One of the most popular articles I’ve ever written, at least as judged by the reader feedback I’ve received, is Holiday Gift Ideas for the Frugal People in Your Life, which featured a list of somewhat generalized gift ideas for frugal people that they have to buy gifts for. Obviously, the list wasn’t so much intended for frugal people, but for people who have to buy gifts for frugal people, and my intent was to write it as a frugal person myself.
Here’s what the list included:
+ A slow cooker (with this specific model suggested)
+ Freezer and oven-safe storage containers (with these specific ones suggested)
+ A chef’s knife (with this model and this model suggested)
+ A knife sharpening stone (with this model suggested)
+ A cast iron skillet (with this model suggested)
+ A safety razor and blades (with this model suggested)
+ A rechargeable battery kit (with this model suggested)
+ Bed sheets
+ Quality food and beverage items
+ High quality tools
+ High quality camping items
+ Homemade items
The questions still roll in from that post. Most of the time, the notes are simply requests for more ideas or from people hoping that I’ll evaluate the idea they came up with. After receiving a bunch of these requests over the last year and responding to many of them privately or in reader mailbags, I decided that a follow-up list might be useful.
A few very important caveats:
First, I’m recommending very specific items here because that’s often been requested by readers. Rather than just saying something like “good tools,” they want me to point to a specific item. I encourage you to also use your own creativity and “riff” on a suggestion to put your own twist on it, if you can.
Second, I’m posting this list now because many of the gifts on this list are great gifts for Father’s Day. They’re great gifts for men and women for many such events throughout the year, but I know from my own life experience that many of these types of items are very welcome on Father’s Day rather than a tie or something of that nature.
Third, if you do decide to give one of these gifts, put in the time to make sure that the recipient doesn’t already have it or would like it. Have a conversation with them about a particular area; for example, if you’re looking at getting that person a camping item, ask them for advice about camping and ask what they use. Similarly, make sure the recipient actually likes coffee before getting them an item related to coffee.
Fourth, frugal people generally enjoy consumable items and practical items; the only high-end items that they generally like are ones can actually use to spend less money or to produce something high quality without additional cost. High end items (unless they’re very practical) are usually a poor idea, as are items that a frugal person can buy used with little fuss. Frugal people like practical gifts! That’s really the key thing here.
Fifth, if your frugal recipient is actually asking for something, go with that person’s wishes! Frugal people are practical people and, unless you know them really well, surprises are often troubling. If you find that there’s something that they actually want, listen and get that instead of the items listed here!
Finally, don’t forget the specific items mentioned at the start of this article. They’re very practical gifts; I just happened to mention them in an earlier article first. Consider them “grandfathered in” to this article!
All right, let’s dig in! Here are twenty potential gift ideas for frugal people (keeping the above caveats in mind, of course)!
This is a great gift for a busy frugal person who struggles to make home cooked meals and often relies on making very simple things. An Instant Pot really opens the door to a lot of other options for cooking at home, as it simultaneously serves as a slow cooker, a small pressure cooker, and a rice cooker and it enables a person to make a lot of meals in one pot that are hard to do even with a normal slow cooker. It’s very convenient for cooking meals while you’re away at work or spending the day doing something else.
I reviewed the Instant Pot a few months ago and concluded that it was a good purchase for someone who didn’t already have a slow cooker, but that the additional features weren’t quite enough to merit buying it to replace a slow cooker. If you know a frugal person who doesn’t have a slow cooker, this is a pretty sweet gift idea.
National Parks pass
Many frugal people enjoy time in nature, as it offers boundless opportunities for exercise and exploration. Many state and local parks are completely free, but some of the most beautiful vistas in America are in national parks, which typically require an admittance fee. For some, that can be a bump in the road that keeps them from utilizing our wonderful national parks.
Get rid of that bump in the road and buy your frugal friend or family member a one-year National Parks pass. This is a great gift to give to anyone who lives within a couple of hours of a national park or will be spending significant time near one in the next year or so. Very few frugal people with a taste for the outdoors will be able to resist checking out a national park if they have a free pass, and a national parks pass will get them into any national park for free for a year.
If your frugal friend is really into exploring nature, having a guide to the natural flora and fauna of the area can be really interesting and useful as it will add another dimension to their nature walks or stargazing.
I love sticking field guides in my back pocket or in my backpack whenever I’m going on a day hike or exploring a national park as it can help me identify birds and trees and other elements of the natural world.
