Frugal NationFrugal Nation

13 ways to give gifts that matter

Forget the latest gadgets and gimcracks. Make your presents count. Bonus: Some of these options cost little or nothing but time.

By Donna_Freedman Dec 6, 2012 12:02PM

Logo: Gifts (Image Source Black/Jupiterimages)A woman I know was recently given two kitchen gadgets: one that produces "cake pops" and one that promises shell-less hard-boiled eggs.

I looked up these "as seen on TV!" items online and found they both got fairly negative customer reviews. Yet they'll probably sell like gangbusters this Christmas.

And you'll probably see a lot of them at yard sales and thrift stores in the coming year.

Why just grab the first thing you see in the store? Forget the latest gadgets and gimcracks, and make your presents matter.

That doesn't necessarily mean "homemade," either.

Match your gift to the recipient: a transit pass for a commuter, maybe, or a personal finance book for a recent graduate with a lot of student loans.

As always, use frugal hacks to get as much bang for your buck as possible. For example, you could use gift cards from a rewards program to pay for that book.

Who knows? You might wind up giving more, but paying less.

Gifts that give back

1. Books.
Any title that teaches a new skill or challenges a mindset "could be a gift that gives back tenfold," says Jason Topp in this post on Wise Bread. I'm partial to personal finance books, but it could also be a treatise on cooking, home repair, travel or whatever interests the recipient. Or how about a copy of the Entertainment Book, to save money during the year? (Hint: Order it through a cash-back shopping site like ExtrabuxMr. Rebates or FatWallet.)

2. Gift cards.
Depending on the person, you can go for utility (gasoline, groceries, drugstores, pet-care places) or for frivolity (movies, restaurants, spas). Cash in rewards points to get them for free, or buy discounted cards on the secondary market (visit GiftCardGranny to find the best prices).

3. Social buying vouchers. There's a secondary market for these, too; see "The cure for a Groupon goof." Some of these deals can be incredibly cheap, e.g., less than $2.

4. Bill buster.
Know someone in arrears with a hospital or utility? Make a payment against the debt. Even a $20 payment is one step closer to solvency, especially if other relatives or friends follow your lead.

Paying forward

5. College days.
For children under 18, donate to an education plan; sites like GradSave and can help with that. For current students, send money directly to the college for next semester's tuition.

6. Warehouse clubs.
Give a year's worth of bulk buying. Gasoline prices are pretty good at these places, too.

7. Community-supported agriculture.
Fresh produce for months! This Department of Agriculture tool will help you find a CSA farm near you.

8. Annual memberships.
Museums, zoos, science centers -- whatever appeals.

9. Tickets.
For a concert, play, sporting event or anything else your recipients love. Watch for seasonal specials and social buying vouchers.

Cheap or free
10. Homemade coupons. 
In this post on BlogHer, Heather Clisby riffs on those "Good for one hug!" things we made as kids. Run with it, she advises: "Go full retro -- make it from construction paper, glue, glitter, the whole nine yards." Clisby will give coupons this holiday for "unquestioning assistance" on the project of the recipients' choice. Or pair these coupons with gift cards or social vouchers, e.g., free babysitting while the recipients go out for tapas or a movie.

11. Photo gifts.
Copy old family photos and put them in frames from the thrift shop or dollar store. (Make sure to write identifying information on the backs of the pictures.)

12. DIY day spa.
Homemade bath salts (Epsom salts with a bit of fragrance), salt or sugar scrubs, massage oil, "lip scrub" -- these and other items are simple to make and luxurious to receive Do a Bing search for "homemade spa gift ideas."


13. Baked goods. Use an old family recipe and include a recipe card with a bit of history, suggests Heather Spohr of the Women & Co. blog. Not much of a cook? Make a homemade cookie mix instead. Given that we're inundated with special treats in December, this gift can be stored away for later: "The recipient isn't under any pressure to polish off the cookies before they grow stale."

Have any suggestions for gifts that matter, and that won't break the bank?

More from MSN Money:

Dec 6, 2012 3:45PM
Instead of buying gifts for friends, I asked the local schools how I could help students that couldn't afford either breakfast or lunch.  You could assist specific students if you knew their name or make a blanket donation.  Wrote a check and let my friends know that I made a donation in honor of their friendship with me!  Happy Holidays!
Dec 7, 2012 2:47PM

your frugal ideas are good.  I keep track of the gifts I give in a spiral notebook so I don't give the same friend a similar gift two years in a row.  But I have three employees that are all in college so I make "goodie" bags for them.  All year long I coupon and get items free or cheap, fill the bag with things like socks, soaps, lotions, lip balm, candy, cookies, toothpaste etc and then include a gift card for my business for $100, I also collect and put in them coupons from the Entertainment Book for places that offer buy one get one free that I know they like to eat at.  They all look forward to them as many are living in their first apartments.


I also hit the after holiday sales for any holiday.  Get gift bags, candy (chocolate can be frozen) and gifts for the next year.

Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.


Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.