Gifts That Matter Don’t Come From Wal-Mart

… they come from the heart.

In most of our lives, there seems to be a never-ending string of gift giving occasions – birthdays, graduations, baby showers, wedding showers, and so on. That often means a never-ending string of gifts to give, and because we’re all so busy and harried, it’s often easier just to pop onto Amazon.com or into a local shop and quickly pick out some material item that we guess they’d like. A few minutes, a few dollars, and it’s done: a social check-box filled with a material item that both of you will forget in a month.

The amazing part of all of this is it’s often less expensive, much more meaningful, and often less time-intensive to give a gift that’s meaningful and personal. Gifts like that don’t involve a trip to Wal-Mart (possibly for components, but not for the gift itself) – they involve just a bit of thought and care.

Doubt it? Here are some ideas.

A blank card where you write the note in your own handwriting. Don’t spend $5 on the Hallmark special for a card for an occasion. Instead, just buy a bunch of blank ones and write notes on the inside in your own handwriting. Don’t know what to write? Save poem snippets and such that you like in a box somewhere and use those for the right occasion – if you read a poem that makes you think of someone, save it and use it in there. The minute it takes you to write a nice handwritten note is far less time than it takes to sift through the overpriced cards at the store – and more meaningful and cheaper, too.

Baby shower? Give a certificate or two for nights of free babysitting. Again, this just takes a minute or two now – write it out on a slip of paper and put it in the card. Later on, when they redeem it, it’ll be a gift that they’ll cherish – an evening of free time with their spouse to have a nice dinner and rekindle their marital relationship without the child around. That’s an amazing gift – and it comes from being a caring friend, not from being a department store shopper.

Graduation? Send homemade care packages to a college student. Give them a card telling them that you’ll give them their graduation gift when they go away to college, then send them a few hand-made care packages – homemade cookies, snapshots of their home and families and places they hung out at in high school or local events, or even better, a letter bundle – collect short notes from several of their friends still at home, wishing them well. Make a video tape or a DVD of stuff from home and include it. Send some basic toiletries, too (whatever you can get very cheaply with a coupon) – I was always glad to receive these in college. Two or three of these throughout that first college semester will mean far more than $20 in a Hallmark card at the graduation party.

Wedding shower? Make them an address book. Ask the organizer for the names and addresses of everyone attending the shower, then fill out an address book for the person getting married. You can even contact the organizer of other showers to help with this. A basic address book can be had for pennies, but you can make something incredibly special out of it by doing this.

Or make them a “friends and family” cookbook. Ask all of the guests for recipes (esp. of foods the married couple liked as they were growing up), then assemble them together in the cookbook. Aunt Martha’s lasagna recipe, written out in careful detail, will alone mean more than the blue light special.

Anything you can make is a great gift. Here are a few cool ideas I’ve experienced.
- I like making food items for people as gifts – homemade bread and pasta, especially.
- My wife likes making homemade cookies and also makes homemade soap.
- One of our closest friends is a great photographer who likes finding personally meaningful things for people, taking the photographs, framing them, and giving them as gifts.
- Another person I know does the exact same thing with her sketches and watercolors.
- One friend crochets and knits all year long when relaxing, making scarves and socks and sweaters and afghans for people as Christmas gifts.
- My sister-in-law once gave us a journal made out of homemade paper and a piece of wire. The paper and covers had been washed, pulped, gently colored, and re-pressed into handmade sheets. My wife and I loved it.
- I’ve received many compelling and thoughtful mixtapes over the years that introduced me to lots of interesting music (india.arie, for one).

It works even for kids… One of my son’s favorite toys is a sturdy handmade picture book depicting all of his family and people he knows with their names spelled out under them. It’s just photos glued firmly onto stiff scrapbook pages with writing underneath. He went through a phase not long ago where this was his favorite item on Earth.

What do all of these gifts have in common? They all say “I care” far more than the Wal-Mart special – and they’re all quite thrifty, too.

