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Gift giving on a budget can be stressful and daunting. How can you save money if you are spending money on presents? It is difficult enough to stick to a budget without tossing gifts into the mix. Yet, our society has gift giving customs that cannot be ignored – and simply skipping out on giving a gift can be in bad taste and make you look like a cheapskate.
While giving gifts may seem counterintuitive to someone who is determined to meet big financial goals, sticking your head in the sand or silently snubbing gift giving traditions is not the route to take. Instead, keep your budget in check by planning for presents, having open conversations and adjusting your gift giving rituals.
Gift Giving Tradition
The tradition of gift giving is a worldwide trend…and it’s not new. Some sources date the act of giving gifts to Caveman times. While gift giving etiquette can vary widely from one culture to the next, the act of giving and receiving gifts occurs around the globe.
What is the Purpose of Gift Giving?
While spending money on gifts might not jive with your plan to save, there is a purpose of the gift giving activity. Giving gifts can show your appreciation and make stronger connections with your loved ones.
Yet, if you are trapped in a gift giving culture that does not align with your money goals, then the pressure can be palpable.
Gift Giving Anxiety
Deciding how to give gifts while saving money is a big conundrum. If you feel pressure at gift-giving occasions and all-out anxiety when the gift giving season of the holidays rolls around, you are not alone – I’ve been there. When we became dedicated to living a frugal lifestyle, giving gifts on a budget became a true source of anxiety and guilt.
It is not that I hate gift giving; in fact, the opposite is true. I love giving thoughtful and meaningful gifts. However, as I was steering myself onto a path to become frugal, I had to seriously look at the materialist gift giving experience for what it was.
So much money – seriously, So. Much. Money. – is spent on insignificant, materialistic and meaningless gifts. I’m filled with angst just thinking about all the money that I have wasted on long-forgotten gifts and useless trinkets. In the true spirit of frugality, I had to come up with new budget gift giving ideas.
How To Excel at Gift Giving on a Budget
The art of gift giving on a budget is a delicate balance. You want to be frugal, not cheap – this is applicable to extended family and small business gifts, too. Ideally, you want to come up with big gift ideas on a small budget – and I have quite a few economical gift tips to get you started!
Budget Your Gift Giving
Budgeting for gifts is one of the best ways to fend off the guilt and anxiety associated with gift giving when you trying to be frugal. Within your household budget, create a Gift Budget category for every month of the year.
When you save money for gifts throughout the year through the Sinking Fund, you aren’t confronted with how to budget for Christmas gifts in December or birthday presents in August. You have already planned for it. Just be resolute; whatever amount you set for your gift ideas budget, stick to it!
Pro Tip: Don’t have a budget? Get started today with my free printable Budget Worksheet! Just subscribe to my blog and you get it for free!
Be Prepared for Gift Giving Occasions
Just like planning out your budget, you can plan your gifts in advance, too. In fact, collecting gifts year-round – rather than waiting a week before a gift-giving event, like a birthday or anniversary – can be a huge cost-saver.
The key to coming up with gift ideas on a budget is to shop for meaningful gifts when they are on sale…even if it is months in advance. One of my favorite budget gift-giving ideas is to collect deeply discounted holiday gifts post-holiday…for next year’s event. I have scored classic holiday-themed gifts – like Yankee jar candles – for 90% off the normal retail price.
You can find clearance-priced, low-budget gifts for other occasions besides the holiday season. Look for wedding and bridal shower gifts at the end of summer, Mother’s Day gifts for next year at the end of May and next year’s Valentine’s Day gifts on February 15.
Another way to score deals on gifts is to buy in bulk. For example, if you like to gift bottles of wine, you can buy it by the case for a better deal.
Pro Tip: If you buy budget gifts year-round, be sure to keep track of what you buy…and don’t overspend!
Gift Giving Limits
One of the best ways to keep your present expenditures in line with your budget is to create a gift-giving policy that all participants adhere to. For example, set Christmas gift-giving rules – like a specific dollar amount spending limit per person. Or agree to buy presents for the kids in your family (still within limits), but not adults.
Setting limits is one of the best gift-giving ideas for large families – but it works for presents between friends and office gifts, too.
Creative Gift Giving Ideas with Limits
There are other ways to limit giving presents on a budget that are a bit more creative. A popular approach to gift giving to kids is the Want, Need, Wear, Read gift-giving method. Using this model, you gift each child four presents: Something they Want, Something they Need, Something to Wear and Something to Read. Using this as a framework, it is possible to come up with some great gift ideas on a budget!
Pro Tip: The Want, Need, Wear, Read gifts don’t only apply to kids! These limits can be placed on gift-giving between spouses, siblings and friends.
Fun Budget Gift Giving Games
Fun gift giving games are an excellent way to celebrate the joy of gift giving…without going broke. There are many options for how to do a gift exchange, so I’m highlighting a few of my personal favorites.
Dollar Gift Exchange
The $1 Gift Exchange is one of my favorite family Christmas gift ideas on a low budget. How it works is that each person buys gifts for everyone (either in the family or attending the party) – but each gift has to only cost $1, so you have to be creative and thoughtful…or funny. In our family, the present giving is a hilarious, all-afternoon event.
Drawing Names Gift Exchange
When you draw names for a gift exchange, rather than buying presents for everyone in the group or family, it allows an opportunity to give better gifts, even on a budget. Because you are only purchasing a present for one person, you can spend more time and effort coming up with a meaningful gift.
Like drawing names, Secret Santa is a fun gift-giving activity that limits your gift buying to one person…but, with a twist. In this Christmas gift-giving game, the receiver is unaware of who the giver is…and will need to guess after they open their present. This is a one of the popular office gift-giving ideas.
