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5 Ideas for giving meaningfully...and cheaply:

Updated: Feb 4, 2020

Giving to others is one of the greatest parts of the human experience. However, around Christmas in particular, it can be really overwhelming. Between partners, parents, children, friends, and co-workers, it can be hard to find ways to give without spending huge amounts of money.

The beauty of budgeting is that there is flexibility. If you lay out your income & expenses for the month and you have left over income to spare, you get to choose what you do with it. Spending money on others may bring you the greatest joy in the world, in which case, go for it! However, you may lay everything out and realize that your left over income is limited (or non existent...) in which case many face the false dichotomy of either going into credit card debt to spend it anyway, or not giving at all.

I want to fight the American narrative that we are “entitled” to a certain caliber of gift. It is not ok to put yourself or your family in a bad position in order to meet some unspoken standard.

To help, here are some alternatives in those times:

1. Homemade

This is not always a realistic option for some of us (ahem, me), but I have received many creative handmade gifts in the past which, if not always useful, were meaningful. Now if you could combine both of those things, that would be the ticket. Trying to think of things that everyone uses and won’t just collect dust somewhere is ideal. You could carve someone a wooden cooking spoon, use leftover material to make some kitchen rags, knit a scarf, make a picture frame, or make jewelry. My sister-in law Erin Dodson is the absolute best at this. She has made things ranging from chapstick to homemade vanilla extract. Very useful and meaningful!

Finally, it could be that your significant other just writes you a letter so that their words are preserved for the future. I know many people who would value that far and above something purchased.

2. Consumables

Consumables are often my go-to gift. There are some things that every human needs, like food or personal care products. I like giving these because they are guaranteed to be useful, and since they will disappear after use, you are also ensuring to avoid awkward situations where someone may not want to keep your gift, but doesn’t know what to do with it. This is particularly important in our increasingly minimalist culture. For co-workers and friends, doing baked goods is a great way to show you care.

3. Experiences

This would be a good option for the people closest to you. For a spouse maybe you pack a picnic for a hike, or you clear the living room after the kids go to bed and do a youtube swing dance lesson.

There are great options for friends as well. One time for her birthday, my friend Jess and I played a game she came up with where you go driving and flip a coin every time you get to an intersection; tails is left, heads is right. You keep going as long as the time allows and see where you end up! Road trip snacks are a must for this.

4. Services

If you are a pragmatist like me, it is possible that this is your favorite type of gift to receive. These gifts are most likely an option for those closest to you. Detailing their car, organizing their cabinets, babysitting their kids, or helping them make a garden are just a few of endless options. My mom is great at this; she knows mopping is my least favorite task ever and makes a point to do this for me when she comes.

5. Thrift stores

I know a lot of people who scoff, and even laugh at the idea of buying second-hand for themselves, much less others. I wholeheartedly disagree with the fundamental presumption that giving second-hand is “gross” (though this can be true at times. The solution is not to buy gross things.) or less meaningful. What I love about buying second-hand is that you can enjoy the process of “treasure hunting” for that perfect gift for someone, and for the same price that you could get a few cheap random “dollar items” at Target, you can get something really quality.

A huge plus is that you are reducing waste in our world. A recent Fresh Air episode,

showed that "Your average thrift store in the United States only sells about one third of the stuff that ends up on its shelves," and 'The best thing you can do is not buy more stuff,' says 'secondhand' expert Adam Minter.

In reality, I hope to continue many of these practices, even when I do have more funds to spare.

Please share your gift ideas with me! Merry Christmas everyone!

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