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64 thoughts on “Gifts That Matter Don’t Come From Wal-Mart

  1. Trent,
    I think you make a great point here. After going through a wedding a year and a half ago and the birth of my first child last month, I can honestly say taht you really can tell who put an effort into their gift giving.
    In addition, I can also say that a hand-written personal note is much nicer than an expensive card. (IMHO)
    Thanks for the great post.
    -Tyler

  2. Michael says:

    I helped my dad make my brother a train of colorful, wooden cars for his birthday. They were some of his favorite toys, and we enjoyed working together on the present. So, I especially liked your gift ideas that involve other people.

  3. Meg says:

    I recently gave a baby food grinder as a present to a coworker. I don’t know them very well but I thought something that encouraged frugality would be nice.

  4. Jamie says:

    Your note about the simple cards is dead on! My wife takes photographs of landscapes and close-up shots of flowers that we print and put on the front of the card. She writes a short title underneath the photo (e.g. Marigolds from my mother’s garden). This makes for a very beautiful and striking card. We probably give out 3 or 4 of these each month for various occasions and almost every time we do the recipient mentions how much they like the card. In my opinion, they are better than Hallmark cards and we can make about 10 of them for the same price as a single store-bought card.

  5. Sara says:

    Some more ideas:

    Scrapbooks
    Potted plants or starters from your own garden
    Food, food, food (Who doesn’t love a good cheesecake?)
    Poetry
    Heirlooms (Gram has gotten in the habit of giving us all some of her treasured items each Christmas; way better than anything new)
    Sew something! (Aprons and totebags are easy)

    My favorites are always consumables. I love to give and receive food, since there’s no clutter left and it’s like giving someone a few moments of pure pleasure with no payoff for yourself.

    And ditto on the hand-written cards. They’re absolutely the best, as long as they’re kind and sincere.

  6. kz says:

    Last year I stumbled across an idea for an inexpensive gift for a child. This past Christmas my husband and I selected age-appropriate books for our nieces and nephews who were under the age of 7 and we took turns reading them aloud and recording our voices. We then gave them both the books and CDs with our recordings. It was such a huge hit, we’ll be doing it again this Christmas. It also turned out to be a lot of fun for my husband and I, so I recommend this to anyone with small children on their list.

  7. Vered says:

    “Baby shower? Give a certificate or two for nights of free babysitting.”
    I love this idea. I know I would love this gift and value it more than a store-bought item that I don’t really need.

  8. Jon says:

    I have to disagree with the graduation gift idea. I got some journals and books and other “thoughtful” gifts and they all collected dust. I don’t know any college student that doesn’t want cold hard cash. Baked goods don’t buy textbooks or that late night pizza or a few gallons of gas. There is no need to send physical pictures and homemade videos with the pervasiveness of sharing via the internet.
    Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed care packages with useful stuff in them, but give the choice I would have taken the cash every time.

  9. Rob Madrid says:

    The best gifts my wife and I have ever gotten are the homemade ones, nothing ever fancy but sit on my desk months after I’ve thrown away the store bought cards.

  10. Jules says:

    Very true, that the best gifts are often homemade–but I think it’s even more true that the best gifts keep on giving. That is, that the person keeps using it over and over again.

    I’ve both given and received lots of gifts in my life, and the best ones, I have to confess, aren’t necessarily homemade, they’re the ones that I keep wearing or using. This past Christmas, for instance, I received a hand mixer. It was one of the best presents I’ve ever gotten.

    I guess I have a more utilitarian approach to gifts–they should be things that the person doesn’t necessarily NEED, but he wants it and would use it, though he can’t QUITE get himself to cough up the cash for it.

  11. Martha Beddoe says:

    This subject would make a great frugality site. It amazes me what people come up with, and sharing ideas about frugal gifting would be so helpful.

  12. kelly says:

    kz – What a great idea! I’m going to squirrel that idea away for future use.

    Great post, Trent. These are definitely more meaningful that a generic gift, but I would have to disagree that it’s less time-intensive. Running into a store, grabbing a card or semi-random gift is fast, which is a lot of why it’s LESS meaningful. When someone takes the time to put some honest thought and work into a gift or card, it’s that much more special. Time is a huge commodity and spending on a personal gift from the heart is time well spent – and generally very much appreciated.