An electric kettle
If you know someone who enjoys drinking tea, hot chocolate, and even coffee, a high quality electric kettle that can keep a lot of water hot for a significant period of time without the burner running can be a great choice. Many frugal couples simply use one of these instead of a traditional coffee pot because the hot water inside can be used simultaneously for coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and other hot beverages, or even for things like instant soup.
It’s also a great item to have along when “car camping” at a site with an electrical hookup, so if the frugal person has a family and they camp regularly, an electric kettle can become a part of their camping gear.
Again, this gift only makes sense for frugal folks who regularly drink hot beverages and don’t already have a nice electric kettle.
High-quality food and beverage items customized to their taste
This option was on the earlier list, but I’ve been asked for all kinds of suggestions pertaining to this, so I thought a more detailed follow-up might make sense.
A consumable gift is almost always a good idea for a frugal person. Most of the time, they’ve settled into some “bang for the buck” items that they like and they view expensive consumables as a splurge that they might enjoy but won’t indulge in because the bump in quality isn’t worth the money. If you have a 7/10 food item for $2, why spend $10 for an 8.5/10 or a 9/10? It’s not that they don’t recognize or appreciate the better item, it’s merely that they don’t feel the need to spend that extra money for a relatively small bump in quality.
This is where gift giving comes in, of course. Buying that person the higher-quality selection of a food or beverage that they already like is almost always a welcome gift. I love it when someone buys me a bomber of an unusual craft beer or a bag of really high quality coffee or some expensive cheese – something along those lines that I would never buy for myself, but of a type of food that I love.
Here are some suggestions, depending on the taste of the person involved, that you can easily have delivered. These are items that Sarah or I or other close friends and family members have received as gifts in the past and enjoyed (or sampled while visiting these shops while traveling).
- Coffee: Coffee from a local roaster, Stumptown Coffee Hair Bender, Counter Culture Coffee (almost anything), Madcap Coffee Oktoberfest, Craft Coffee subscription box
- Tea: Teas from a local shop, Teabox subscription box
- Craft beer: Anything local, Zombie Dust, Craft Beer Club subscription box
- Wine: Anything from a local winery, especially award winners
- Chocolate/Candy: Chocolates and candy from local manufacturers, Antidote Chocolate, Chuao Chocolate,
- Cheeses: Cheeses from local cheesemongers, Beecher’s (esp. their Flagship), Herve Mons bleu cheese (available at most Whole Foods)
(Note: Subscription boxes are generally a poor idea for frugal folks because they usually contain unwanted stuff that they have to deal with; however, when the items inside are completely consumable and of good quality, they’re often appreciated.)
A cold brew coffee maker
Cold brew coffee is an extremely inexpensive way to make coffee. If you have a cold brew coffee maker and space in your refrigerator, the only thing that’s required is the beans. No filters. No electricity for a coffee pot. Nothing.
All that you really need for making cold brew coffee is a vessel to hold the water and a container that fits inside that vessel to hold the grounds that holds in the grounds but allows water to pass through. You can use a French press for this, for example, or any sort of tea infuser, but ones designed for making cold brew coffee tend to work very well.
A French oven
A French oven is just a fancy name for an enameled cast iron pot. A well made enameled cast iron pot can be used to cook practically anything, as it works on stovetop burners, can be put in the oven, and can be put in the refrigerator or freezer for convenience as needed and is perfectly dishwasher safe. You can make pasta in it, casseroles in it, soups, scrambled eggs… pretty much anything you can think of can be cooked in one. It is a spectacular long-lasting multi-use item for pretty much any kitchen.
The only difference between a Dutch oven and a French oven is the enameled coating and, in fact, many publications use the term Dutch oven as a term to include both enameled and non-enameled cast iron pots with lids.
- Amazon: Lodge enameled cast iron pot in a variety of colors and sizes
This is one of those wonderful simple things that often get overlooked but really make a noticeable difference in quality of life. Good, high quality socks – the kind that are really comfortable, wick away moisture without odor, and survive many, many washings without bearing holes – are the kind of thing that frugal people really appreciate, because such socks are comfortable and address a need for a very long time without replacement.
Keep an eye on the style of sock that they frequently wear (dress socks? athletic ones? casual ones?) and note their foot size, then buy a few pairs of truly well made socks that match what they use. Well-made wool socks last and last and last.
