Mary writes in with a great question:
I am a 29-year-old single female with a good income and have become very interested in personal finance over the past few years, opening up a Roth IRA, paying down credit cards, and even opening a 529 for future needs. My family and boyfriend really want Christmas gift ideas for me and I don’t want to ask for gift cards or cash to further my debt repayment. Do you have suggestions for Christmas gifts for folks trying to adopt a more frugal lifestyle? One example I was thinking is an at home pedicure set since I’ve cut salon visits out of my budget.
This is something I struggle with, too. I actually don’t want very many things at all and the things that I do want are usually very practical items that I end up purchasing for myself – things like LED light bulbs and the like. Since most of the people who give me gifts seem to be mystified as to what to get me, I usually end up making an Amazon wish list with items on it that I only vaguely want. Sure, I’ll end up using the things I put on there, but it’s usually odd things I’d never buy for myself. (For example, this year I asked for a box of Palomino Blackwing 602 pencils. Yes, I (sort of) want pencils for Christmas.)
It’s not only frustrating for me, it can also be frustrating for people who want to give me gifts. A frugal person can be very hard to buy for because they’re usually mostly expressive about activities and very practical things – that’s just part of being frugal. However, those types of expressions don’t really give gift-givers very good clues about what to get you. It can be frustrating and confusing.
Never fear, Trent is here. Here are a bunch of great gift ideas for the frugal people in your life – and some ideas for your “wish list” if you’re a frugal person.
A Few Basic Principles
First of all, here are a few principles that are always good for giving gifts to frugal people.
Items that enable greater frugality are always welcomed. An item that leads directly to saving money and/or time is almost always appreciated (provided of course that the person doesn’t already have the item).
Homemade or handmade items are almost always welcomed. Such items usually require an investment of time rather than money, and that’s an investment that frugal people usually really appreciate. Of course, you can always find something homemade that’s weird or tacky or tasteless or causes allergies, but knowing your recipient can help with that.
“Splurge” items that aren’t useful are usually a bad idea and will wind up being sold or “regifted.” The impression that many people have of frugal folks is that they’re intentionally denying themselves things that they secretly want and that it’s a great idea to give them gifts that fulfill those secret desires. The truth is that many frugal people don’t have those desires at all and they’ll feel really awkward if you give them an expensive “splurge” gift, as they likely don’t want it so they have to act really appreciative and then quietly sell or re-gift it.
When in doubt, “reliable” and “sturdy” are always good things to look for. Frugal people always appreciate well-made stuff that will last for a long time and that they’ll actually use regularly. Long-lasting stuff that will be used regularly is always going to earn a genuine smile and thanks.
Take the time to know the person’s actual interests and hobbies. Frugal people have hobbies and interests just like everyone else. Those hobbies and interests always point toward great gifts, but you have to really pay attention to the person. I love giving people who are interested in a particular hobby a gift certificate to a store related to that hobby, as it ensures that they’ll have fun.
Gift Ideas for the Frugal Person
Here are a bunch of specific gift ideas that will work well for frugal people. As always, be sure that they don’t already have the item before you give a gift!
A Slow Cooker
I can’t tell you how many times a slow cooker has made it possible for us to eat a family dinner at home together without having to order expensive and unhealthy takeout. The ability to just load up a slow cooker in the morning and have a hot meal ready to serve in the evening when it’s most convenient for us is incredibly useful and has saved us a lot of money and time over the years. Plus, it’s helped us to get our whole family around the table, which is a great thing for families.
If you want a specific model recommendation, this six-quart programmable Crock Pot works really well for our family. We’ve been using it twice a week (at least) for a couple of years now and it keeps working like a charm, churning out perfectly cooked hot meals for our family.
If you really want to amp this gift up, buy some slow cooker meal kits to go along with the gift. Many stores sell kits that you just pull out of the freezer and put in the slow cooker.
Freezer and Oven-Safe Storage Containers
Containers that allow you to easily store food in the freezer and then use that same container to bake or microwave the food are invaluable to frugal folks like myself, especially when those containers are highly reusable. They make it possible to freeze meals for the future and easily just pop them in the microwave for a quick lunch. They also make it possible to get additional uses out of leftovers, like stowing away those last couple of squares of lasagna.
