I was thinking about frugal gift giving as I considered what to give my mom for a Mother’s Day Gift.
After some brainstorming, I felt I had come up with a great gift (which I won’t spoil by mentioning here). However, I quickly went from feeling like I had found her a gift that was so perfect for her, to listening to an internal dialogue of self-doubt.
Was it enough?
Is it too much like all the other gifts I have given her?
Will it make her feel appreciated, and express how much I love her?
Wait, back up. Was I really thinking that? That a present could somehow convey the magnitude of love I feel towards my mother?
Aha! That’s the problem. All the references in advertising to showing someone how much you love them by buying them XYZ were getting to me subconsciously.
Lead with the Heart
Gift giving can become an ordeal because we get emotional. We throw so many other ideas, experiences and influences into what starts as a simple act. A thoughtful gesture becomes a barometer of our deepest and most personal emotions. Instead of feeling a thrill watching someone’s reaction to our gift, we suddenly feel self-conscious.
The thing is, the size, amount and price of the gift are not important as far as expressing your heart. A material object cannot truly represent how you feel. The heart — the feelings — drive you to want to give a gift. The heart guides you to select something you feel is meaningful to the person. But it isn’t a measure of your love.
But Use Your Head
We gift too much many times out of insecurity, guilt, or some need to prove ourselves by buying a present. We have to talk down the internal dialogue and get what feels right for the person, or the occasion, without adding these extra expectations.
See, there simply is no present that could adequately represent my love for my mom.
“She deserves to have this” is another way we fall into the trap. That is more marketing hype designed to make us feel we ought to do something.
If I could give my Mother what I felt she deserved, I would have to be able to take away her experience with cancer, help her see her unique beauty, and make her able to relax and feel more content with the way life has unfolded. Because that’s what she deserves. Materially I would like to send her on vacations and pay for her to explore exotic places and stay in little hideaway retreats. None of this is realistic.
She knows that. She also knows how much I love her — not by my gifts. They are just little things I find along the way that remind me of her or seem like something she would enjoy. Love is found in the relationship, not the things.
Balancing Heart and Budget
Realizing these things can help you give gifts that are both special and within budget. Frugal gift giving doesn’t mean appearing thoughtless or stingy. Most of the gifts you give throughout the year are ones you know about ahead of time — birthdays, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and anniversaries. Here are my top strategies for giving great gifts for these occasions:
Frugal Gift Giving Tips
1. Have a set amount that you budget for each occasion and stick with it. Don’t let insecurity or guilt compel you to overspend.
2. Purchase gifts in advance whenever possible. When you see something you know would make a nice gift for someone on your list, get it and set it aside. This saves you from rushing out at the last minute and getting something that may be too expensive because you are out of time. Keep track of what you have bought so you don’t wind up buying gifts for the same occasions twice.
3. Buy at a good price. It is the same item whether you pay full price or get it half price. It doesn’t mean you have to then buy lots of extra things to increase the ‘value’ of the gift.
4. Have cards, wrapping and mailing supplies ready to use. Cards, like gifts, can still be carefully selected for particular people ahead of time (although I also recommend having more generic ones on hand for unexpected occasions). Get nice cards when you see them at a good price and set them aside. Have a supply of wrapping paper, and reuse boxes and padded envelopes. I find great deals on wrapping paper by using coupons e-mailed by local craft supply stores. They have great all-occasion papers that can be used throughout the year for a variety of people.
5. For mailed gifts, think lightweight, small and early. I cannot tell you how many times I used to wait until the last minute and pay extra for shipping. Then there were items so large or heavy it cost more to send them than the presents cost. Think ahead and plan. Can you get the same item through an online company, such as Amazon, and have it ship for free? Is it close to a time when you will see the person and you can deliver the present yourself?
6. Is there something you can make the person that would be unique and special, while also a gift of your time and energy?
7. Speaking of your time, what better gift than spending that time together? Create a secial experience to enjoy with your loved one — an outing to a local park, a picnic, or historical site. Tour art galleries or gardens, attend a ball game, go dancing — whatever suits your shared interests.
My best advice is to focus on the relationship, not the gift. Invest your time in conversation and doing things together, rather than shopping for them. If you are giving extra out of guilt, use that realization to spur you into action — reach out to them more, communicate your feelings in words and actions.