When trying to manage a very tight budget, there are a few things that can blow that intention up. One of those is gifts.
I, for one, will go without many things only to head out and hastily buy something completely useless for someone I care about. And then later see that same item sitting on a dusty shelf or in the donations bag...So, I've recently made a resolution (somewhat out of financial necessity) to make most of the gifts I give this upcoming year. If it goes well, I'll continue the practice.
In addition to a financial incentive for home-made, many of the things available on the market are cheaply manufactured and distributed on the back of our environment and underpaid workers. These items will often fall apart before their time and perpetuate the concept of “buying poverty” which I'll discuss in a later article.
On the other hand, think of the personalized gifts you have received. How much more these mean and how you remember exactly who gave them and for what reason. Hand made gifts speak of love and care and time.
Here are a few personal examples:
For my brother's birthday I baked him a chocolate cake from scratch. Cakes that don't come out of a box are almost unheard of these days, they are free of preservatives and chemicals and taste amazing! If a cake is too much for you try baking a batch of cookies or muffins. Frozen ready-to-bake pies are also a hit. Cost to you: $5-10, value: $12-50.
I also gave my brother a couple hours of my time helping with the interior design of his apartment. I hung pictures and moved furniture around. Services and “coupons” are a great gift if you're not feeling creative. People with children or animals are especially appreciative of being able to get away for a night out or vacation. House-minding, lawn mowing, painting, and maintenance work are all valuable as well. Another idea is to volunteer for a charitable fundraiser or community service in the recipient's name. Cost to you: $0-10, value: $20-500.
My friend recently received a customized mug for her birthday. It had a drawing her two young nephews had created along with “we love our Auntie” in their writing. She adores it. Cost to you: about $10, value (to her): about $30.
Besides giving one of my best friends money for her wedding gift, I also picked a yogurt container of Saskatoon berries ( a tasty regional berry). She still remembers the Saskatoons, not the cash! You could go out wildcrafting or to a U-Pick. The most meaningful produce is wild regional or home-grown. Another thought is to dry herbs or medicinal plants for teas or spices. Cost to you: $0-20, value: $10-100.
Of course, there is also the artistic option. A musical performance, a painting, or a poem are all intrinsically valuable. Crafts are also great, but make sure these items are personalized to your recipient. For an upcoming wedding, I'll be gifting a painting I did several years ago. On the open market it might be worth $150, far more than I could afford at one of the stores listed on their gift registry. Cost to you: $0-15, value: $25-1000
So if you've got more time than money or if you just really want to gift something meaningful, here are a few suggestions:
1)Think of something creative that you are prepared to spend some (enjoyable) time at such as baking, art making, crafting, etc
2)Scan the internet or library for inspiration or how-to.
3)Use items that are already at hand or that are inexpensive. A project will lose its thriftiness if you go to a craft store and spend a pile of dough on supplies!
4)Set aside the time to follow through.
5)Wrap the gift along with a thoughtful card...
No, don't go to your nearest card retailer and pay $3-$5 for someone else to write what you want to say (not to mention all the time spent trying to find that perfect way of saying it). Make your own or use a blank card from a large set.
As for wrapping, try buying a large roll of blank craft paper at an office supply store- it will last for many, many presents. Leave it plain or decorate it with stamps or felt pen. Alternately, pick out interesting articles or cool pictures from newspapers (preferably themed to suit your recipient). I keep a bit of raffia around as well as some dried flowers from previous arrangements for prettying up the parcel.
6)Give the parcel to your loved one and savor their surprise and appreciation.
My hopes are that the time creating is as pleasurable as the giving and that you yourself may be on the receiving end of a few of these delightful treasures. Happy Gifting!