Thoughtful Yet Frugal Gift Ideas


Find thoughtful gift-giving ideas for the whole year through.

Thoughtful Gift Giving

Once we become parents, many of us refocus our priorities on what is really important—friends, family, and a renewed thankfulness for the many blessings we have. Combine this thought with the holidays and a sometimes sluggish economy, and the days of exorbitant splurges and racking up huge credit card bills are a thing of the past; many families are looking for less expensive ways to celebrate. But does inexpensive have to mean unmeaningful and unpleasant?

The simple answer is no. Smarter spending and more creative gift giving do not make you a Grinch! Try some of these ideas for gift giving this holiday season. These are thoughtful gifts, many of them personalized, all of them from the heart. Many of these are consumable gifts, which is especially nice for the person who has everything and just doesn’t need another knick-knack on the shelf collecting dust!


Many families have portraits done each year, especially of the kids. Why not give these precious pictures as presents? You’ll be giving a gift of love and something unique that people don’t already have and can’t buy at the mall! Most studios run holiday specials, so the photos don’t have to be costly. Another inexpensive idea is to produce the photos with printer photo paper. If you or someone you know has a printer/scanner, you can scan a favorite picture and print numerous wallet size photos for a fraction of the cost. Combine these pictures with pretty frames and you’ll have a wonderful gift to be cherished for years.


Another way to share family memories is through scrapbooks—whether big or small, scrapbooks with pictures and handwritten memories can be enjoyed for a lifetime. Scrapbooks can be of miscellaneous photos, or they can have themes. Scrap photos of your in-laws’ recent vacation. Send the grandparents an album with your favorite pictures of the children from the last year. Be creative and don’t be afraid to include memorabilia or kids’ artwork. Scrapbooks do not have to be a costly gift monetarily, but they are unique, created with time and love.


Houseplants are a nice way to give a gift of nature that will last. Start clippings of one of your own plants (pick something hearty and easy maintenance) in flowerpots, and nurture them for a while. Soon they’ll root and you can give a growing plant to someone you care about. The clippings are free and, if you shop wisely, you can get interesting containers for little money.

Gift Baskets

Gift baskets are fantastic presents, suitable for even the fussiest person on your shopping list. Following are some ideas to get you started, but with some thought, you can come up with plenty more gift themes. Remember, the basket or container you use is part of the gift!

  • Italian Dinner: Get as fancy as you’d like with this one. Try a bottle of wine, wine glasses, pasta, a jar of sauce or—even better—some homemade sauce (yum!), candles, a CD of romantic music… you get the idea! You don’t have to limit the idea to Italian, either—try Mexican, Barbeque, or even Cajun for something different.

  • Movie Night: What better basket to give to parents of little kids—a date night in (no babysitter required)! Include a certificate for a free movie rental or two, soda, or instant drink mixes (tea, hot chocolate, cider), a box of candy (Jujubes, anyone?) and of course a box of microwave popcorn! A theater-style popcorn box or popcorn tin would make a neat container for this present.

  • Rub a Dub Dub: Ideas of things to include are bath soaps, lotions, a bath pillow, a candle, maybe even a new fluffy towel, some slippers, or some relaxing music.

  • Car Wash: Here’s a good one for the man who really loves his car! Make a trip to the auto supply store and you’ll find tons of things to include in a car gift basket. For starters, try some car wash solution, a good sponge, wax, air freshener, a quality chamois, even a gift certificate from you to wash the car for free (redeemable in the summer, of course). And don’t forget to put it all in a big “car wash” bucket!

Handmade Cards

Start with good cardstock and envelopes, and use your imagination for decorating ideas—try stamps, stencils, bits of lace, ribbon, or glitter. This is a fun project to do with kids. Let them use paint, stamps, crayons, markers, potato prints—you name it—on heavy paper, cut their art out and mount on folded cardstock. Package the note cards and envelopes in an attractive box for the recipient. Including a book of stamps is a nice touch.

Personalized Stationery

With easy to use computer programs, nearly anyone can create pretty stationery. Select a design and font to suit the personality of the recipient, leave plenty of writing space, and make up the stationery on nice paper with matching envelopes. Present the stationery in a decorated box or tied with a ribbon.

Homemade Mixes

Homemade food and mixes are especially great gifts for people on your list that already have everything, and most people love receiving them! All you need are the ingredients, containers, and a little time and effort. And don’t forget, the kids can help you in the kitchen!

Cookies, hot chocolate, cider, pizza dough mix, muffin mix, bread mix, and soup mixes are all wonderful in Mason jars. Label your jars with the needed recipes and be sure to mention the mixes are made with love.

Jams, jellies, mustards, and vinegars are fun to package in interesting bottles and jars. There’s no need to buy anything expensive—try yard sales, thrift shops, or even your basement for neat containers. Tie a ribbon or raffia on your gift and include a recipe if you’d like.

The Cookie Jar That Won’t Stay Empty

This is a wonderful gift that keeps on giving and is particularly nice for an elderly or disabled person, someone who lives alone, or perhaps a relative or close friend who has trouble finding the way around the kitchen. Give a cookie jar filled with cookies, muffins, peanut brittle, or another favorite treat. Include a note letting this person know that you’ll be happy to refill the jar once a month (or however often you choose). What a special present for an older relative or friend—not only do they get the yummy treats you’ll bring, but they also get the joy of your visit.

Perhaps the Most Valuable Gift of All

Your time is the most valuable gift of all. Something none of us seems to have enough of, and something everyone wants from us. Give time as a gift! Shovel the driveway for your neighbor, baby sit for some friends that need a night away from the kids, offer your computer help to someone just learning to “boot up,” or clean the basement for your parents! And don’t neglect your mate and your children. Why not make them personalized books of gift certificates? For kids, try certificates redeemable for one night of game playing, a dinner of their choice, movie night with you, a trip to the zoo, and even extra hugs and kisses if you want. As for certificates for your spouse, well, we’ll leave those up to your imagination!

With a little thought and effort, you can give special gifts to those you love that won’t break your bank. And remember during all the hustle of the holidays, it helps to focus on the actual meaning of the season. Christmas and Hanukkah are not about who has the most holiday lights on the house, who’s got the fanciest menorah on the block, or who gets the most toys under the tree. Get past the commercialism and take time with your children to teach the true reason behind your family’s celebrations; this is a wonderful opportunity to give them an appreciation for their own spirituality, their own family ties and traditions, and the blessings in their lives. Even when times are tough, you can make the holidays special and give your children memories to cherish for a lifetime.


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