Sunday, November 1, 2009

November Frugal Action Item: Frugal Holiday Wish List

Originally uploaded by chatirygirl.

If you've been following my Frugal Action Items this year, I hope they have helped you shift to a more frugal mindset. If so, what I have to suggest this month might be obvious or redundant. But perhaps you read some of the Action Items and would have liked to participate, but something held you back. Did you lack a tool that would have enabled you to put the Action Item into practice? Well, it's not too late!

Fast approaches season of socially-obligated spending. If you know someone is going to be spending their hard earned money on you soon, why not ask for something you need to live a more frugal life? It may seem a little vulgar to be thinking this far ahead about your holiday gift wish list. But I'm bringing this up now so that you have time to work up the nerve to speak with that lovely great-aunt of yours who always buys you the most perfectly unsuited things for the holidays. Talk to her now before she spends the money. She means well, I know, but try to find a way to steer her towards a better use of her funds. And for the record, this is something I'm determined to do this year as well.

You don't need to seem crass in talking about what you'd prefer to receive. I've tried to come up with several suggestions for modest-seeming requests. Use the angle of wanting to shift to a more sustainable lifestyle if it will help smooth such a delicate conversation. Tell the gift-giver that you're finding it difficult going, so you're looking to those close to you for support in this new goal. If you simply can't pull that off without feeling caddish, there's always the charity option.

Long underwear - Probably one of the most economical investments if you live in a home you must heat for several months of the year. An extra layer of clothing that allows you to turn down the thermostat will repay itself in savings very quickly. Ask for long underwear for yourself and/or your kids if you have any. If you already have some, ask for a second or third set. That way you'll have some to wear while your first set is being laundered. A third set (in graduated sizes for the kids) is good insurance against possible hard times in the future.

Retractable clothes line, wooden clothespins, wooden drying rack - It's a good idea to have all of these if you don't have a permanent clothes line outside, or if you rent and move often, or if you live under the boot of one of those abominable home owners' associations that still forbids the hanging of laundry outside to dry. Don't, under any circumstances, buy plastic clothespins. They break like crazy. The wooden ones will last forever.

Sustainable living reference books - As much as I'm a fan of the local library, some books are worth owning simply because I refer to them again, and again, and again. So it's good to have them on hand whenever I need to find a certain piece of information. I've already got a recommended reading list on the side bar. Many of those titles are good frugal reference books or guides to sustainable activities. Subjects you might want to own references on include: cooking and baking, gardening (season extension, biointensive, permaculture, etc), field guides for plants and wildlife in your area, food preservation (especially canning, which shouldn't be done from memory), herbal medicine, first aid, guides to raising livestock, woodworking, crafting, DIY, etc.

Sustainable living tools - If there's a tool or some equipment that you've wanted to acquire to pursue some aspect of frugality or sustainability, now might be the time to ask for it. These things can run into some serious money at times, so they're not going to come from your secret Santa at work. But if you exchange "big" gifts with your significant other, and you know that sooner or later you're going to spend the money on something like this, then you might as well ask for it so that big money doesn't get spent on something less useful to you. Some ideas: sun oven, solar dehydrator, solar flashlight, hurricane lamp, vacuum food saver, a bicycle, a bicycle trailer, water filter, canning equipment and jars.

Basic cooking tools - You don't need to go overboard here with unnecessarily fancy or expensive cooking tools. But you need some kitchen basics to prepare your own meals. If you don't already have one of these items, feel free to put it on your wish list:
  • Good quality chef's knife, paring knife, serrated bread knife
  • chopping board
  • oven mitts
  • measuring cups and spoons
  • cast iron skillets, small, medium, and large
  • wooden spoons, silicone spatula
  • woven cotton kitchen towels
  • teapot or coffee maker
  • casserole dish or dutch oven
Gift certificate for a seed company or gardener's supply - This should help you defray the costs of that big garden you've got planned for next year. If there are specific gardening tools that you know you will need, it couldn't hurt to put those on your list, provided that you're sure you'll get the specific tool you want, and not one that's almost right. You might tell the potential gift giver that she could feed your family for three months on $15 worth of seed. Some people would get a kick out of that.

Cloth napkins - If you wanted to get on the bandwagon back in April, when I wrote about eliminating paper products, but never got around to buying a nice set of cloth napkins, here's your second chance. Just try to steer gift-givers away from picking up a set of holiday-themed napkins. You want some that you can use all year.

A replacement for something worn out and necessary - Have you broken something recently that's so useful as to qualify as a necessity? A toe clip on your bicycle? Your large mixing bowl? Can your broad-brimmed sun hat not serve for one more season? Are your flannel lined jeans getting too threadbare even for winter outdoor chore duty? If there's something you've well and truly used up that you're contemplating spending money to replace, why not ask someone who's already planning to spend money on you to do so?

