“So, What Do You Want for Christmas?”

Over the past few weeks, I’ve heard this question several times from various people who find me on their Christmas gift list this year. I’m guessing they’re all thinking more or less the same thing: what do you get for a guy who doesn’t really want anything? So they ask me, and then I’m left with that difficult question to answer.

Frugal people are often the hardest to buy winning gifts for. Quite often, frugal people don’t want things that don’t have obvious utility or that don’t match their tastes well – it’s just “stuff” that takes up space. At the same time, they don’t often go for the obvious gift stuff, either – they really don’t need another tie or so on.

So what’s a person to do if they’re going to buy a gift for a frugal person? At the same time, what kind of sane answer can I give in response to that question?

Over the last few years, these questions have confronted me face to face many times. After some careful consideration (both for my own purposes and for The Simple Dollar), I’ve come up with a handful of general guidelines that will help in purchasing gifts for any frugal person – or might help a frugal person come up with gift ideas.

Focus on core passions. Get to know the person you’re buying for. What are they passionate about? What do they spend their free time doing? For me, the answers are pretty easy – I read, I write, I cook, and I play games with friends. So, for me, books are a good idea, as are nice notebooks. Good kitchen items are good, as are quality food items (like great cheeses). Board games are also good.

If you don’t know what specific item to get, get a passion-focused gift card or gift certificate. For example, a gift card for me to Barnes and Noble or Williams-Sonoma or Funagain Games wouldn’t be a bad idea. Why? This lets the person indulge in what they’re passionate about without feeling guilty about spending their hard-earned money on something extraneous.

Buy a single quality item instead of several of lower quality. Frugal people value things that are well-made and that will stand the test of time. Get a frugal person one good gift instead of three low-quality ones. Get them one good knife instead of a block of mediocre ones.

Consumables usually work. If you know a frugal person who likes chocolate, get that person a few bars of really good chocolate. If you know a frugal person who likes cheese, get them a chunk of Maytag Blue. If you’re gifting a beer loving frugal person, get a six pack from your local microbrewery – or if the person likes wine, go to a local winemaker.

A high quality food item in line with their tastes is usually quite enjoyed for several reasons. For one, it’s an indulgence they would likely not spend their money on. For another, it’s not yet another item that takes up space in their home because it’s consumed.

Avoid stuff that isn’t obviously useful or isn’t in line with their core values. Frugal people are often utilitarians, which means they don’t see great value in items that don’t fulfill a specific need or a specific use in their life. Avoid the kinds of gifts that rely heavily on aesthetic appeal unless you intimately know their aesthetics. If you miss their aesthetics, you’re just going to give them a gift that frustrates them.

In general, these are good gift-giving strategies for most people. The real core of the message here is to simply put a bit of thought into the gifts you give. “It’s the thought that counts” is often said tritely, but it’s really true: a little thought at gift-giving time goes a long way.

Trent Hamm

Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.