- Amazon: Darn Tough merino wool socks
Many frugal folks at least dabble in gardening. They’ll often have a small garden in their backyard or a large pot or two on their patio in which they grow a few herbs or vegetables. Not only is it a very inexpensive hobby, the produce is tasty, too.
Heirloom seeds are garden seeds that you can save year after year to grow the same vegetables over and over again. Most seeds you buy in the store are hybridized, which means that the seeds cannot be grown, so heirloom seeds can provide an extra benefit to frugal gardeners. Plus, heirloom seeds are often of unusual varieties, which can be fun to grow.
- Seed Savers Exchange: Seed Collections
A compost bucket
Gardens need fertilizing to ensure that the plants grow well. Many frugal folks balk at the cost of fertilizer and thus seek out other methods of keeping the soil fertile, and one great way of doing that is with compost. However, having a compost bin requires quite a lot of space in the yard and it can be an odorous eye sore, so many people skip that option.
A great alternative to that is a classy compost bucket with a charcoal filter to keep the odor at bay. Charcoal filters last for a long time – more than a year, in my experience – so replacing them isn’t a big deal. A compost bucket stores vegetable scraps and coffee grounds and allows them to break down over time, making rich organic matter for the soil in which to grow your next round of vegetables.
Home fermented foods kit
Turning garden fresh vegetables into other edible foods, especially ones that can be kept in the refrigerator for a while, is something that many frugal people enjoy doing. We almost constantly have something fermenting or pickling on our kitchen counter.
It’s actually pretty simple to do it – you just need a glass jar and something to weigh down the food to keep it below the brine. Just put some vegetables in there – shredded cabbage to make sauerkraut, cucumbers to make pickles, green beans, beets, shredded vegetables to make kimchi – and then cover the vegetables with brine, weight them down, and then cover the jar and you’ll soon have something delicious in there, as the salty environment kills harmful bacteria and the natural bacteria and yeast pickle and ferment the foods.
All you need are a few simple items to get started and soon your frugal friend will be turning cucumbers from the garden into pickles and cabbage from the farmers market into mind-blowing sauerkraut.
A rechargeable electric toothbrush (and brush head replacements)
This falls directly into the category of “expensive initial investment, but great for preventive maintenance” category that many frugal people really value. Electric toothbrush models are highly recommended by most dentists, but they do tend to have a pretty real up-front cost and they do require upkeep costs like batteries and brush heads. In the eyes of a frugal person like myself, having something that does a really good job at preventive maintenance on the body is great, but those costs are a big reason why I’ll just stick with a manual toothbrush for now.
That’s why a rechargeable electric toothbrush with a bunch of brush head replacements is a good gift idea for a frugal person. It ensures that they’ll have the best in preventive maintenance on their teeth (reducing dental costs) without the expense of the actual brush, the batteries, or the brush heads (at least for a long time).
LED light bulbs
This is a pretty “unromantic” gift, but it’s a gift that will be hugely appreciated by any frugal person who is still using incandescent bulbs or CFL bulbs around their home.
LED bulbs cost a bit more upfront, but they use very little electricity and have a very, very long life span, especially compared to current bulbs. A single LED bulb will last about 20 times as long as a normal incandescent and use about a fifth of the electricity, but you pay for it up front. It’s a cost that many frugal people will skip over, especially if they still have incandescents to use.
Make that choice easy for them. Find LED bulbs that match the wattage and shape of many of the bulbs they use at home and they’ll happily put those new bulbs into their light sockets and enjoy the convenience and energy savings.
- Amazon: LED light bulbs
Flour sack towels
One of the least frugal things you’ll find in many kitchens is a roll of paper towels. Having lots of easy-to-use absorbable “towels” in a kitchen is really convenient, but buying a lot of towels that are really good at mopping up messes or covering dishes or bearing a snack or any of the things that we use a paper towel for can be tricky.
Many frugal folks eventually move to a “cloth drawer” when they accumulate enough towels and other cloths to utterly replace paper towels for almost all uses, but that takes a while. Simply using a small towel and then tossing it in the laundry means no more buying paper towels and no more filling the trash with them, either.
Flour sack towels are my favorite replacement for paper towels. They’re nice and soft and you can use them for drying, wiping, cleaning, covering bread dough as it rises, and all kinds of things you’d use a paper towel or a dish towel for in the kitchen. With a healthy number of them on hand, you don’t really need paper towels or dish towels any more.
