Friday, January 11, 2013

Thoughtful Gifts On A Limited Budget

With the nature of my job, if I don't work, I don't get paid.  Therefore, I am home without any real source of income for the next 6 weeks.  Thankfully, there are a few things that will help out financially while I am off on leave.  Because I get paid every 2 weeks, I will still be receiving some paychecks during this time.  Also, my pay for teaching will start about the same time that I actually am able to work again since we are on a set pay schedule for the semester, regardless of the weeks we actually work.  We do have some money in our savings to help cover expenses as well.  However, on top of our main household expenses, we actually will have our son's 8th birthday next week, plus birthdays for my brother-in-law and his girlfriend in the month of February.  This got me thinking about gift-giving and gift-giving budgets.

Throughout the course of our marraige, we have had a wide variety of incomes, which dictates how much we spend on gifts for our children, eachother, and our extended families, as well as a few select friends that we enjoy exchanging gifts with when funds allow.  At times, we have had as little as $5 to spend on gifts for people outside of our immediate families, and while it was very challenging at times, some of the tricks I learned then to stretch that amount into a thoughtful gift, I still use today.  This allows us to get very nice gifts within our price range (which is a bit bigger now), and the money we save on these gifts allows us to have more money to spend when other needs arise.  

Whatever your gift budget may be, I hope that at least a few of my ideas will inspire you to give thoughtful gifts without thinking that you have to spend more money that you can afford.  Following are my best ideas for thoughtful gifts on a limited budget.

Photo gifts always seem to be well received.  At times when our gift budget was particularly small, a framed photo was my go-to gift.  I could pick up a nice frame for $1-3 at the discount store and then pay to have the photo printed.  (If you were really limited, you could even print your own photo at home.)  It could be a photo of you with the recipient, a very flattering photo of the recipient by themselves or with their significant other, or a photo of a special event they were a part of.  You could also use a larger print (such as a 5x7, 8x10 or even larger) and print one of those collage pictures from Walmart or Walgreens for less than $3.  

Another great way to get photo gifts inexpensively is to sign up for many different online printing websites.  Within the past year, I have gotten free personalized cards (some with photos and some without) from Shutterfly, Treat, Ink Garden, and York Photos, often times with free shipping.  These are great anniversary cards for my husband or sometimes just because he is so great.  :)  I would imagine they would also make great grandparent gifts as well.  

Speaking of grandparents, my in-laws look forward to the annual photo calendar we get them for Christmas each year.  What they don't know, is that I wait until Shutterfly or VistaPrint (I do prefer Shutterfly if possible) offers their free calendar coupon code (usually in November) and order it then, only paying around $5 shipping cost.  Now that we are able to spend more on gifts, this is just one of their gifts among others, but at times, this was their only gift and they still request one each year because they liked it so much.  I have also received coupon codes in my email for free photo books or simply $5, $10 or $20 off to use on any purchase, as long as I pay the shipping.

Want a few more ideas of how to use these deals to give gifts?  Recently, from the Walgreens online photo center, I was also able to order free personalized photo address labels with free shipping included.  These are ordered and will make a great gift for my best friend who recently got married.  I also previously mentioned the birthdays coming up.  On Shutterfly, using a $20 off coupon code, I was able to order my brother-in-law's girlfriend a 20x30 photo cling with pictures of them that look like they are in frames and their names on it for $3.99 after using the coupon plus $4.99 shipping.  So, for only $9, I was able to purchase a gift for her that is a very nice personal gift while still spending only a limited amount of money. 

