budget living

Ask Em: gift-giving on a budget & “have it all” recipients

[This is a part of a new series I’m launching called “Ask Em”, where I will answer any questions you send me (and also throw them out to our smart readers for their input). If you’ve got a question for the B&B community, send me an email at em [at] blondeandbalanced [dot] com and I (we) will do our best to answer it! (You can remain anonymous if you prefer.)]


Hello Em!

Now that we are getting into the holiday season, I am wrestling with how to approach gift-giving this year. As newlyweds and new home owners, my husband and I don’t have a ton of extra money to spend, but we still have a long list of family to buy presents for. Even if we do small gifts, $10 here and $15 adds up SO quickly!!

To compound the problem, many of the people who are hardest to shop for are also the ones who care the most about presents and would be hurt if we didn’t do anything or tried to “cheap out.” We don’t live close to most of my family, so we can’t do the “experience” gift/time together thing, and dietary restrictions mean that chocolates or homemade treats wouldn’t fly, either. We are not crafty or you can bet I would be at Michael’s every day for the next month and a half!

So, I don’t know what the holidays are like for you and your family, but I would love to see your thoughts on frugal (but nice!) gift-giving. I am especially interested in gifts for people who “have it all.”

Thank you! 🙂

~Perplexed Gift-Giver

Dear Perplexed:

What an excellent question! (And one I’m sure plenty of readers can relate to.)

You’ve raised a couple great questions, so let’s address them in order:

1. Buying for a large family

We have a very large extended family, so many years back, my aunts and uncles decided to start a white elephant gift exchange for our big gathering on Christmas Eve. We each bring an item up to $20, wrapped up with no name on it, and then all of the adults and grownup cousins spend a good hour or two stealing gifts, swapping gifts, and generally having a ton of fun. Some of the gifts are nice, generic things lots of people might like (booze and car kits are popular with our fam), and some are gag gifts like whatever the latest As-Seen-on-TV item is. (The Shake Weight was surprisingly popular a couple years ago!) It’s always a hilarious time.

The Hubby and I still buy gifts for our immediate families (parents and siblings), but this is a great way to avoid shelling out tons of money—and to have a great time at a family party that could otherwise get kind of boring after the 10th story of Uncle Marvin’s hip surgery!  🙂

If your family doesn’t go for this, consider monitoring daily deals sites throughout the year to stock up on presents you know different people will like. If you buy things over the course of the year, it’s not nearly so tough as getting hit all at once at the holidays. We also like to visit the stores right after Christmas (not Black Friday, but the week after) to snag plenty of generic deep-discount things we store in our “gift closet” until Christmas.

2. “Hard to buy for” people

First of all, anyone who takes offense to getting a “cheap out” present doesn’t deserve too much of your time and energy. These people are grownups, right? And they know you’re newlyweds on a budget? If they’re going to get miffed over a “cheap out” gift (which they probably will no matter what you get them), then let them. Give them something you know is thoughtful and caring, and let them be petty if they want.

(Sorry if that sounds harsh, but I have no patience for Grinches!)

I like that you mention doing DIYing gifts if you could. You may not be crafty, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still give people one-of-a-kind handmade items! Check out sites like etsy, local boutiques, and even crafty friends for fun gift ideas. Think outside the box: themed cufflinks for business types with favorite hobbies, framed inspirational quotes, funky wine stoppers for wine lovers. Some etsy sellers and boutique items can be pricey, but you can also find some really great deals if you search a little—and you can guarantee it won’t be something the recipient “already has.” Or, if you have a friend who’s really crafty, maybe they could knit you some scarves/make you some candles/or whatever else they do in exchange for something you can provide. (Babysitting services? Home-cooked meals? Get creative!)

And whatever you give them, don’t worry about putting too much time and thought into it. Give it your best, but don’t be put out by anyone immature enough to hold a present against you.

Turning it over to you guys: Have you dealt with either of the issues that “Perplexed” brings up? How have you handled them? What advice would you give her?



photo credit:  Vincent_AF



  • great post!
    I generally tend to start looking for christmas presents as early as possible, because then I have a lot of time and I can find a lot of pretty things on different sales, or when I`m on holiday etc. plus, financially, I wont feel the economic downside in december when I spread the buying over several months. now, I have to admit I only buy to my parents, brother and sister, and my BF`s parents and sister. and of course my BF. I think its silly to keep giving gift to extended family. such a waste of money. why not have an honest conversation about how things really are, and just agree not to spend loads of money this year?

    • Blonde on Budget! Another light-haired PF sister! We’re all over the place, lol. 🙂

      I agree totally. Stocking up throughout the year has saved us a pretty penny at holiday time. And I also believe that adults should be able to have an honest conversation about gift-giving. There are so few things I really “WANT want” anymore…it always amazes me when “grownups” are petty over gifts. The older you get, the more you should realize it’s about the thought and the love, not the STUFF.

      • haha! yeah, I guess we are! I guess it just suited me. I`m blonde (with some regular haircolour), a student, so I live on a really tight budget, and I`ve gone through many changes financially speaking. I just hope I can find a way to write about PF without it getting boring…and combining it with Life in general. Oh, well, I guess there`s a lot of inspiration to find, and I dont think I have to look any further;-)

        on the gift-matter, my mother and aunt finally decided to give up the whole christmasgiftsdebacle this year, after giving gifts between us cousins for about 30 years.. I mean, come on. 30 years. I havent even seen my cousins for several years, nor do I have any form of contact with them. So I`m pleased thats over. Doesnt feel very heartfelt to receive random gifts, just because people feel they HAVE to, instead of wanting to. There shouldnt be any guilty obligations behind a present. there should only be the joy of giving.

        • I’m the same way. When I took over B&B, I know it was mainly PF related. But I’m going more in an overall “balance” direction, because I feel like it speaks to more people. And I definitely have those moments where it’s like “Yikes! What on earth am I supposed to write about this week?” The good news is, life always winds up giving me some sort of idea, whether it’s my car breaking down or a story I read somewhere. It’s funny, but the more blogs I read, you’d think I’d feel LESS motivated to write, because there are so many people writing on similar topics. But it actually gives me more ideas. We each have our own stories to tell. And I love reading everyone else’s.

          Definitely with you on the gift issue. Presents just for the sake of presents, when you rarely even see the person during the year, is just an obligation. There’s no real feeling there. And it’s the feeling that should really matter.

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