A Frugal Man’s Christmas Wish List

(With Ideas for Frugal Ladies, Too!)

Over the last month, I’ve received a lot of emails and IMs from readers asking what kind of gifts a frugal man would want and what kind of gifts I would like to receive for Christmas. I decided to compile a list of gifts that not only I would like and not only have frugal appeal, but would be good gifts for many men. Hopefully, these will give you some great ideas for last-minute gift shopping. Be aware that some of these gifts can be quite pricey, but over time they can add up to a tremendous savings of time and/or money for the recipient – and also in some cases can add a serious touch of class.

Seven Christmas Gift Ideas for a Frugal Man

1. A well-crafted old fashioned safety razor

I wrote a guide to shaving a while back, where I make the argument that an old-fashioned metal safety razor, even after the up-front cost, is a more frugal choice than disposables – and makes for a better shave, too. I’m a big fan of the Merkur Classic (you’ll need some blades to go along with it, of course).

2. power strip“Smart” power strips

These are power strips that automatically switch on and off based on what one device on the strip is doing. For example, a smart power strip on a desktop computer setup would be tied to the main unit, and when the main unit is off, it cuts power to the monitor, speakers, printer, etc. This cuts down greatly on electrical usage, particularly on computer setups and home entertainment centers. I like the SmartStrip LCG4, but there are many of these on the market right now – your local large hardware store has a good chance of having at least one model of these around.

2. A how-to book

What sort of hobby is the recipient interested in? A how-to book in that genre will pique the interest of both the novice and the expert in that area. For example, I love books on basic electronics and basic home repair – as a new homeowner, home repair books are always a solid idea. I don’t have a particularly good recommendation – try stopping by your local hardware store and asking for their recommended general home repair book, or to any specialty shop if your recipient is into a particular hobby. Doing it yourself is always fun for a person with a passion – and it’s often frugal, too.

3. A modern battery recharger – and some rechargeable batteries to go with it

If the person uses a lot of electronics – like me with my Wii, for example – rechargeable batteries can be quite a good gift idea because they can add up to some serious savings over time. I’ve been using the Energizer e2 Rechargeables for a while and have quite liked them, but they are pricey. I bought my starter kit (12 batteries and a charger) at Sam’s Club for a pretty nice price and have stocked up on more there – their prices on these are far below what I’ve seen elsewhere, including Amazon.

4. Quality foodstuffs that they’d actually like

I’m not talking about the abysmal fruitcake or a popcorn tin that will be tossed out. Instead, actually go to a quality food establishment and get items that they’ll actually like. I’d far rather receive a somewhat overpriced but high quality food gift from a place like Williams-Sonoma or a nice pastry from Dean & DeLuca than another dreadful Whitman’s Sampler or a Hickory Farms summer sausage pack. Quality food is something I’ll enjoy greatly as a meal, but make it a gift worth remembering or find something else. I’m sure many potential recipients feel the same.

5. An efficient space heater

If you live in a cold climate like I do, space heaters can be very, very nice. You can use one in the room you spend much of your time in and then lower the temperature of your whole house, drastically reducing your furnace usage while only slightly increasing your electrical use. Look for energy-efficient space heaters – they cost a bit more, but their reduced electrical impact make them even more of a saver. I personally like the Honeywell HZ-315.

6. Quality tools

Again, a frugal person would rather have one high quality item than a large selection of junk. I would far rather receive a single wrench that will last a lifetime than another “do it all” gadget that falls apart in a year. Ask them what they need or what is getting worn out, then go to a hardware store and ask for a very top quality item that will replace it for a lifetime. Don’t get a sixty piece tool set that will wear out after six months of heavy use – instead, just buy one or two items that will never wear out and add to it each year. The frugal person who appreciates simplicity and craftsmanship will appreciate this gift far more than you might think.

