I know I'm very late to chime in on the topic of holiday gifts. I meant to finish this post earlier, but I've acquired a nasty case of the creeping crud, which has laid me pretty low for the last week or so. Anyway, here are a few thoughts on the topic.
I've posted previously about thinking (way) ahead for holiday gift giving. As you can well imagine, I'm no fan of the commercial and obligatory nature of gift exchange around the winter holidays. I'd rather skip it altogether, frankly. But I am a child of my culture, and the truth is I haven't managed to escape it, either as a giver or recipient of gifts. So I've given some thought to handling the gift situation in my own home and among my slightly extended family. I've also had a few general thoughts about gifts that have meant something to me over the long term.
As it happens, there are a very few things I actually need to buy for myself anytime soon. Things like socks and turtlenecks, which are half of my winter uniform. Most of my socks and turtlenecks are worn and threadbare. I'll continue to wear the turtlenecks until they fall apart a bit more, but I do want to get some that look more or less presentable. So turtlenecks and socks are going on my wishlist for Christmas. There's also a cookbook I've screened through the library which I would really like to own. So that's on my list as well. Basically, my approach then is one of asking for things I would otherwise almost certainly end up purchasing myself. My husband is taking the exact same approach, so that works out very well for the two of us.
As for my extended family, I'd just as soon get nothing from them other than the pleasure of their company. But I know that's not going to happen; they're going to spend money on something for me and my husband. So we're going to diplomatically steer them to gift cards for Powell's Books, and Home Depot, businesses we will certainly patronize sooner or later. Although this candor may seem crass, we know our families well enough to know they'll be happy to getting us something we'll use and appreciate.
I have young family members who are pretty much deluged with gifts around the holidays. It's so depressing to see how jaded they are by the 25th present they open that I've given up buying them anything at all. Instead I've resolved to do things with them. I know from my own childhood that I can remember very few of the Christmas gifts I received. Most of those I can remember are books that I still own. But I remember many events that my aunts and uncles took me to. Their involvement in my life was more of a gift to me than any toy ever could have been, and I remember many of them fondly. So this is what I'm going to do with my nieces and nephews. The frugal upside is that I can almost certainly have a memorable day with them for less money than I would spend shopping for a soon-to-be-forgotten present and wrapping it up.
For my older relatives I'm going to cook or bake gifts, which I've already been told would be most welcome. If I didn't know that already, I would probably take the approach of asking them if there were anything they planned to buy for themselves in the near future, much as I've done with my own wish list. For other family members and friends, I've already got a number of handmade gift ideas.
I did want to make one gift recommendation for recent college grads and young people just setting up their first household. One of the very best purchases I made when I first left home was a set of four cloth napkins. More than twenty years later, I still have these napkins, and they get regular use. I highly recommend a gift of 4 to 6 high quality cloth napkins for young adults. Pick something attractive enough for every day use, but not overly fancy, and avoid very light colors, which show stains far too much. This gift has the potential to steer the habits of a young gift recipient towards a frugal path. The habit of using cloth napkins instead of paper will save not only scarce natural resources, but money too. I'm all in favor of gifts like this that may cost a little, but will let the gift recipient save money for decades to come. Who knows? Having those cloth napkins may even open their eyes to a wider world of frugality.
I also heard a great story about a young woman who got a college graduation gift from her father. It was a set of basic tools that he had taken the time to paint pink. His daughter wasn't a girlie-girl; the pink color was not there to accessorize a Barbie lifestyle. No, the father had a more clever motivation. He wanted his daughter to have a hammer, a set of wrenches and screwdrivers, etc. The pink paint would make the tools easy to find in any construction area and against almost any background, so it would be hard to misplace them. And he knew that tools are often borrowed and never returned. He knew that no one would ever forget who these tools belonged to, so there was no chance of "forgetting" to return any item borrowed from this set. Nor would any man deliberately purloin a pink monkey wrench - it just wouldn't do. I think this is a great example of a truly thoughtful gift that is sure to be very frugal over the long run for the gift recipient.
If gifts must be exchanged, then I'm all for practicality and frugality in gift giving. Give gifts only when you know they will be useful to the recipient. Don't be afraid to ask what will be most useful to them. Maybe they could use a gift card for the grocery store. Maybe a young person needs a few items for the kitchen. Maybe something they use on a regular basis has worn out or broken and needs replacement.
Most of all remember that the best gift we can give or receive is the gift of time, attention, and care from those we love and those who love us. These gifts cost us nothing at all, and cannot be bought for any price.