Our freezer is currently loaded with a variety of these containers. We use them constantly for storing whole meals, individual meals, good individually packaged leftovers, and even some ingredients we’ll use later for other meals.
I particularly like this package of glass containers with snap-on lids. They work very well in the freezer, the microwave, and the oven as long as you don’t rapidly heat them (I probably wouldn’t move them directly from the freezer to the oven, in other words). A large pack of those in varying sizes works great for storing pre-made meals and leftovers.
A Chef’s Knife
There’s one single knife that I use daily in our kitchen and that’s a chef’s knife. It has a point that works for paring most things, a blade that’s wonderful for chopping big and small vegetables and cuts of meat, and it fits wonderfully in the hand. I’m convinced that all you really need for knives in a kitchen is a good chef’s knife and maybe a small paring knife for very fine paring jobs. I’d far rather have just those two options (and maybe a bread knife) than a block full of knives that I rarely use.
Not only that, there’s a skill factor involved. With a block of knives, you have to learn about how to best use several different knives and, in a home kitchen, you’re never really going to get adept with any of them. With one good trusty knife that you keep honed and sharpened and really learn about in terms of the balance and weight, you can get extremely adept, making it easy to handle almost any cooking task before you.
So, what’s a good chef’s knife? I personally love my 8″ Global chef’s knife and have been using it almost daily for years, but it might be pricy for some. A very, very good reasonably costed chef’s knife is this model from Victorinox, which a friend of mine owns and I’ve used before. It is an excellent budget chef’s knife.
A Knife Sharpening Stone
Many people have a honing steel at home which is incredibly useful for maintaining your blade and keeping it as straight as possible, but it doesn’t maintain sharpness. Over time, every blade becomes less sharp and eventually all the honing in the world won’t help. That’s why a sharpening stone can be very useful, as it actually sharpens your blade. Honing your knife once every few days is great, but every few months to a year, your knives need sharpening.
My preferred knife sharpening stone is this triple-sided one from Wusthof, which is amazing when it comes to maintaining an edge on a knife. It goes far beyond what a honing steel can do and will make your knives have a very, very long life if you sharpen them occasionally.
A good blade just makes everything easier. A well-sharpened and honed knife that’s of even the slightest quality will cut right through pretty much any food you put in front of it, and go right through most things almost without resistance. The simple act of sharpening makes a world of difference.
A Cast Iron Skillet
I love non-stick skillets for their convenience, but when the Teflon starts to wear off, those skillets become worthless as you can’t exactly eat food with chunks of Teflon in it. That seemed to happen to me about once every couple of years, meaning I was constantly getting new pans. The best solution I’ve found for having a pretty good non-stick surface is to have a well-seasoned cast iron skillet.
Cast iron is pretty much the same no matter where you buy it (unless you buy something extremely cheap), so I’d go with this conveniently priced Lodge 12″ cast iron skillet, which will do the job like a champ.
If you really want to go the extra mile for your friend or loved one, do the work of seasoning that cast iron skillet yourself. It’s not hard – you mostly just coat it in some sort of fat like butter or vegetable oil and bake it in the oven for an hour, then clean it thoroughly with water and a brush, then do that same process again a few times. That way, when they receive the cast iron skillet, it will be ready for them to use immediately in their kitchen.
A Safety Razor (and a Box of Blades)
Shaving my face is a conundrum. An electric razor does a decent job, but it never feels like a really close shave and you still have to occasionally replace the fairly expensive blades. Cartridge razors do a fairly good job, but replacing the cartridges gets pretty pricy. The best solution, really, is the way my grandfather used to do it, with an old fashioned safety razor and single blades that cost a few pennies apiece. It gets a very close shave and has very, very little upkeep cost.
Another approach along these lines is to get a sharpener for disposable razors, which enables you to greatly extend their lifespan. I’ve used this particular sharpener for years with great success.
Good Rechargeable Batteries (and a Recharging Kit)
We’re constantly using batteries for all kinds of things, from television remotes and children’s toys to digital outdoor thermometers and flashlights. That also means that we run through batteries quite often and buying more and more and more batteries is not only expensive, it’s also kind of wasteful. Do we really need to be dumping tons of these things in the trash?
The solution to that problem is rechargeable batteries. When a rechargeable battery runs out of juice, you just pop it in the charger and a few hours later it’s as good as new.
