Cheerful Frugality Gives
"Darkness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it." - A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
Time for a shocking pre-holiday admission: Mrs. Cheerful Frugality was once a Scrooge.
Our tiny budget meant we spent more on relatives' gifts than on our own. Later, we found all our modest gifts stacked in a spare closet: coffee table books, unread; gifts in a jar, going stale in the pantry; thriftily assembled gift baskets, in the yard sale pile.
What was so wrong with our economical gifts?
I used to rant about the Angel Tree program requirements. If I can only afford yard sale toys for my own son, I'm certainly not going to buy an X-Box for someone else's five-year-old.
I found discount gift cards for a college-aged sister (who promptly lost them) and new robes on clearance for my mother (who promptly returned them.)
Gifts are my "love language," and Christmas was killing me. Something had to change.
Cheerful frugality means saving money...and liking it. If our loved ones didn't love their gifts, then all our careful scrimping was for naught. Our revised gift guidelines keep me a lot happier:
Gifts for family and friends:
- Only make a gift if the item is something they've admired, requested, or cannot be bought in a store. I don't knit scarves because I can find cashmere for 90% off. However, silhouettes of my children are unique...but only for the grandparent who loved the version I made for our own wall.
- Service gifts are great when the recipient is short on space and needs. I'm scanning in our family photos for distribution. Likewise, we hinted to my unemployed brother-in-law that we'd love a home-downloaded tv show on DVD.
- Ask people what they need. Suggest the family use a wish-list service like Baggle year round.
- If you are unsure, give something that doesn't clutter. Consumables (like home roasted nuts) are usually welcomed, even by the most jaded relatives.
Gifts to others:
- Find a deserving family through word-of-mouth or church. People who have fallen through the system's cracks may be more appreciative of what you have to offer.
- Buy twice for your own child, and then donate the doubles to a child of the same size. This way, you can clearance shop all year long without extra effort.
- Use your coupon stockpile to assemble grocery gift bags. It's possible to get groceries for little or no cost, but a single working mom may not have the time to coupon.
- Read what soldiers really want before making any more beef jerky care packages.
Perhaps your family keeps a simple Christmas. I'm not asking you to blow your budget--or your ideals--for the sake of giving to others. That would be neither frugal nor cheerful.
Do take a moment to consider if the recipient will really use your gift; otherwise, the time and money you spend is wasted. Would your teenage nephew adore a wooly pair of mittens, or would he much prefer one new song from I-tunes instead?
I work too hard for our money to see it sit, unopened, in a closet. So what if I have to remind myself that it's the recipient, not the bargain, that matters? Our tight personal budget makes generous giving possible.
That's truly something to be cheerful about.
What proportion of your gifts are handmade to storebought? Do you have friends and family who strongly prefer one over the other? How do you budget for this?