can’t imagine a frugal person not using a gift card to one of those places.)
Shaving If you’re giving a gift to a male friend or family member who stays clean shaven, consider getting him a safety razor and a supply of blades. A Merkur Classic safety razor along with 100 double-edged blades, a shaving brush (which basically ensures that you never over-apply shaving cream once you start using it – I use a tiny fraction of the quantity of cream I used to once I switched to a brush), and some high-quality shaving soap or shaving cream. It takes a little longer to shave this way, but the shave is so close that you don’t have to shave nearly as often (especially compared to electric) and the cost per shave is way lower because of the far less expensive blades.
Other items The best overall approach to take is to simply talk to the person and see if you can pick up on things they use that are wearing out and may need to be replaced soon, then research versions of that item that are reliable, durable, and high quality. That’s pretty much a guarantee of a great gift. For example, if someone loves to grill but is grumbling about a rusty grill, get that person a ceramic grill that’s pretty much impervious to rust. Just spend the time to specifically research that product type.
Consumable items that match their tastes Frugal people almost always love consumable items. It’s a treat that they often won’t buy for themselves but they can thoroughly enjoy, it won’t take up space in their home or end up sitting in their closet. In short, consumables are pretty practical as far as gifts go. Here are a few examples.
Coffee If the person you’re gifting loves coffee, consider getting them a bag or two from a very reputable coffee roaster like Stumptown or Chromatic or, better yet, a local roaster from your area. If you want them to have coffee the whole year around, consider a coffee subscription service like Driftaway or Beanbox.
Craft beer If the person you’re gifting loves craft beer, get a few bombers or a six pack from a local brewery, particularly if you happen to live near a well-regarded one. If you don’t, stop by a local craft beer store and ask for some recommendations. Craft beer enthusiasts tend to appreciate new and unusual ones.
Chocolate Again, as with the above options, it’s never a bad idea to find a local chocolatier for a small assortment. If that doesn’t work out, look for a list of the best chocolates from a reputable publication (a href=”http://www.foodandwine.com/slideshows/best-chocolate-us#1″>like this one from Food and Wine) and pick out an item or two from that list, like the truffle assortment from Vosges which is mind-blowing but rather expensive per piece.
The advantage here is that these are all consumable. They can be eaten as a treat, easily shared with friends if they so choose, and eventually take up no space at home as they’re all consumed. If you can choose an item in line with their tastes, a frugal person will appreciate it, particularly if it’s a well made item or a local item. If in doubt, go local. Frugal/practical people
Items that simplify or reduce the cost of making things yourself Most frugal and practical people enjoy simply making things for themselves. They like to make things at home not just because it saves money, but because the process is enjoyable and the results are pretty good. Gifts in line with that mindset are usually appreciated.
Having said that, items that only have a single use or don’t match up with something that they’ll frequently use are frowned upon. The best gifts for frugal and practical people are items that they’ll reuse frequently, often replacing something they already have or providing a clear alternative.
Here are a few examples.
Coffee drinkers might appreciate a cold brew coffee system, which does away with the need for electricity or paper filters and produces wonderful mellow coffee that’s easily stored in the fridge. This cold brew coffee maker comes very well regarded; you just add water and grounds to the top chamber and let it sit in the fridge. My wife and I use both a coffee maker and a cold brew maker at our house, so they work in parallel.
An enameled cast iron pot is almost always a great gift for anyone that cooks at home. Enameled cast iron pots, especially larger ones, are incredibly useful because you can use them almost like skillets on the stovetop, use them like soup pots, and also make casseroles in them and bake things in the oven. I’ve done everything in ours – made bread, made stews, sautéed vegetables. While Le Creuset makes the best ones, they’re very expensive; Lodge makes one almost as good for a fraction of the price.
A multi-port USB hub is a surprisingly good gift for someone who has several electronic devices. It replaces the need to carry around lots of plug-in USB adapters and instead just requires them to bring around the requisite charging cables. I pretty much don’t leave my house without this one; it has a permanent home in my “to go bag” and it always seems to be an item that, when people see it, they go “I should really start carrying one of those!” Not only is it a convenient item to carry in one’s work bag, it’s also a pretty nice social opener as you always have a couple of ports free to offer to others who may need a charge.
Inexpensive Gifts for Everyone
What if you’re on the flip side of that coin? You’re a frugal person who wants to really stretch a dollar, but you also want to give meaningful, thoughtful, quality gifts to people for the holidays? Here are some things that you can give that everyone will like.