In some cases, the office Secret Santa game can include multiple small gifts – to give clues to the receiver – before the big, final gift. Either way you play Secret Santa, price limits should be set in advance.
Yankee Swap and White Elephant
Two classic gift games – Yankee Swap and White Elephant – place the emphasis on the game, rather than giving a present to a specific person. Both games can be fun Christmas gift ideas on a tight budget.
To play, everyone in the group brings a wrapped present to the party (and, again, it is best if spending limits are set). Participants pick a number – and the person with the #1 starts the gift-giving party by opening a present. Subsequent people can choose to ‘steal’ or ‘swap’ an already opened present or open an unwrapped gift.
While playing either game is an example of how to save money on gifts – as you only purchase one present, instead of a gift for everyone in the group – White Elephant is even more budget conscious. In a traditional White Elephant game, the gifts are gag gifts, re-gifts or home items slotted for donation – so you may not have to spend any money on the gift at all!
Play Games with Small Gift Prizes
One way to stretch out a gift giving party – without playing a swap game – is to play games that result in the winner picking a gift prize. Everyone at the party contributes a small gift to the prize pile – and they are given at random to the winner of each game.
We play Bingo as an entertaining prize gifting game in my family – but there are dozens of fun games that you can play and gift prizes.
Rather than making giving presents about getting presents, add an element of fun with a scavenger hunt (that will probably be better than the gift anyway!). Use these fun ideas for Christmas Scavenger Hunts.
These are all great gift giving games for Christmas parties, but can be used at any celebration!
Pro Tip: It is never too early (or too late!) to start working on your Christmas Budget! Stay organized and on top of your budget with my affordable Christmas Budget Printables. The packet includes 9 templates designed specifically for staying on track with your holiday budget!
Creative Gift Giving on a Budget
One of the best ways to save money on presents is to come up with creative gift-giving ideas that cost little or no money at all. Most creative gift ideas on a budget require some thought and effort on the giver’s part – but when you give thoughtful gifts, they are often the most appreciated and heart-felt gifts to receive.
DIY Gifts: Best Frugal Gift Ideas
Some of the best gifts on a budget are Do It Yourself presents. Many handmade wares cost only $5 to make…yet they make incredibly memorable gifts (which means they are perfect for Christmas on a tight budget!). You can make anything from scented sugar scrubs to homemade snow globes to give as budget gifts.
Gift Your Talent: Thoughtful Gifts that Don’t Cost Money
Gifting your own personal talents are great gifts when you have no money. Gift your own services – from photography to music to cleaning to car repairs – as thoughtful presents. These unique gift-giving ideas don’t cost a time, except for your time!
Pro Tip: How to give a good gift while on a budget is to focus on valuable services or DIY projects that recipients will cherish!
Need specific gift ideas for presents for all occasions? I share my best ideas in my blog post, A Guide to Frugal Gifts.
Give a Gift Worth Giving: Experience Gifts
I have to admit, sometimes smaller, inexpensive gifts just add to the gift-giving consumerism mindset – which is especially frustrating for frugal minimalists, like myself. If you feel like you are just accumulating ‘stuff’ with gifts, perhaps consider pooling your money for a bigger Experience Gift. For example, rather than buying useless, unwanted and unnecessary gifts for everyone in the family, consider instead giving a vacation as a gift.
Fun family gift-giving ideas that focus on experiences and time together (like a Frugal Vacation) tend to be much more memorable and meaningful than material objects. As a bonus, try my Frugal Date Ideas as well!
Pro Tip: When you pool your money for holiday gifts, they can be superb inexpensive family Christmas gift ideas! It doesn’t have to be a vacation – the gift can be any family outing that involves time together.
Gift Giving Alternatives
If you really want to change your gift-giving habits, then it might be time to seek out alternatives to presents. We first tried alternative gift giving ideas for Christmas after we set our big financial goals and created our family budget – and it was so refreshing that we’ve never looked back.
Adopt a No Gift Plan
Rather than trying to come up with budget gift ideas, consider cutting out gifts all together.
Eliminating gift giving might sound extreme, but in so many ways it is completely liberating. I’m not suggesting you stop celebrating milestone events or holidays. I am merely putting the idea out there that events and holidays do not require gift giving.
While I wholeheartedly believe in marking milestone life events of my friends and family, I do not believe it has to be celebrated with a gift bought from the store.
Furthermore, while living a frugal, budgeted lifestyle, there is no reason for my husband and I to exchange monetary gifts with each other. For us, the time we share together, the frugal food we prepare and the special day plans we make are the best Christmas gift alternatives.
For ideas on how to celebrate without spending money, use the tips in my blog post, 98 Free Things To Do!
Give the Gift of Giving
Another one of the alternatives to giving gifts is the gift of giving back – either to the community or to a charity – and we have very much enjoyed giving the gift of our time. While these are great alternative gift giving ideas for Christmas, you can opt to make donations or volunteer rather than giving gifts for every occasion (including birthdays, anniversaries and even Valentine’s Day).
Pro Tip: As you change your relationship with money and delve deeper into frugality and the freedom that it provides, it becomes easier to give up giving and receiving gifts. Just be mindful to have open conversations with the people you exchange gifts with to ensure understanding.
For specific ideas on clever gift giving on a budget, read my blog post, Frugal Christmas Gifts and Frugal Gifts Guide!
Interested in more of my Life and Entertainment Tips? I round them all up on the Frugal Lifestyle blog page!
We Want To Know: Do you have any advice for gift giving on a budget? Did you give a frugal gift that did not pay off? Share your budget gift giving tips on he comments below!