If none of these ideas work… If you’re buying for a frugal person and none of these really work for him or her, here’s a tactic worth using. Find out what that person’s primary interest is, then go to a specialty shop focusing on that interest. Tell the person running the shop that you’re looking for a quality gift with a high reusability factor, one that won’t wear out or lead to boredom quickly, and see what the shop owner turns up for you. Even if the gift isn’t perfect, this technique will get something close enough to their heart that they’ll see you really put some real effort into their gift, and that means more than anything.

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  1. I got a battery charger several years ago that will charge the regular alkaline batteries. It has more than paid for itself. I usually get 3-4 charges out of the batteries.

    Best Wishes,
    D4L

  2. lorax says:

    I’m going to add that SmartStrip to my wishlist. Thanks.

    We use a Vanson Speedy Box recharger (charges just about any typical household battery) and we buy batteries on sale.

    Be sure to check the mAh rating of the batteries. You can get good D cells at 10,000+ mAh, but if you go to Wal-Mart, you might pick up some for the same price that only have 2500 mAh. I made this mistake once! Caveat emptor.

  3. You can never go wrong by giving a guy a tool. I never knew what to get my father but tools were always a good gift.

  4. Mrs. Micah says:

    If my parents give us that digital camera, the charger would certainly come in handy. :)

    I actually like those popcorn tins. (Well, not the cinnamon section if they have one) So if you get one and don’t want it…just send it my way! ;)

  5. Jessica says:

    I think tools are a great gift and I tend to give them to friends for home/apartment warmings because it’s one of those things that people don’t realize they need until they use their knifes for screwdrivers and shoes for hammers.

    I would never, however, buy tools that are marketed towards women. A purple handle doesn’t make it a better tool, and it’s really kind of insulting to assume that’s what women need in order to become a handy person. Blech.

  6. KM says:

    I often give a fire extinguisher as a housewarming gift, and I think it would work for Christmas, too. Not the most personal gift, but practical. Most people either don’t have fire extinguishers or have outdated ones.

  7. Leah says:

    My father is a mechanic, and from my experience, you can never go wrong with Craftsman tools. They’re excellent quality tools, and in the 30+ years he’s been fixing cars and airplanes, he’s never had one break or become unusable on him.

    Now that I’m on my own, I can always count on getting tools from him for Christmas, and I love it!

  8. cv says:

    While buying items geared towards someone’s hobby can work well, I think it takes some care. If a person’s had a hobby for more than a short time, chances are he or she already has the basic items and has strong opinions about what products are useful, worthwhile, etc. Unless you share the hobby you may not really know how to judge quality, either. Books about the hobby are also tough – the person may already own many of them, or have seen them in the store and judged them not worth owning. I’ve seen this for many hobbies among my family and friends – astronomy, sailing, photography, knitting, quilting, cooking, etc.

    Hobby-related items can make great gifts, but you have to know the person and/or the hobby reasonably well (or be working off a wish list) to tell whether the item would really work as a good gift instead of just a nice thought.

  9. Julia says:

    I actually just bought my boyfriend a safety razor because of your articles and my own research. Thanks, I would have never thought of it if I hadn’t seen your review of the Merkur.

    A photo album with some handwritten notes would be a nice thoughtful, yet not overly time consuming present.

  10. Rob in Madrid says:

    My wife and I don’t have children so it changes the equation somewhat but my favourite gifts are homemade cards. I love it when a birthday anniversary rolls around and I get a card made someones children.

  11. constantlearning says:

    Jessica, although the quality of the tools marketed for women might be questionable, I always preferred the tools with the pink or purple handles. As the only girl in a house with four brothers, I found that tools were constantly disappearing. However, mine were readily identifiable and my brothers were less likely to borrow a pink screwdriver. Even if they did borrow it, they did not want to been seen with a pink tool and they always brought it back! I loved receiving (and keeping) tools like this!