A simple item and a promise Give a person a very simple inexpensive item that lends itself to a common task that they might take on, but pair that item with a promise to actually help them with the task or take it on yourself.
For example, you might buy someone a caulking gun and some caulk, which can be relatively inexpensive, but put with it a note that you will come over and actually air seal their windows for them or help teach them to do it.
You might buy someone a hedge trimmer and put a note with it that you promise to come over and trim their hedges nicely in the spring. This is a particularly good gift for someone who might not enjoy landscaping and yard work.
You might give an elderly relative a 9″ by 9″ Pyrex baking dish, and on the inside tape a promise to come over and make five dinners for them and eat with them.
Something you made yourself Homemade gifts are always a great choice, particularly if you can make something well or you know how to make something that’s time consuming.
For example, we often receive jars of homemade food items from one of our closest friends who knows that I love fermented foods, so he cans some crazy variation on sauerkraut or pickles and gives me a few jars as a gift. It’s very inexpensive for him, just costing a few jars and the cucumbers or cabbage from his own garden, but I absolutely cherish that gift.
I have another friend who is a photographer who makes handmade stationery cards similar to these using inexpensive prints and extremely cheap blank stationery. These items cost her perhaps $0.30 per card to assemble, but the time invested in taking the photographs, choosing the prints, getting all of the stuff, and actually making the cards is incredibly thoughtful.
We have another relative who loves making handmade soaps. She makes an enormous batch of them every few years and gives several bars to people for the holidays. She’s also made bath bombs.
We have yet another friend who likes to make hand copies of poems along with a wonderful little drawing and frame them with an inexpensive frame as a gift (she drew this wonderful picture of me and my son standing together in the woods with the text of The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost a few years ago that brings tears to my eyes whenever I see it, but it cost her a few hours, a trivial amount of art supplies, and an inexpensive frame).
Another good idea: turn vintage books, comic books, album covers, sports cards, candy wrappers, or other such items into wall art. Figure out what the person you’re giving the gift to really enjoys, then find flat items that represent that interest, arrange the items well, and put them in an inexpensive frame.
Make something you know how to make well and share it. Often, the end result is far more valuable than the ingredients you put into it.
Letters Write a dozen or so letters to a person you care deeply about, appropriate for different occasions, and package them all up together.
For example, you might sit down and write a letter to your mother for a time when she’s lonely, a time when she wants to talk to you, a time when she wishes you were a little kid again, a time when she’s worried about the future, and so on. Write a letter just for your mother concerning each of those topics, saying the things you would want to say to her when she’s feeling that way and touching upon your shared experiences in the past.
This will take some time, no doubt, but the financial cost is pennies and it is so deeply sentimental that it will be an unforgettable gift.
A shared experience One great option is to give an inexpensive gift to someone that will provide the foundation for a shared experience for the two of you.
For example, you might give that person a copy of your favorite book. Take the time to write a nice inscription on the inside of the front cover and promise to go out for coffee or for an inexpensive dinner to talk about the book once they’ve read it. You can do the same thing for your favorite movie by handing over a copy of it on DVD or Bluray, along with a note promising to watch it together or talk about it afterwards.
If you happen to score some low-priced tickets to an interesting event, give one of the tickets to a friend so that they can plan to go to the event with you, providing a great shared experience.
In both cases, you’re adding the extra value to the item by relating it back to a personal connection between the two of you.
Charity time This is a surprisingly thoughtful idea for someone who wants to give a meaningful gift and has lots of time but very little money. Simply give someone a gift of some significant number of hours of your volunteer time.
For example, you might say that you will work 20 hours or 40 hours of volunteer work in the coming year for a cause of the recipient’s choice. This might be work for a political campaign, work for a local charity, or something else. They pick the charity, you put in the hours for that charity.
This is a great way for the recipient to feel like they’re bringing about meaningful change on a local level for a cause that they care about and you’re able to give that gift without any financial burden whatsoever.
It’s a good idea that, if you give this gift, you’re giving it to someone you’re roughly in political and moral alignment with. It would not work out well if you gave this to someone who then asked you to phone bank for a candidate you intensely disliked.
Gift giving occasions are difficult ones for frugal and practical people. Many holiday gifts are items that frugal and practical people really don’t want in their home, as they tend to be very selective and fairly minimalist about the items that they do choose to own.
At the same time, frugal people are typically fairly careful with their money and want to give meaningful gifts without just throwing money at the problem.
The ideas here are meant to provide ideas that can solve both problems, making the holidays better for frugal and practical folks both on the giving and receiving end of the equation. Hopefully, the ideas presented here will make the holidays a more joyous occasion for all involved.