  13. Jules says:

    I would also like to point out that making your own things like books often costs a lot more than you think it does. A well-made book, complete with idiosyncratic decorations, can cost around $30 for the materials (assuming that there’s between 50-100 sheets of home-made or hand-made paper). Knitting is thought of as a cheap hobby, but good yarns can cost up to $10 per skein, and if you’re making a multi-colored item…it adds up. Getting a photo framed, if it’s not a standard-sized photo, is no small potatoes, either.

    This is not to say that these things aren’t meaningful or aren’t worth the bother. They are. But I would REALLY hesitate to say that they’re cheaper.

  14. Jessica says:

    I agree with the sentiment, but not necessarily some of these ideas. For instance, the address book for a wedding shower. If someone has sent me an invitation to a shower and a wedding, I assume they have a record of my address. Personally, I keep track of this on my computer and haven’t used a physical book since I was in the 8th grade. I also never understood the growing trend of having shower guests address their own envelopes either, but that’s another can of worms.

    The baby shower idea is nice as well, except service oriented gifts are hard to do when you don’t live in the same town as the parents, which is the case with every baby shower I’ve been to so far.

    The friends and family cookbook is by far the best idea though, this always seems to be a favorite at showers.

    Largely though, I think you have to examine the culture of gift giving amongst your friends and family. It’s hard to change social customs/norms, especially if others are resistant to it. Right or wrong, people may be offended or take it the wrong way if they’ve been giving you $50 gifts for graduation, weddings, etc. and you decide to give a very nice card for these occasions. Again, I think these things must be examined in the context of the group dynamics.

    If you want to create change, I think the trick is to do it within a generational group, if possible. For instance, before my brothers and I have kids we can decide how to handle gift giving occasions between our families; i.e. we’ll forgo adult gifts at holidays and so forth.

  15. lt says:

    Here is a gift that we got a lot of good feedback on from college kids or others who need to go to a laundromat.

    Make a lot of baggies of 1 scoop of laundry soap with a fabric softener sheet stapled on the baggie. Include a couple of rolls of quarters in your present. Then they can just take a few baggies and a roll of quarters with them to the laundromat and they have everything they need.

  16. It’s been my experience that homemade gifts take much more time than going out and buying something. My wife is always making something for somebody and these projects are much cheaper than buying a similar item but take a lot more of her time. What it boils down to is a trade-off between time and money (and probably quality too).

    In the ideal world you could make a nice, meaningful gift that expresses your heart to somebody but doesn’t take any time at all. To bad ideal worlds are not real worlds. Instead we decide what we value more, time and thrift OR money and convenience.

  17. chris says:

    The whole babysitting thing at a baby shower. If you know them well enough to babysit their kid that’s something you should be offering anyways and not using it as a gift.

  18. Emily says:

    When the daughter of my childhood next door neighbors was married, my mother made her a gift she still mentions to this day. Being an only child, she would often come over to our house for dinner or a snack when she was lonely. Mom gave her a recipe box filled with the recipes for cookies, deserts and dinners she used to make when we were all kids.

  19. Andy says:

    I definitely agree with writing your own cards. That is always a must. I think the issue though is the time spent doing these things. Most of what you listed takes significantly more time than ordering a gift or running to Wal-Mart. And like you said, it is a constant stream of occasions to give gifts. Of course, you are 100% right that the gifts are way more meaningful. I think the issue comes down to do you want to and do you have the time to give a meaningful gift.

  20. Lisa says:

    I got a book of family recipes from my first wedding. I’m on my second marriage, but I still use that cookbook more than any other, and I think of my family, and extended family, every time that I use it.

  21. Holly says:

    My in-laws keep all their pictures in cardboard boxes in their basement. One year for Christmas we hijacked the boxes and organized two big albums. With all the other pictures that didn’t fit in the albums, we organized them into envelopes with the event or person that was the subject written on the outside. They loved it.

    If you’re computer savvy – you can scan someone’s photo collection for them and make a book, you can make them a picture CD or a DVD of their old home movies.