Gift cards for your usual grocery store - This wish item may make you sound desperate or pitiable, or it may exasperate a well-intentioned gift giver who wants to get you something "special." So add this one to your list with some caution. I would recommend it only if there's nothing else on this list that you might ask for. And don't blow the gift card on imported sparkling water and brie. Even if you're not in a financial crisis, spend this gift card with as much responsibility as you would your own cash.

A wall calendar - You're probably going to need at least one of these real soon, and if you don't get one for the holidays, or snag a free one, you'll end up paying for one out of pocket. This is a nice gift to ask for from someone who might feel obligated to get you a gift, but will settle for this if you specifically mention a need for a calendar. Lots of worthy causes sell their calendars as fundraisers too, so there's a chance to support a charity.

Sometimes forestalling any gift at all is better than adding more clutter to your life. If you think someone who habitually gives you a gift will take offence if you come right out and ask for something other than what they normally give you, then I urge you to consider asking that person to make a charitable donation in your name. If there's a charity close to your heart, few people would be offended by such a request. Or you could ask that they make a donation to your local food bank. Who's going to quibble with charity over the holiday season?

Got more suggestions for frugality- or sustainability-themed gifts? Please share in the comments!

New to these Frugal Action Items? More here:

January: Compact Fluorescent Bulbs & Hot Water Pipe Insulation
February: Kitchen Competence
March: Rein In Entertainment Spending
April: Go Paper-less
May: Solar Dryer
June: Increase the Deductible on Your Auto Insurance
July: Stay Cool Without Touching that Thermostat
August: Repair It!
September: Insulate
October: Preventative Medicine
December: Plan Next Year's Garden


MyBulletinBoard said...

Kate, good list of requests. A few ideas in there for giving, too! You may save me a few bucks in the process -- a good idea this year when even Suze Orman is saying pay the minimum and save cash now. Scary.

Thanks, Liz

Kerri said...

Great list! I especially like the long underwear suggestion.

Anonymous said...

Good ideas! I used this tactic in the past as well. My Mom usually insists on getting us each something big for Christmas. This year my husband is getting a Leatherman multi-tool to replace the one he wore out. I think she's waiting for a sale and planning to get me a Kitchen Aid mixer when she finds a deal. That would be so nice with all the baking I do.

I also put the word out to my family when canning supplies go on clearance - lids and rings make great stocking stuffers! :)

Kate said...

LizBeth and Kerry, glad the list is useful for you both.

Mttf, sounds like you're thinking along the same lines as I am.

I hope we all receive truly useful and wanted gifts this year.

Wendy said...

Awesome list! I was thinking along the same lines, but when I try to come up with a list, the only things I can think of are too pricey for me to feel comfortable asking others to purchase for me (like a grain grinder or solar panels :). I love that your list contains some small, inexpensive items, too.

I hadn't considered asking my family for long underwear, but it's a great idea - especially for my kids -, and as we spend the whole day here (homeschool) with only the woodstove for heat, it's really appropriate. And my oven mitts are in pretty sad shape, but I hadn't considered putting those on the list :). Thanks for the great suggestions!

You mentioned a gift cert. to the local grocery store, and I'd add a gift cert. to a home improvement or (preferably local) hardware store. I spend a lot of time in the hardware store. In fact, it's where I bought my clothesline set-up :).

Mia @ agoodhuman said...

Brilliant list. Thankyou. Although most of my family agree not to do gifts there are certain people who insist. These are all great ideas I'll be picking from for gift giving ideas throughout the year.

TeresaNoelleRoberts said...

We've managed to convince my mom that the best thing to give us is a book store gift certificate. The library and used book stores are great options, but as a writer myself, I like support others in this precarious business.

Kate said...

Wendy, thanks, and I'm glad to have given you a few ideas. I like the hardware store gift certificate idea a lot. Great for DIY'ers. Even without a new project, we would certainly use up any such gift.

Mia, thanks for stopping by and leaving a calling card.

TNR, yes, I also struggle with the library/used/new acquisition thing when it comes to books. A good reference book is really a tool in my mind. And some tools are important enough to shell out money for, particularly when it gets me closer to sustainability and self-sufficiency. I do love my local library though!

Amy B said...


I've been following your blog for a few months now and after reading this post, thought you might find this gift idea interesting: Wall Art Calendar. The pages have directions on the back of things you can make with the page once the month has passed - note card, file folders, boxes, etc. Sounds brilliant to me.

Amy B.

Kate said...

Amy, that's certainly in interesting concept, and a neat idea for crafters. At the price they ask for a calender though (close to $30!), it would be an idea I'd look at and consider replicating on my own, with an ordinary calender, and preferably a free one.

Nick said...

Great ideas! I got this round wooden clothes drying rack this summer from and love it. Very heavy duty and built in the USA. I plan to get a few more for the relatives's gifts.

Kate said...

Nick, looks like you found a good product there. It's always nice to see that a few things are still being manufactured in the US. Thanks for dropping by.