I have had great experiences with eneloop rechargeable batteries, which come in a variety of sizes and even come already charged. Here’s a great eneloop starter kit that provides a charger and a bunch of rechargeable batteries of different sizes.
A set of quality bed sheets that are comfortable to lay on and breathe well is something that almost anyone can appreciate. It’s a personal gift in a way, but it’s also a practical gift.
If the recipient lives in a colder climate, consider giving them a set of flannel sheets, which are wonderful in the wintertime. In a warmer climate, high thread count cotton sheets are almost always welcome as they breathe wonderfully at night. Obviously, sizes vary, as do desired colors.
Simply having an extra set of sheets is also convenient as it removes some of the pressure of having to immediately wash sheets, plus it provides a backup in case of an emergency situation. Trust me – if you have children, there’s likely going to be some kind of emergency situation at some point.
Good Food and Beverage Items
Consumable items – food and drink – are another item that’s a great gift for anyone, especially when you are aware of the recipient’s tastes and are willing to go the extra mile to find something quality that caters to those tastes.
This is especially true for frugal people, who often won’t splurge on expensive food and beverage items but can certainly appreciate those items.
Take me, for example, I love it when someone gets me a piece of well-aged cheddar cheese (seven or ten years) or a bomber or a six pack of an unusual and flavorful craft beer. Those are things that I deeply enjoy the flavors of but won’t usually buy for myself, which means it’s a perfect gift.
Specific High Quality Tools
Like many frugal people, I like repairing things myself and making them work. There’s nothing better than extending the life of a perfectly good item just because I spent a few minutes taking it apart and fixing the problem. Little tasks like replacing a doorknob or fixing an old toaster are well worth spending a little bit of time because it keeps you from just needlessly throwing money at a problem and being wasteful.
Of course, doing this means that you have to rely on some common tools. Screwdrivers. Drills. Claw hammers. Files. Hacksaws. Ratchets. Crescent wrenches. These tools come up fairly frequently if you’re fixing things and building things around the house.
Frugal people appreciate frequently used items that do their job well, so we appreciate good tools. Of course, we may already have these tools, so spending a bit of time to feel out a frugal person about what he/she has and wishes he/she had, as well as any tools that are maybe on the verge of failing or don’t work well, will give you some great insight here.
Specific Camping or Hiking Gear
Most of our family travel is centered around camping out of a car. We’ll go to a campground, pitch a tent, eat over an open fire for days, and enjoy the outdoors.
Thoughtful gear that makes those trips more enjoyable are always appreciated. Items like a cast iron Dutch oven or a good easy-to-light lantern are going to immediately find a home in our camping kit… speaking of which, a large container to store a camping kit for easy retrieval can also be useful.
As with the tools, getting a sense of the recipient and the things they have really pays off here. Look for things that the recipient has that doesn’t work well or that the recipient would actually find useful on a camping trip. Would they like to try cooking in a Dutch oven over an open fire, for example?
Do you have the skill and/or the interest to make items yourself? Homemade gifts are almost always appreciated by frugal people because they really understand what goes into making them and the care involved.
Make some homemade jam and give that person a jar. Make a batch of homemade soap. Maybe you could knit or crochet something for that person. Produce some of your own stationery by attaching photo prints tastefully to blank cards. Make a batch of homemade beer for that person. You can even do something as directly thoughtful as making a bunch of freezer meals for a busy family.
I’ll give you an example: my sister-in-law spent quite a bit of time making us some handmade Christmas ornaments a couple of years ago that are just gorgeous. They look simple at first glance, but when you look closer, they’re amazingly intricate. They’re also a bit personalized as well. Those ornaments mean more to us than pretty much anything she could have bought us.
The best gift for a frugal person is a practical gift that shows some knowledge of the recipient. Simply taking the time to have a conversation or two about that person is really the valuable part of the gift, because it shows that you took the time to care, and that means far more than just throwing money into a gift that doesn’t really match up with what the recipient might want.
Once you do that, the gift giving is easy. Just think of something practical that they’ll actually use that connects to what you’ve learned, and if you can’t come up with anything, do a little homework.
If you do that, it’s almost impossible to give a bad gift. Not just to a frugal person, but to anyone.
Good luck, and happy holidays!