    One Christmas we also collected all the old family recipes from a few generations of my husband’s family. We also sneakily got quotes from everyone about the meaning these foods had for them growing up. I made a cookbook with the recipes and everyone’s anecdotes quoted in between recipes. It was a big hit – and a tear-jerker for some.

  22. Holly says:

    Another wedding and baby shower idea is to get a small album and have everyone at the shower write down some advice on decorative 4×6 index cards. Then you put all the cards in the album and it makes a fun/nostalgic book to review.

  23. Paul says:

    I totally agree with Jules (#8) above. Is there anything worse than getting, or giving for that matter, a gift that just collects dust? I like gifts that can be used over and over again, or ones that get a lot of wear. As for the college student, what about a nice leather (for durability) messenger bag?

  24. !wanda says:

    To be honest, I didn’t like care packages in college either. Receiving packages in my school was a hassle- depending on the shipping company, you either had to go to the student mail services office or the shipping and receiving warehouse across campus, which were only open during business hours. If the package came on Friday, there was a good chance that any food would be melted or spoiled by the time I could pick it up on Monday. Also, the last thing I needed in college, when I moved every year from one tiny dorm room to another, was more stuff.

    The recipe book is a neat idea, though. I also really enjoy handwritten cards. I think, though, that some people really want the store-bought stuff. I don’t like using gifts to proselytize or moralize, even for a universal value like “frugality.” Gifts should be given for the receiver, not the giver.

  25. Erin says:

    A good theory, and I agree that all things being equal the best gifts involve the gift giver’s personal creativity…but I also agree there are some drawbacks. I actually got the bridal shower address book and I am sorry to say it was totally useless; the book gathered dust for a few months before I tossed it.

    I also find the “gift certificates” idea to be unbearably awkward except in a romantic relationship where giving the gift is as fun as getting it :-) For example, with babysitting, either the new parents are friends who would already be comfortable calling and asking you to babysit, in which case the certificates send the clear message that you consider child care to be a “gift” that you are putting limits on; or, you are not that close, and they will never feel comfortable “cashing” the certificates.

    This is not to disparage the thoughtfulness of the giver, but merely to point out that part of knowing your recipient is knowing what they would be likely to use and enjoy, and being from Wal-Mart doesn’t preclude a gift being from the heart as well.

  26. camila says:

    I agree with you in most things. but on gifts, no I dont. All your ideas are great gifts TO GIVE WITH the present from amazon or bloomingdales! To be able to give is a great pleasure to me, and I dont want to be frugal on that. just my opinion.

  27. LauraMJ says:

    Today I received a birthday card with a handwritten note and a check from my parents. Normally I wouldn’t necessarily consider money a very thoughtful gift (though always appreciated), but this gift was so thoughtful because the note explained that my parents know that I will be moving very soon and don’t need or want any more stuff to pack with me, but that I could use some extra cash right now to help pay for moving expenses. Thanks mom and dad!

    Also, my immediate family has the tradition of making homemade Christmas gifts for each other. We all think it’s a lot of fun, and it actually seems easier to make something simple and practical than to figure out what to buy among all the stuff that’s out there. It can be more time intensive and cost more money in the long run, but the gifts turn out to be more valuable because they tend to be used, enjoyed, and remembered more.

  28. Bloggrrl says:

    Many of these are really nice ideas, and I have done some of them. They can be really expensive, though, especially when you factor in the time putting them together! If you normally make $25 an hour, and you spend four hours making something, at that point, you should evaluate whether or not the person would have preferred a $100 gift. Sometimes there’s no substitute for jewelry… ;-)

  29. Caroline says:

    Some great ideas here. Great article Trent.

    I used to paint a lot more than I do now. I would buy old items at garage sales (stools, wooden frames, ugly chairs, old pots, etc..) and decoratively paint them. It was cheap and painting a simple desing is not that time consuming. People really loved receiving those as gifts.

    It was something that I loved to do so I found the time and the impracticality of making these gifts never came into question.

    Several years ago I received 200$ worth of lopi wool for christmas. I never really took the time to knit sweaters with it and it turns out that I hate lenghty projects. I have very recently started to knit simple sweaters for my nephews and niece and since they are all toddlers orf preschoolers the projects should be completed by christmas.