A glass popcorn popper
Popcorn is a great frugal snack, but it’s far cheaper to just buy a big container of popcorn kernels than it is to buy microwaveable bags of popcorn. A great solution, then, is to just pop the kernels in a paper bag or something, which is cheaper but it still requires you to toss the paper bags after popping.
The best solution is an infinitely reusable solution. A glass popcorn popper designed for the microwave typically comes with a silicon lid that has a built in measurer for both the kernels and the right amount of butter. Just measure kernels in the lid, dump them in, put the lid on top, put the right amount of butter on that lid, and microwave it for three minutes. When it’s done, pour the butter on top, then eat the popcorn and then put all of it right in the dishwasher. This is a good gift along with a big bag or container of popcorn kernels.
This item is on this list primarily because the most frugal person I know absolutely beams when you give her handmade soaps as a gift. She generally uses very cheap generic soaps when buying them on her own, but having really well made soaps that are soft on the skin with wonderful aromas seems to just click perfectly with her.
Most quality grocers sell a nice variety of locally made soaps, which is where you should start your search. Try to pick soaps that match what the recipient would like in terms of scents and contents.
- If you want to have soap delivered, here are some great options: Eve’s Garden handmade soaps, Debbie’s Handmade Soap, and Etsy’s bar soap offerings
A charitable donation in their name
Many frugal people simply do not feel as though they need anything and they’re pretty careful about their wants, too. Often, they’re more concerned about the needs of others than the things that they may want, so a charitable donation in their name can be really meaningful.
Choosing the right place to donate can be a bit difficult, but you’re usually on safe ground when focusing on highly-regarded charities that benefit the poor.
- I personally highly recommend the charities recommended by GiveWell, a program dedicated to effective altruism. The charities they recommend tend to do a lot of good for every donated dollar.
A car emergency kit
This is an incredibly useful item that many, many people overlook these days, and it’s something that many frugal people will deeply appreciate due to the practicality of it.
A car emergency kit is something you just keep in the trunk of your car and never think about until the time comes when you need it, and a good kit contains pretty much anything you’d need in a roadside situation – jumper cables, flares, rain ponchos, a Mylar blanket, and so on. You can assemble such a kit yourself with items of your own choosing using this list as a guide or simply buy a readymade kit.
A solar charged external battery
Almost everyone, frugal or not, uses electronic devices every day. Cell phones, tablets, electronic book readers, and many other odds and ends need regular charging and that’s not always super convenient. One strategy many people employ for convenient charging is to use an external battery that they can plug their devices into anywhere, but that battery can run out of charge as well at an inopportune time.
One thoughtful solution is an external battery that’s chargeable through solar power, meaning that wherever there’s sunlight, you can charge up your devices without any need for a power outlet. An external battery that can charge with solar power is a super-convenient way to do this and enables people to charge their external batteries without sucking down power at home, either. It’s convenient and can save them a few cents to boot, plus it’s invaluable when camping or in nature.
The final idea for this list is an experience – something for them to do that they likely would never otherwise do. A gift certificate to a restaurant, tickets to a show or concert, passes to a museum, a gift certificate for a massage, passes to a convention catered to their interests – all of those things are experiences that a frugal person would deeply enjoy but would also pass up.
The best gift along these lines is one in tune with their current interests. If they enjoy art, a pass to an art museum is great. If they have a particular hobby, a pass to a convention related to that hobby is wonderful. Remember, you’re choosing the experience gift for them, not for you, so invest the time to actually research what they like.
A final note on this type of gift: It’s a bad idea to give a gift to a frugal person when it’s going to cost them a significant amount just to use it. Don’t buy them tickets to a big event when that means they’re going to have to pay for the trip unless you’re springing for the trip as well.
The key thing to remember with this list is that every single item on it should be trumped by the specific characteristics of the person you’re giving the gift to. You know this person; I don’t. If that person has a particular hobby or a particular interest, use that as a starting point. If that person has actually made a request of some kind, use that request. These are just “backup” ideas at best, shared by someone who doesn’t actually know your recipient.
That being said, most of the items on this list are going to have at least some appeal to many (but not all) frugal people. Gifts that save money, encourage preventive maintenance, can be consumed, and don’t result in the accumulation of non-practical stuff are almost always smart places to start with frugal people, and all of these gifts (mostly) fit right into those categories.