Around this time of the year, I get messages and emails from folks who are struggling to figure out gifts for the frugal person in their life. What do they get for the person who is very careful with their money and doesn’t seem to want anything?
It can be a real challenge. I know that people in my life sometimes struggle for gift ideas for me (they’ve told me so), mostly because the handful of obvious interests I do have are fairly niche interests and they don’t know what to buy within those interests, and I also seem completely disinterested in more typical “men’s gifts.”
How do you buy a gift for a person with such a frugal mindset? Last year, I wrote a gift guide for frugal people that included a bunch of specific ideas:
A Slow Cooker
Freezer and Oven-Safe Storage Containers
A Chef’s Knife
A Knife Sharpening Stone
A Cast Iron Skillet
A Safety Razor (and a Box of Blades)
Good Rechargeable Batteries (and a Recharging Kit)
Good Food and Beverage Items
Specific High Quality Tools
Specific Camping or Hiking Gear
While those are all great gift ideas, they’re also somewhat impersonal. Unless a person happens to be into a specific area of interest or actually needs one of these items, these gifts might very well end up unused.
This year, I’m offering a different approach, one that takes into account the person you’re giving the gift to. Here are some ideas that work well as gifts for frugal people.
A gift card that’s very focused on their hobby. Generally, I think gift cards are a poor gift because they come across as “unthoughtful,” but if you choose a gift card that’s very targeted toward their hobby, it can actually turn into a very nice gift.
A frugal person is typically someone who is very careful about spending money on their hobby. They find ways to enjoy their hobbies with minimal expense, even though there may be items that they could buy that would enhance their hobby. For example, an avid book reader (of which I am one) would enjoy a gift card to an independent bookstore.
Why not just give them a gift card to, say, Amazon? A frugal person is going to look at that and think of utility. They’re going to use a general-purpose card on general-purpose expenses. They’ll use an Amazon card to stock up on toothpaste.
Using myself as an example, a gift card to a niche retailer that focuses on the board gaming hobby, like Coolstuffinc, is a great gift because it encourages me to actually get something related to my hobby rather than using it on a normal shopping trip as I would with a gift card to, say, Target. Knowing about this hobby of mine is something that anyone who spent much time around me could easily figure out.
A well-researched reliable quality upgrade to an item they use regularly. If you’re close to the person that you’re giving the gift to, spend some time looking at the items that they actually use all the time. Are any of them worn out? Are any of them cheap or cheaply made? If you can identify such an item, spend some time researching a truly well-made reliable upgrade for that item and you have yourself a stellar gift.
The important thing to remember is that thoughtfulness, time, and research is what really matters here. If you’re looking for a quick gift solution, this is not the way to go. Instead, if you’re willing to spend a few hours really researching a gift and then spending a little to get a truly well made and reliable upgrade item for that person, you’re going to get that happy response that people always want when they give a gift.
Again, using myself as an example, I would love a really well made paring knife. I’ve had a Victorinox one for a long time, which is a great “bang for the buck” option, but an extremely well-crafted paring knife designed to last practically forever would be great. I cut up vegetables constantly with my paring knife. Again, someone who spent much time in my home probably saw me with a paring knife and may have heard me mention such a thing.
A consumable gift of a food item that they enjoy. Think of the foods and beverages that your recipient typically enjoys. Do they enjoy wine? Craft beer? Cured meats? Cheese? What do you actually see them eating or drinking?
Take those things you’ve actually witnessed that person enjoying and run with it. If you’ve seen that person enjoying craft beer, for example, head down to a craft beer store or a liquor store and ask for some recommendations. The same is true with wine. If you’ve seen them enjoy cured meats, stop at a butcher shop and pick up some jerky or salami for them.
The key is to base this gift on things you’ve actually seen that person enjoy. Don’t think about what you might like or what you think an average person would enjoy. Try hard to think about what they would enjoy.
For myself, a six pack or a bomber of unusual craft beer would always make a good gift, as would a soup mix or an unusual type of cheese.
An “experience” gift. An “experience” gift is a gift that leads directly to the person doing something rather than owning something. For example, tickets to a concert would be an experience gift, as would a certificate to take a cooking class.
Much as with the hobby gifts above, these types of gifts line up very well if they’re chosen with that person’s particular hobbies and interests in mind. If you got a pair of football tickets for a die-hard football fan, for example, then that gift would be cherished; for a non-football fan, though, they would become items to quietly sell on StubHub.
For me, for example, tickets to a baseball game would provide a great “experience gift,” as would a trip to a gaming convention.
A membership card or season pass that grants free entry to a place that might interest them. This is something of a continuation on the idea of an “experience” gift, but a season pass or a membership card to a particular attraction that might merit repeat visits can make for a really fantastic gift.
Again, this works best when you take that person’s interests in mind. If you have a friend who always wants to visit an art museum when they visit a city, then a membership to the local art museum (if they don’t have one) is a good gift idea, but for someone who shows no interest in art, it’s not the best idea.
For myself as an example, an annual family pass to the Living History Farms would be a wonderful example.
What if they might already have it? Think of a way to find out that information in a conversation. There are many ways to do this. You can ask them for advice on how they prepare vegetables, for example, if you want to get a good look at their knives. You can call them up and ask about art museums in the city and then figure out if they have a pass to the best one pretty quickly.
What if I don’t have a strong sense of their interests? This can often be true if you’re buying a gift for a relative that you don’t see very often, or if your interests don’t overlap all that much. You might literally have no idea what that person’s interests are, even if you love and care for that person.
The easiest way to figure this out is to simply browse their social media profiles. Almost everyone alludes to at least some of their interests on social media, so you can usually figure out at least a thing or two that they’re interested in on there.
If that area of interest alone isn’t enough, take that area of interest and incorporate it into a conversation with your gift-giving target. Get them to talk a little about their particular interest and pay attention. You’ll almost always find something to work with in their words.
In the end, the thing that matters to a frugal person isn’t stuff, it’s a bit of your thought and time. A frugal person is far more likely to appreciate a cheap but well-considered gift than a showy and expensive but ill-fitting gift. Put in a little bit of thought and you’re almost never going to go wrong.