    I would not say that stuff from Walmart is necessarily meaningless. Laugh if you want, but I once received a 100$ gift card from our friend Walmart and I bought a lot of useful things for my apartment! I guess it is not the same as receiving a hand-made gift but it isn’t necessarily all that radically different from receiving a care package!

  30. Lauren says:

    I feel like if I know a person well enough, then I can find gifts that are store-bought, yet meaningful. I certainly have plenty of non-homemade gifts that I can attribute to important people in my life. If I hardly know someone, and I’m being invited to a shower/wedding/graduation, then it’s just easier to get something off of the registry, or just give cash, rather that bend over backwards to make something homemade that the person may or may not appreciate.

    Plus, my experience with service-oriented gifts is that I feel awkward “cashing in” and so never do.

  31. Heather says:

    I loved getting care packages when I was in college – I went to a small private school, and for some reason getting mail was a big event. I had some friends who got packages every week, and was sad I only got a couple per year. I loved them though. But I have been hesitant to send care packages to other people because I don’t know if they want them, or if they would like/use what I sent, or if they think it’s dumb.

    I also LOVE getting handmade items if they are made well, but the unenthusiastic reactions I have gotten from giving handmade or (what I think are) thoughtful gifts leave me feeling embarrassed for trying.

  32. I think it depends on the person receiving the gift (and sometimes the skill of the giver). For me I enjoy getting lowcost gifts that are more thoughtful than anything else.

  33. Ro says:

    I would never have “redeemed” babysitting coupons from anyone at the time my son came along, as the only person I trusted with him was my own mother, and then only for brief periods. He’s nine now, and if I had any I’d be dragging them out and forcing the folks to make good! LOL!

    Seriously, I do think you have to think about the person you’re buying for and their wants. For me, I’d much rather have a gift certificate to either Amazon or a clothing store, because I rarely spend money on myself but would love to have some to spend on books, and I do have a genuine need for some clothes. So that would be better from me than say a handmade journal, because I wouldn’t use the journal, although I’d appreciate the thought very much.

  34. SwingCheese says:

    I’m in agreement with the several people who have mentioned the cookbooks. I got married in the middle of my student teaching semester, and most of my friends were in college and graduate school, so none of us had a lot of money. In addition, I was particularly sensitive to my own lack of money when attending bridal showers for friends whose income far exceeded mine. I wanted something meaningful, but frugal, so my mom and I put our heads together and decided upon a recipe shower/potluck. My mom created the recipe cards and cookbook, and each guest wrote out the recipe, and brought their example of the finished product for everyone to try. The best part was sharing the recipes and the stories that went with them: family stories from my childhood from my mom and grandma, and also from my grandma, a recipe for an old-fashioned Hungarian torte from a friend of hers (who has long since passed away) who had come to the states from Hungary as a child. It’s the gifts like that which cannot be replaced. I felt so loved by all these people who had taken the time to share something they loved with me. My husband and I still use many of the recipes in that book, and each time, I’m reminded of the wonderful family and friends that surround me.

    Also, when I had first graduated from college, I put all my gift money into baking supplies, and made a baked goods sampler for all of my friends. That was 8 years ago, and people still mention how much they liked it. A few friends have even done something similar themselves. There’s something to be said for thoughtfulness :)

  35. Jenzer says:

    We’ve also given college-bound grads rolls of quarters as cash gifts, and these were very much appreciated.

    I agree with the other posters’ comments about babysitting for newborns. When my kids were that small, I only entrusted them to their grandmothers. What I would have LOVED LOVED LOVED as a baby-shower gift was a pile of frozen dinners for my chest freezer. One friend actually did make me and freeze a few dinners for me, which proved far more useful than many of the other cute and fluffy gifts I received. I’ve heard of “fill the freezer” baby showers, but as Jessica (#14) mentioned, this wouldn’t have worked well with the social norms in my extended family.

  36. To me, the best gift is something THEY want. Too many times I receive gifts from people and I know it’s what they would like to receive.

