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5 Tips for Budget Gift Giving

Insights & Ideas Team •  November 29, 2016 | Your Finances, On a Budget

Although it truly is the thought that counts, it can be hard to resist the hottest toy or latest designer bag when you’re shopping for loved ones. You want to give your friends and family the perfect gifts, but with so many people to shop for it can be a huge hit to your bank account. Whether you’re shopping for holiday gifts, birthday gifts or hostess gifts, consider these five ideas for gift giving on a budget.

1. Set a budget in advance, and stick to it. Before you brainstorm what to get, have a figure in mind for how much you want or can afford to spend, both per person and in total. For example, during the holiday season when you have a long list of recipients, consider cutting that list down a bit or scaling back on how much you spend per person. Knowing that you can spend only $20, $50 or $100 for each gift will help you narrow down your choices and rule out things that cost too much. As difficult as it might be, stick to your budget as best as you can. When you break down your total budget by person, leave a bit extra for people you may have missed or last-minute gifts.

2. Choose thoughtful over expensive. Think about what the recipient loves, and be creative about how to express that. If your best friend has a great sense of style, you can look for a vintage brooch or clutch at an antique shop. If your brother likes to travel, search flea markets for an artistic print from one of his favorite spots. Peruse craft shows and Etsy for one-of-a-kind handmade jewelry and home décor. If your recipient loves food or has a favorite drink, look for special treats that may not necessarily be expensive gifts but also aren’t everyday purchases, like high-quality spices, artisan popcorn or craft whiskey.

Use your own talents to create low-cost gifts. Knit a scarf, make jewelry or craft a set of notecards that the recipient would love and could use. Bake a tasty treat or offer a home-cooked meal, babysitting services or lessons. Invite your neighbor over and teach her how you make the paella she raves about, or take your niece to the art museum to share your love of impressionism. Giving your time can be just as—if not more—appreciated as spending money is.

For hostess or white-elephant gifts, buy common gift items, such as candles, soap, tea towels or mugs, in bulk; and then create gift baskets that anyone would enjoy. You can find baskets for cheap at thrift stores, or use coupons at craft stores to save on packaging. Stock up on bags, boxes, wrapping paper and fillers when you see it on sale.

Add a personal touch to cash or gift cards by explaining why you gave it or making it visually appealing. Write a note in the card that says “an Amazon gift card for my favorite book lover” or “put this money in your Paris fund.” Take out small bills that you can fold into money origami, or tape them to a sign, spelling out “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hanukkah.”

3. Share the costs. To cut down on the number of people you buy for, suggest a Secret Santa-type exchange with your family or friends so that you each buy only one gift. Or limit gift giving to immediate family members or children under a certain age. If several of you are buying gifts for the same person, suggest a group gift that is more expensive than what you would spend on your own but would be affordable when split among two, three or more people.

Creating a Solid Financial Plan: Your Guide to Money Management4. Give the gift of experience. Rather than spending $100 on a silk scarf or jewelry, take your mom or sister out to a new restaurant or play, or pay to take a class together. Watch sites like Groupon and Living Social to save money on events you can do together. If you and your siblings or cousins struggle to make time to get together, start a tradition of trying a new restaurant or new cuisine together, and set the date at holiday gatherings. Many restaurants run specials in the lull between New Years and Valentine’s Day, and some cities have Restaurant Week during that time, when you can get a three-course meal for a fixed price. Even if you end up spending the same amount of money that you would have on the gift, you’ll be spending it on the recipient and yourself, so it can count as both a gift and entertainment in your budget.

5. Follow a formula. Instead of buying your kids everything in the toy catalog, tell them you will buy them one thing from each of these categories:

  • Want
  • Need
  • Wear
  • Read

By setting expectations early, you can teach them the importance of sticking to a budget, being thankful for the gifts they do receive and focusing on the true meaning of the holiday.

The best gifts don’t have to be expensive. By thinking outside the box, your gift giving can be thoughtful and budget friendly. And remember that you don’t need to shop for the holidays during the holidays. With a little planning, next year you could spread the cost of all your gift giving throughout the year, using coupons and sales to help save more money – and maybe take a little stress out of the holidays, too. 

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