  12. Lynn says:

    These are all great ideas (just added Smart Strip to wish list) with one exception. Please don’t delude yourself thinking that a space heater is ‘efficient’. That is the biggest oxymoron I’ve ever come across next to gov’t effieciency expert. Even if you only use a space heater in short bursts it will ADD SIGNIFICANTLY to your electric bill!

    We purchased one 2 years ago and over the course of one winter our electric bill nearly doubled. It was rated ‘energy efficient’ and only used maybe 4 days a week and then only for 2-3 hours at a time. We have found that its in fact cheaper to keep the inside doors open and let the air flow naturally and thereby holding a more constant temperature than using a space heater to heat an area. Better to go with a new thermostat.

    Only used it that one winter and donated in the spring to charity with a note taped on it “May increase electric bill substantially”. Merry Christmas!

  13. That One Caveman says:

    Unfortunately, for a caveman I grow very little facial hair. Some would call it a blessing, but it is certainly a curse. I literally cannot shave more than once every other day or I’ll get the worst razor burn in the world. It often takes me two full days to get what other men would consider a 5 o’clock shadow. Oh what I wouldn’t give some days for the opportunity to grow a real beard, goatee, or mustache.

    The Wii’s battery-hungry ways, plus our baby’s battery-powered vibrating bassinet, caused us to get the very same rechargeable battery set you mentioned. I estimate that sucker saved us about $20 this year alone considering the amount of times have been recharged. A few of the batteries are starting to lose their “umph” but that’s not a bad deal for as much abuse as we’ve given them.

    As far as tools, I swear by the good old Craftsman name for all of my hand tools. I like their lifetime warranty (even though I’ve never had to use it). I was delighted last Christmas when I received my very first set of new tools! All of my tools before then had been hand-me-downs of varying quality and condition. There’s nothing like breaking in a new set of screwdrivers by going around your house on Christmas afternoon tightening all the screws you can find!

  14. Heather says:

    A great frugal gift (although not inexpensive for the giver) is a high-quality bedding made of down, wool or another very warm material. It can cost less than a space heater to purchase and run, but will save money for years.

  15. Baker says:

    I love the energizer e2 rechargeable, especially with the 15 minute fast charger. Our DSLR uses AA batteries so its really handy, on top of the wii-motes, remote controls, wireless keyboard and mouse, and children’s toys. Those batteries can be bought on ebay at around $32 for 16 batteries so they pay for themselves very very quickly.

    Also the Reiker (http://www.fanheatlight.com/) heated ceiling fan is an amazing alternative to space heaters. Its a ceiling fan with 4 heating elements built in so it circulates heated air and shuts the elements off until its down to only one to maintain the temp. The fan is a bit pricey at $300 but as an electrician who has install many fans I can tell you it is of very high quality and the heater works amazingly well.

  16. Helen says:

    Oh, totally. I would be so happy with a couple of decent philips head screwdrivers (well I’d give my right arm for a good powered screwdriver – RSI is always threatening!).

    Oh and a new power drill. Not so much horsepower that it weights five kilos and the batter lasts 5 minutes – something light and portable.

    Last year DH got me a book on Permaculture. We don’t have a permaculture garden yet, but it’s a dream of mine, and I so enjoyed reading it.

  17. amx511 says:

    Lynn,

    The efficiency of an electric space heater rarely has anything to do the heater itself but with the environment it is operated in.

    This is because all electric heaters are actually 100% efficient in its heat production. All heaters , no matter its price, always produce heat at a rate of 3412 BTU/1KWH. That is, if you run a 1000 Watt heater for an hour, it produces 3412 BTU.

    In terms of dollar/BTU, electricity from power company is, at least in my area, about 13.5x more expensive than natural gas. My rate is $.09/THM for natural gas and $1.22/THM for electricity.

  18. Michael Campbell says:

    God, not the shaving thing again (this is at least the third time I’ve seen you blog about it here).

