Gifts That Matter Don’t Come From Wal-Mart

… they come from the heart.

In most of our lives, there seems to be a never-ending string of gift giving occasions – birthdays, graduations, baby showers, wedding showers, and so on. That often means a never-ending string of gifts to give, and because we’re all so busy and harried, it’s often easier just to pop onto Amazon.com or into a local shop and quickly pick out some material item that we guess they’d like. A few minutes, a few dollars, and it’s done: a social check-box filled with a material item that both of you will forget in a month.

The amazing part of all of this is it’s often less expensive, much more meaningful, and often less time-intensive to give a gift that’s meaningful and personal. Gifts like that don’t involve a trip to Wal-Mart (possibly for components, but not for the gift itself) – they involve just a bit of thought and care.

Gifts that Come from the Heart and Won’t Break the Bank

A blank card where you write the note in your own handwriting.

Don’t spend $5 on the Hallmark special for a card for an occasion. Instead, just buy a bunch of blank ones and write notes on the inside in your own handwriting. Don’t know what to write? Save poem snippets and such that you like in a box somewhere and use those for the right occasion – if you read a poem that makes you think of someone, save it and use it in there. The minute it takes you to write a nice handwritten note is far less time than it takes to sift through the overpriced cards at the store – and more meaningful and cheaper, too.

Baby shower? Give a certificate or two for nights of free babysitting.

Again, this just takes a minute or two now – write it out on a slip of paper and put it in the card. Later on, when they redeem it, it’ll be a gift that they’ll cherish – an evening of free time with their spouse to have a nice dinner and rekindle their marital relationship without the child around. That’s an amazing gift – and it comes from being a caring friend, not from being a department store shopper.

Graduation? Send homemade care packages to a college student.

Give them a card telling them that you’ll give them their graduation gift when they go away to college, then send them a few hand-made care packages – homemade cookies, snapshots of their home and families and places they hung out at in high school or local events, or even better, a letter bundle – collect short notes from several of their friends still at home, wishing them well. Make a video tape or a DVD of stuff from home and include it. Send some basic toiletries, too (whatever you can get very cheaply with a coupon) – I was always glad to receive these in college. Two or three of these throughout that first college semester will mean far more than $20 in a Hallmark card at the graduation party.

Wedding shower? Make them an address book.

Ask the organizer for the names and addresses of everyone attending the shower, then fill out an address book for the person getting married. You can even the organizer of other showers to help with this. A basic address book can be had for pennies, but you can make something incredibly special out of it by doing this.

Or make them a “friends and family” cookbook.

Ask all of the guests for recipes (esp. of foods the married couple liked as they were growing up), then assemble them together in the cookbook. Aunt Martha’s lasagna recipe, written out in careful detail, will alone mean more than the blue light special.

Anything you can make is a great gift.

Here are a few cool ideas I’ve experienced.
– I like making food items for people as gifts – homemade bread and pasta, especially.
– My wife likes making homemade cookies and also makes homemade soap.
– One of our closest friends is a great photographer who likes finding personally meaningful things for people, taking the photographs, framing them, and giving them as gifts.
– Another person I know does the exact same thing with her sketches and watercolors.
– One friend crochets and knits all year long when relaxing, making scarves and socks and sweaters and afghans for people as Christmas gifts.
– My sister-in-law once gave us a journal made out of homemade paper and a piece of wire. The paper and covers had been washed, pulped, gently colored, and re-pressed into handmade sheets. My wife and I loved it.
– I’ve received many compelling and thoughtful mixtapes over the years that introduced me to lots of interesting music (india.arie, for one).

It works even for kids…

One of my son’s favorite toys is a sturdy handmade picture book depicting all of his family and people he knows with their names spelled out under them. It’s just photos glued firmly onto stiff scrapbook pages with writing underneath. He went through a phase not long ago where this was his favorite item on Earth.

What do all of these gifts have in common? They all say “I care” far more than the Wal-Mart special – and they’re all quite thrifty, too.

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