If even $5 seems like a lot of money to spend on a gift, what about a food gift made by you.  Banana bread is fairly inexpensive to make if you have browning bananas that need to be used up, as long as you have basic baking supplies on hand.  To dress it up, take it out of the pan, wrap in plastic wrap and/or foil and put a bow on it.  If you have a few more dollars to spend, why not wrap a pretty-patterned dish towel around it  in a holiday theme or something you know would match their kitchen.  Those can also be bought at the discount store for only a few dollars.  Another idea would be cake mix cookies.  A batch usually makes about 2 dozen cookies.  This would be very inexpensive if you bought the cake mix when it was on sale for $1 and made the frosting yourself (or bought it on sale for a coupon).  You could also use leftover holiday candy bars to make them more like chocolate-chip cookies and then you wouldn't even need the frosting.  If you have a few extra dollars to spend, why not put them on a nice holiday or other serving platter also bought at the discount store or on clearance.

Speaking of clearance shopping, another way to save a lot of money on gifts, is to shop the clearance sections of your favorite stores.  Even better than that, is going to a store that sells items on discount already (like Marshalls or TJ Maxx, or even Target which has some nice items reasonably priced), and then shopping their clearance sections.  By doing this, I have been able to pick up some very nice clothes, accessories, pretty baking dishes, and candle sets for $10 or less.  The recipient receives a very nice item, and has no idea how little you actually spent.  

Another idea is personal care items.  This idea seems to work best for high-school graduation gifts when the students are planning to go off to college, for bachelors, or truly any time you need a last minute gift.  Use coupons to get a bunch of personal care items for very discounted prices.  Place as many of these items as you can afford to give into a gift bag.  While this is a nice gift no matter what, it works even better if you happen to know their preferred brands.  Also, if you know they are going off to college with a shared bathroom, you could also include some sort of bathroom tote to haul the items back and forth to the shower.  A similar idea for newlyweds is to fill a box, bag, or tote (you can often find good deals on these after holidays in seasonal colors) with many of the items they will need to set up a household for the first time, all bought with coupons of course.  This could include toilet paper, paper towels, paper plates, napkins, cleaning supplies, or basic first aid supplies (such as bandaids or antibiotic ointment), and basic medicines (Tylenol, Aspirin, Motrin, Tums).  These can all add up when you have to buy them all for the first time in a relatively short period of time and is often well-received.

While there aren't as many ways to save on gifts for our children, I have found a few things that help keep the cost down.  One of the reasons I don't have as many ideas to offer here is that each child is different, and if there is a particular toy or game they really want, and we can afford to give it to them at the time, then we will.  One way that my husband and I are very counter-cultural is that we don't spend a lot of money on Christmas presents and make a big deal about it because we prefer to celebrate the true nature of Christmas.  However, we look at birthdays as a chance to celebrate each individual in our family and how special they are to us, so we try to make it as enjoyable for them as possible.  This is not only in gift-giving, but in how we approach the day, letting them choose the activities, foods, etc.  But anyways, one of the ways we save on gifts for our children is to shop online at Amazon.  Like previously stated, many times there is a particular item the child wants.  Before purchasing the item, I will look for it on Amazon.  I have saved as much as 50% off the list price by using this simple idea.  One other strategy for buying these things cheaper is to shop at Target if they have a current coupon available that gives you a gift card (a rebate of sorts) if you spend over $50.  Kohls offers similar promotions throughout the year, but they do not have the same toy selection as most other stores.  

Lastly, the most important thing you can do to keep your gift-giving expenses to a minimum is to plan ahead.  We have a gift tote in our storage room, which allows me to buy gifts throughout the year and place them in one central location.  If I see an item at any time that would make a good gift for a certain person, I buy it right then.  This saves me money, while also saving me time searching out the right gift when it is time to give them a gift.  This tote also allows me to grab items during after-holiday sales and clearance, such as bath or make-up gift sets and candles, to give throughout the year if a last-minute gift-giving occasion arises.

I was glad to share my best ideas with all of you, but am always looking for new ideas myself.  So, what are your best ideas for thoughtful budget gifts?  I'd love for you to share them.  Also, what do you most struggle with when it comes to gift giving?  Is it trying to stay on budget, trying to find something thoughtful instead of something that seems generic, or something else all together?

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