    While the quaintness of using “old tools” is appealing (I use hand-planes and chisels in my woodworking instead of the electron burning variety…), can you at least have the honesty to call it that? The shave is not better, and I’m not convinced of the frugality of it, either. I *HAVE* a safety razor, and the shave is EXTREMELY less “close” than a multi-bladed version. The multi-blades last a LOT longer (whether one chooses to USE them longer, is up to the user of course), the shave is closer, and the time taken is measurably smaller. Now maybe your time is worth nothing to you, but mine is not. Have you factored that into your equation?

    This topic should be in Consumer Reports – “We know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

  19. Shek says:

    The battery charger is indeed a good gift. I recommend the ‘Squid’ power strip. The smart power strip is something wasnt aware of.

    I like photography. For my two close friends and their spouse/girl friend, I printed out two enlargements for each couple. I framed them and signed the photographs saying they would be worth something when I get famous!

  20. DrBdan says:

    Hey don’t badmouth the fruit cake! I have to admit I think my family is in the minority in regards to our love of fruitcake.

    In regards to rechargeable batteries, my girlfriend and I have made a habit of including a charger (if the recipient doesn’t have one) and some batteries whenever we buy someone a new tech gift that requires batteries.

  21. Nicki says:

    And don’t badmouth the Whitman’s sampler. I’ve been living overseas for years now and either learned to make my favorite things or have found substitutes but still love to get a Whitman’s sampler every year (and I live in Belgium which is famous for their chocolate). Reminds me so much of Christmas in Minnesota when I was small (great! now I’m going to cry). :)

  22. Mohammed says:

    I just saw this article

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/7145221.stm

    and thought it might be interesting to the readers here.

    How about buying gift vouchers/cards (for a store you know you’re going to shop at) on-line, at upto 20% discount, then go buy what you were planning to buy with the voucher.

  23. Helen says:

    Rechargeable batteries are a wonderful idea – I just picked up a set myself.

    I would recommend Sanyo Eneloops – these are low-discharge rechargeables and have gotten very high reviews.

    If you have a Costco membership, there is a set for $25.99 that includes a charger, 8 AAs, 4 AAAs, 2 C adapters, 2 D adapters, and a hard carrying case – a great deal!

  24. Jason says:

    RE: safety razors – I like the notion, but how do you dispose, safely and ecoglogically, of the used razor blades? Gone are the days when the vanity mirror cabinet came equipped with a “razor blade disposal” feature (i.e. a blade-sized slot in the rear wall of the cabinet that conveyed old blades to a “secret” compartment for eternal storage!).

  25. Rich says:

    Speaking of “Space Heater”

    Last year I purchased a Heated Mattress Pad.

    It uses relatively little electricity and has greatly reduced my heating bill.

    Highly recommended.

  26. Justin says:

    Those “smart” power strips are pretty useless in a home theatre. You set it up to turn off when you turn off the TV and all your devices plugged in with clocks will need to be reset. Your DVR will be turned off and your shows won’t record. You won’t be able to just listen to CDs. Etc. etc.

  27. LC says:

    I would add a low flow shower head to the list. My husband also got me battery heated socks – that allows us to turn the head town 5 degrees because my toes are the only cold part! Same with electric blankets and down comforters.

    I got an electric heater last year and they aren’t more cost effective than gas unless you consider the fact that it costs less to heat one room with electric than the whole house with gas. It’s only a good idea if a small are is all you need heat for.

    We like to give/receive gift cards for our favorite restaraunts. That allows us to go out without guilt that we are spending too much.

  28. Rachel says:

    We haven’t much money, but we have a family friend who has more than enough to buy whatever he pleases, but who is single. Last year, for Christmas, we had him bring ALL of his photos over to our house, which were just left in packages in cardboard boxes, and helped him sort and organize them.

    This year, we gave him the gift of baked goods. Each month, he gets to pick a baked item and we’ll make it for him. This month, he chose banana muffins, which I wrapped individually for him to put in the freezer and eat as desired. He loves it!

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