  37. There is also the underground re-gifting that goes on regularly. How special is that?

  38. Lisa says:

    These are wonderful ideas. I was so happy with a gift my sister-in-law gave me at a wedding shower. It was an outdated calendar, but in it was marked every family member’s birthday, anniversary, and special moment days. I use it to this day (15 years later)! One of the best gifts I got.

  39. Ann says:

    Well, except for the illegal mixtape, ;-) I like all the other ideas. :-)

  40. Tradd says:

    A gift I love to give, especially for baby showers for local folks, is to give certificates for a meal or two that I will bring to their home (72 hours notice required). I use blank index cards, markers and crayons to make the certificates. Everyone loves my “folk art-ish” drawings and one friend refused to give the certificates to me to “cash them in” (I still gave her the meals) because she thought they were so cute.

    New moms love the prospect of an evening without having to worry about dinner at all. Of course, you ask if there are food allergies or simply violent dislikes, but all-in-all, easy gift, easy on the budget, and very appreciated!

  41. the best baby shower gift ever – the quillo. if you can find out the theme of the room or if the parents have a favorite childhood character, you can chose the fabric accordingly. easy to make, and to give something you’ve made for someone is about as heart felt as it gets, and it will never be about the price. i know people who spend well over $100 for baby shower gifts. it’s costs maybe $10-20 to make a quillo, depending on the fabric and other materials you might need to purchase the first time around. the quillo is always remembered more than the pricey onesie and matching clothes sets. http://www.simplicity.com/index.cfm?page=section/classroom/sewprojects/pillowquilt/pillowquilt.html

  42. Kenney says:

    I do agree that handwritten cards are an absolute must, or at least a card that you write a note in. There is nothing more useless than a store-bought card that has some greeting card writer’s sentiment in it, with your friend or family members signature in it. I toss those right away.

  43. !wanda says:

    @the quarters for college students: At my school, you would swipe your student ID card at the machine, and you would get billed for it at the end of the term. No quarters needed! It was great. The charge would appear on the same bill as the tuition and room/board. I don’t know how common this system is, though.

  44. I totally agree about the cards…I haven’t bought a card in eons. I just whip one up with my scrapbooking supplies and sometimes I use my photographs.

  45. leslie says:

    I have found that the only advantage to a diy gift is the unique quality. Because often it is just as expensive and quite a bit more time consuming than buying something just as useful at the store. I still will craft gifts, but only to people who appreciate them and only when I know the person will absolutely love it.

    I completely disagree with the frugality of sewing/knitting/crafting gifts.

  46. KellyKelly says:

    Trent, your last suggestion:
    “I’ve received many compelling and thoughtful mixtapes over the years that introduced me to lots of interesting music (india.arie, for one).”

    I consider mix tapes stolen property. I just got two mix CDs for a birthday gift.

    I think it’s ok to SAMPLE the music on them — but not OWN them. I did not pay for that right.

    I will listen to them one time, make note of any music I like, then throw them away.

    I am always surprised that people don’t see mixed tapes/cds as stealing.

  47. Lori says:

    I agree. I’ve definately been trying to put more thought behind my gifts. I think I may have even trained myself to think first “what can I make or do for them?” My mother’s birthday was a few days ago. I crocheted her a pillow. Okay, frugally, that backfired because I could have bought a pillow for less. But, I took the time to pick out the colors that she would want and I took the time and care to make the pillow. And my daughter made lemon bars for her. No card, no “purchased” gift. She was very pleased.

  48. M-Jay says:

    Wow. I wish this was always true. My mom thinks that handmade things are cheap. I’ve made her baskets of home made bath stuff, crocheted afghans, made her cookbooks, and I get a sneer and a hint for next year that she’s always wanted a nesting set of boxes to set her paper clips in.

    I purchase gifts for her now. Taking the time and effort to make something for people who don’t appreciate it is not worth my time anymore.

  49. elizabeth says:

    @ kellyKelly

    You can use certain websites now to “create your own cd.” You pay 99cents per song (or something) and they will send you a cd. I agree that you shouldn’t make a mixed tape on your own, but there are legal ways to create a mixed tape if you know someone who would really appreciate it.

