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August 3, 2016

How to Give Great (Frugal) Gifts

I recently read a post on another blog about how the author and her husband don't give each other gifts for events like anniversaries. They give some long-winded reasons why, but it mostly comes down to saving money.
I strongly disagree with this policy, so I will explain why I think gift giving is important and how to give great gifts without spending too much.

It's Better to Give than to Receive
When I was a kid, I loved getting presents. I grudgingly gave presents as a sort of quid pro quo, but I was all about receiving. I think this may be rooted in the fact that my birthday is very close to Christmas, so presents were a once-a-year affair for me. I had to savor the crap out of them, and I did.

As the years have gone by, I find I enjoy receiving less and less. Meanwhile, I tend to enjoy giving much more than I used to. The thrill of finding the perfect gift for someone and their face when they open it is one of the best feelings I know of. I can't imagine depriving myself and my family of this feeling just to save a few bucks, and to "smooth out our happiness curve."

The funny thing is, this is one of the few things I can point to that suggest I am becoming a more mature human being.

It's the Thought that Counts
The most important point to remember about gift giving is that gifts don't have to be expensive. It is much more important for them to be meaningful to the person receiving them.

The author of the post in question describes the drop in happiness that results from spending money on gifts. I find this proposition ridiculous because I have never spent so much on a gift that it put me into a funk.

In general, the rules I follow when giving a gift are:
  1. The item must be reasonably priced.
  2. The recipient should genuinely want or need the item.
Here's a few examples of gifts I've given my wife:
  • Damped toilet seat (don't knock it 'till you've tried it) - $20
  • Walkie talkies - $30
  • Adult onesie - $15
  • Belt sander - $60
  • Bikini (from Brazil) - $30
I know some of those items seem ridiculous, but they had meaning. For example, Chrissy absolutely loved the onesie I got her. Here's her using it while working on three separate house projects.
Hanging pegboard.
Refinishing doors.
Stenciling the bedroom.

I bet some of you thought the belt sander was a joke, but it happened.

And saving the best for last, here's a series of photos proving Chrissy was the world's happiest person after receiving a set of walkie talkies. You better believe I didn't feel bad later about spending $30 on that gift.

Luckily, my wife has similar sensibilities and gives me gifts along the same lines.

You Deserve It
As you know, frugal folks tend not to buy very many things. In general this is a good thing, but it can occasionally go a little too far. As a frugal fellow, I have been guilty of depriving myself and my family from having some of the things we want.

Holidays are a good opportunity to cut loose (a little) and give our loved ones the things they deserve, even if they cost a little more than you would normally spend. This concept obviously has limits--you can't spend recklessly on every little holiday, or even every big one, but you get the point. Here's a couple examples:
  1. I hemmed and hawed about getting a pair of driving gloves for a long time. I even went so far as to order a pair online that were on clearance, only to have them not fit. I refused to pay the roughly $80 that a nice pair of gloves would cost, so my wife took it upon herself to buy me the gloves for Christmas, and I love them.
  2. Chrissy talked about getting a digital SLR camera for quite a while, but I kept telling her they were too expensive and we didn't need one. I argued our current little point-and-shoot camera was fine, even with the big scratch on the lens. Chrissy also mentioned how nice it would be to have a decent camera to take pictures of our soon-to-arrive baby. I continued to argue against it, but I behind the scenes I bought an awesome compact camera (Sony RX100 II) from my coworker and gave it to Chrissy for Christmas, a month before our baby was born. I spent $350 on the camera, which is a lot (but a lot less than the camera's $750 MSRP), but I made my wife very happy and I don't think I will regret having quality photographs of my baby any time soon.
As with all spending, the key to spending on gifts is to be contentious. If you give gifts that are reasonable you will never experience a "dip in happiness" due to your giving, and everyone's average level of happiness will be higher.

How do you avoid spending too much on gifts? Let me know in the comments.

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