The 2021 Frugal Holiday Gift Guide

If there’s a season that nudges people toward overspending, it’s the holidays. This presents a dilemma for frugal-minded people in two different ways. 

First, how exactly does a frugal person trying to be smart with their financial choices navigate the gift-giving season? On the other hand, how does someone with a frugally minded individual on their gift list find a gift that they’ll appreciate?

This guide not only serves as a source for ideas for people who are trying to buy gifts for frugal folks, but for frugal people who are struggling to figure out what gifts to give everyone else. 

In this article

    Thoughtfulness is far more important than the price tag

    Almost everyone, but particularly frugal people, will have a much greater appreciation for a $10 gift that involves some thought about the recipient and what they like and value versus a $20 gift grabbed at the convenience store on the way to the event. Not only does the recipient appreciate the thoughtful gift a lot more, it also reduces the financial burden on the giver.

    Of course, this requires some additional effort. You’ll need to spend some time finding out what your recipient’s current interests are, then doing some research into high-quality inexpensive gifts that fall in line with that interest. Specialty websites tend to be a good source for this. A well-considered $10 or $15 gift will be far more appreciated than a forgettable $25 gift. It is the thought that counts, particularly when it’s evident that you put thought into the gift.

    How do you find out what your recipient’s interests are? Look them up on social media and look at their recent entries. Ask people who are closer to them than you are, particularly their closest friends or spouse. Take a look at any personal spaces that you can easily observe, like their workspace or desk, as people will often show off their interests there. 

    [ More: 15 Holiday Gifts Under $15 ]

    High-quality items

    Most people, but particularly frugal people, value durable, high-quality items that they’ll frequently use. Items that can become part of a daily use rotation are particularly valued, and there are quite a few items that are perfect for this.

    If you can do so, look around their kitchen or other high-use areas for well-worn items and perhaps nearing the end of their lifespan. Research those specific items and look for a high-quality replacement. Almost everyone will appreciate a gift like that. Here are some examples:

    • Durable socks: A pair of high-quality durable Merino wool socks that will last for many years will quickly become a part of almost everyone’s sock rotation. Consider the offerings from Darn Tough or Point 6. A single pair actually makes a great gift, as they will last for years over many washings.
    • High-use kitchen tools: If they cook often, a high-quality version of a kitchen tool makes a great gift, particularly any that you notice being worn. A good place to look for recommendations on specific kitchen tools is Wirecutter, as they offer great suggestions for things like spatulas and paring knives. There are many useful kitchen tools that are available in reliable versions for well under $20; you could even get them multiple items.

    Food and drink

    Consumable gifts tend to make for smart gift ideas for everyone, but particularly for frugal folks who generally prefer to not accumulate material possessions. Consumable items that line up well with their tastes and interests are smart choices. Here are a couple of specific examples:

    • Hot sauce: If someone you know loves hot sauce, spending a bit of time to research good hot sauces can help you find an amazing inexpensive gift for them. For items like this, it’s good to look for sites that specialize in comparative reviews like this hot sauce comparison from The Strategist or to websites or message boards that specialize in that particular item like this hot sauce recommendation list from Reddit.
    • Craft beer: For items you might buy locally, go to a specialty shop in your area and ask for a recommendation from the staff. For a craft beer fan, for example, you might stop at a local craft beer store or liquor store. For consumable items, it can be worth your while to ask for locally made items, as they’re likely to be something new for the recipient, especially if they don’t live in your area.

    [ Read: I Forgot! Last Minute Holiday Gifts That Won’t Spoil Your Budget ]

    Hobby-related gifts

    How does the recipient spend their leisure time? If you know the person well, this is likely obvious; if not, a bit of homework can point you to a key interest or two. Once you know this, dig into that hobby a bit and see if you can find low-cost but pleasing gift ideas within that hobby’s sphere. One good approach is to look for “stocking stuffer” ideas within that hobby, as those tend to be great low-cost gifts with a small physical footprint.

    • Board and card games: If you are buying a gift for someone with a passion for board and card games, look for websites within that hobby and look for their gift-giving guides, specifically the stocking stuffer section. For example, you might stumble across this list of stocking stuffers from BoardGameGeek, or this 2020 holiday gift guide from Bitewing Games, which can point you to recommendations. Try to buy them locally so that they’re easily returned if needed, and consider ones that you might play with the recipient, too.
    • Knitting tools: If your recipient is into knitting, just look for selections of interesting patterns and yarn recommendations or useful tools. For example, you might follow the suggestions on this gift guide for knitters on The Strategist, or this gift list from Good Housekeeping. You also can’t go wrong with a gift certificate to a shop local to them that sells yarn.

    Handmade items

    If you’re adept at making anything, it’s likely going to be a great source for gifts, particularly if you produce something with the recipient in mind. Even if you don’t have a particular skill, investing the time to make a simple, handmade item with the recipient in mind will be both deeply meaningful and inexpensive. Check out the following examples:

    • Personalized stationery: It’s actually easy to make beautiful handmade stationery for someone. You just need some blank greeting cards, some craft paper, and a selection of photo prints. Choose images from your library that would be meaningful to the recipient, get prints made of them, then use them to make beautiful note cards that they can use for thank-you notes or other purposes.
    • Soup kits: It’s also easy to assemble nice soup kits in simple mason jars. Here are some recipes for easy-to-assemble soup kits, which can be decorated with just a bit of cloth and ribbon. If you can find a kit recipe for a type of soup that the recipient likes, or one that touches on a shared memory, that makes for a perfect thoughtful inexpensive gift.

    [ Next: 10 Homemade Holiday Gifts You Can Start Making Now ]

    Gift experiences

    Another tactic for good frugal gift-giving is an “experience” gift, one that results in some kind of experience that they might not otherwise have. This can really tie into some other categories here, particularly the hobby-oriented category. Again, focus on the recipient — what would he or she like — and that will lead you to low-cost meaningful ideas. Here are a couple of examples.

    A gift certificate for a local treat like ice cream, coffee or a novelty shop could also work as an experience gift. This lines up really well if you happen to know a particular treat that the person likes. For example, if you have a friend that loves ice cream, a gift certificate for ice cream from the best local ice cream shop is a wonderful gift. You might even include a note to suggest that they hold on to some of that certificate until a time comes where you can get ice cream with them.

    A gift certificate to a local attraction, such as a wine tasting for someone who enjoys wine or a trip to an art museum for someone who appreciates art. You can often find discounted gift certificates to local attractions via sites like Groupon, and some nonprofit attractions may be tax-deductible.

    [ Read: 20 Gift Ideas for That Frugal Person in Your Life

    We welcome your feedback on this article. Contact us at inquiries@thesimpledollar.com with comments or questions.

    Trent Hamm

    Founder & Columnist

    Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

    Reviewed by

    • Nashalie Addarich
      Nashalie Addarich
      Insurance Editor

      Nasha Addarich is an editor at The Simple Dollar and a former attorney who specializes in home insurance, auto insurance, life insurance, and savings. She is a former contributing editor to Reviews.com.