  50. Kelly says:

    The most memorable gift I ever gave my younter brother was for his high school graduation. I found all sorts of pictures of us growing up from when he was brought home from the hospital to my high school graduation. I put them all together in one of those collage frames from a craft store and left 1 blank space for a picture from his high school graduation. Since he was a high school senior I also taped a $50 bill to the back of it. At the time he liked the collage and loved the cash. Now years later he loves that collage and has it hanging in a place of honor of his house; he has no idea what he spent the $50 on.

  51. johnny says:

    My hobby is making candles. I brought a basket of small container candles to a funeral last year. My thinking is that “flowers die after a few days”.

    The bereaved lady approached me several months later and mentioned that she had burned candles twice daily for months, several times over the grave. She had remembered my kindness each time.

    I’ve used them for weddings, and housewarmings and birthdays. It’s a relaxing hobby that gives.

  52. Bethh says:

    First of all, I think that if a mixtape is made from cds a person owns, there is NO problem with the legality. If they’re making a data cd of multiple albums, that’s something else, but to worry about a mixed cd of single songs seems extreme. I would bet that using a single song from a legally owned cd comes under Fair Use.

    A few years ago for my birthday I invited people to go out for beer, and said I didn’t want presents but would happily accept dinner invitations for home-made meals. It was great – my birthday lasted for months and I got to share home-made meals with several people I didn’t usually get to spend time with.

    Finally, I have friends who have had a baby and don’t have local family. We’re pretty friendly but I don’t think they’d be comfortable asking for babysitting from me, but I think that if I make them a certificate they’ll cash it. I think it emphasizes that my offers are sincere and gives them a way to take me up on it. I’ll try it and we’ll see!

  53. Michelle says:

    I am very crafty and enjoy making things for people but the problem is it takes a lot of time, the materials are not cheaper than buying it (sometimes), and there is nothing worse than the person not being as psyched about it as you are after putting all that time into it. Only some people will truly appreciate a homemade gift and it is usually because you made them something they will use all the time or because they are crafters themselves and really can appreciate the effort that went into it.

  54. Michelle says:

    One thing I have made that people like is homemade stationary or cards. Instead of painting one card for them, I sometimes will buy blank cards and paint the fronts of each one and give to them in a box so they have a set of notecards to use as thank you’s or letters after their shower etc.

  55. Steve says:

    Re: “Gifts that Matter …”

    You stated: One of our closest friends is a great photographer who likes finding personally meaningful things for people, taking the photographs, framing them, and giving them as gifts. Could you give an example or two of such “personally meaningful” things to photograph?

  56. Mia says:

    My daughters, ages 7 and 10, have many friends, and apparently five of them have birthdays in the Spring! (This is our first Friday at home in three weeks.) Recently, I bought them each a weaving loom – the kind where you weave colorful loops into potholders – and about a bushel of loops. They are so fascinated with their newfound talent, that they made their friends gifts using each friend’s favorite color.

    My 7 y/o, who can sew a little, made two potholders into a little purse for one girl by sewing them together and adding a handle. Don’t get me wrong – - it looked like a 7 y/o made it, but it was the hit of the party, and all of the other moms oohed and ahhed over it, as did the birthday girl. It was the only handmade gift she received.

  57. Louise says:

    I know this is kind of jerky of me, but I think the address book is a straight up bad idea. Someone had to compile all of these addresses in order to send invitations out, so the couple already has access to a database of the addresses, and they likely created it themselves. Having someone write out all the addresses seems like a royal waste of time and effort.

  58. Jessica says:

    I commented before, but I wanted to add that I agree with the idea that homemade doesn’t necessarily equal frugal or thoughtful. I think putting thought into it matters-most of my favorite gifts have been something purchased, and not made, but I use them all the time.

    I received two homemade gifts when I was married, from people who were friends of my in-laws and that I really didn’t know very well. (The in-laws asked us to invite them, these things happen.) I knew one gift was from a woman who prided herself on being cheap (not frugal) so that didn’t feel very thoughtful, more like a victory in cheapness for the other person. And it wasn’t something I used much. The other gift was a cross-stitched picture with our names on it. I appreciate the sentiment, but it isn’t the kind of thing I would hang up and I didn’t feel particularly attached to it because I hardly knew the person. My in-laws thought it was wonderful (because they knew the person) but it had little meaning for me.

    I think decorative objects are risky gifts, unless you absolutely know the person’s style and likes. I’ve received homemade and store bought gifts that are very “Americana” in style which is the polar opposite from the colors and style in our home. But often this is what they like, which again, doesn’t come off as thoughtful.

    The most thoughtful thing you can do, really, is to ask someone what they like or don’t like. Or what they would like-that shows you care. Assuming things, like that people who have a pet cat would like many cat oriented gifts (please, no!) is not likely to get you as far.

    I think one of the best frugal things to do is a group gift, which stretches everyone’s dollars and is a thoughtful gift that the recipient would really love and use, but would be hard for just one person to buy.

  59. Carol says:

    Agree with the posters regarding high-school graduates who are college-bound – definitely give them CASH! I’m a parent of two teenagers and it helps me out alot if they have some cash gifts to cover those college expenses and such.

  60. anastasia says:

    I cannot reiterate the blank card one enough. A few years ago I decided I would, for the most part, stop buying greeting cards which are cheesy and expensive, and start using my extensive stationary collection to write meaningful, handwritten notes. I slip up and buy a card once in a while, but a beautiful note is 10x as special.

  61. nuveena says:

    I have to agree with Jules (#13) about knitting not being a cheap hobby, even though people think it is. You can find deals on the “good” yarn if you look, but that sweater someone hand knit for you probably took about over $100 worth of yarn to knit. Scarves and hats, though, often take about 1 or two skeins of yarn to make, depending on the yarn.

    I know that handmade gifts are not necessarily frugal, but I believe the point that Trent was trying to make is that handmade gifts are more thoughtful and meaningful than just picking something off the shelf. Being frugal is as much as being inventive and thinking creatively as it is about saving money. With that being said, if you’re going to give someone a handmade gift, you should always take the time to find out what their style is or what they like and what they don’t like.

  62. Xtal says:

    Have the commenters who think mixtapes and CDs equate to “stealing” been totally brainwashed by the music industry?

    I have gone out and purchased numerous CDs based on really liking a song a friend put on a mixtape. Mixes are great publicity for artists. Incidentally, iTunes lets you make up to 7 copies of a any given playlist that contains purchased songs onto CDs. Apparently they don’t consider it stealing.

    Some people are so totally conditioned to bow down to any perceived authority, regardless of its legitimacy. It’s pathetic.

    To close, here’s a relevant quote from Cory Doctorow:

    “People who study the habits of music-buyers have discovered something curious: the biggest pirates are also the biggest spenders. If you pirate music all night long, chances are you’re one of the few people left who also goes to the record store (remember those?) during the day. You probably go to concerts on the weekend, and you probably check music out of the library too. If you’re a member of the red-hot music-fan tribe, you do lots of everything that has to do with music, from singing in the shower to paying for black-market vinyl bootlegs of rare Eastern European covers of your favorite death-metal band.”

    For the record, I am one of those people. I love, love, love music. I don’t download illegally, either. I buy music from iTunes or eMusic, or download it free from artist sites, or go to the record store (I went to Minneapolis’s great record store The Electric Fetus on Tuesday and plunked down over 30 bucks for the latest by R.E.M., LCD Soundsystem, and Vampire Weekend, as well as concert tickets to see Stereolab).

    I don’t consider there to be anything remotely morally wrong with mixes.

  63. Elaine says:

    re: address books for wedding showers. I’d rather get nothing. The net effect would be the same, since I’d toss the address book, but at least I wouldn’t feel guilty about it.

    Also, I REFUSE to knit gifts for people who are not either immediate family, or are themselves knitters.

    /grinch

  64. Jeff Frese says:

    I started a company that lets anybody in your circle of friends and family gift directly into your child’s 529 plan. So instead of another Barbie Doll or shirt from the Gap people can gift into your child’s plan. It’s a simple site and concept that helps people save for college and give meaningful gifts. The site is http://www.freshmanfund.com

    I also write a blog on saving for college the site is http://www.giftingforcollege.com

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