Last year, the average American family spent $830 (S$1178.60) for Christmas gifts. This year, that figure is expected to increase despite the sluggish economy, and the spending frenzy will soon begin on Black Friday (25 Nov). As mentioned throughout this site, being frugal does not equate to being cheap, nor does it mean focusing only on the price of something. Frugality is about ROI, or Return On Investments, in which investments could be money, time, effort, or other resources. The return, therefore, is determined by whether the purchase results in the outcomes, values, or goals you wish to achieve. And like everything in life, it’s not so black and white. For example, buying bottled water is cheaper and healthier than buying soda or a Starbucks coffee, but I personally would not consider it to be frugal because of the plastic waste it generates (which is not in line with my values) and because water is (mostly) free from the tap. So how would one achieve a frugal Christmas without looking like a cheapskate or compromising too much on one’s own personal values?
For many purchases and gifts, it’s hard to reconcile all our values and wishes, and also have the things we buy be wallet-friendly (and ideally eco-friendly). Sometimes, we have to compromise on things. Over the past few years, my friends and family have been practicing frugality in gift-giving and celebrations, and here are some of my favourite ideas thus far. I’ll arrange them by theme:
7 Themes for a Frugal Christmas
1. Experiential Christmas. Instead of material gifts, opt for great memories. Many people immediately think of vacations and going overseas, but there are many other options for experiential gifts locally. You might book a group/family cooking class, an escape room game or other team-building exercise, a relaxing afternoon at a spa, go on a food trial or a wine tasting, or get creative in an art jamming or pottery session. And of course, there are plenty of ticketed events such as concerts, sporting events, and shows. If you check Groupon, you’ll find vouchers for 2 hours of snowboarding / skiing / snow play (from $37) and another for admission to My Little Giant theme park (from $13).
2. Service Christmas. Nowadays, just about any service you need, you can buy, from housecleaning to home massages. But wouldn’t it be more meaningful to gift these services yourself? Ask any mother or grandmother what was their most memorable gift from their children, and they’ll likely tell you about a time when their children’s Christmas gift to them was washing the family car, painting the home, or cooking a family meal, and just observe the glowing smiles on these mother’s faces.
3. Charity Christmas. For nearly more than a decade throughout my teens and 20s, as part of our Christmas tradition, my 4 closest friends and I would volunteer to serve food to the indigent on Christmas Eve. Not only was this a sobering event, it bonded us and still remains one of our most treasured memories. Another example of a charity Christmas was when my friends and I decided that instead of gift-giving, we would each specify a charity and we all would donate an undisclosed amount to that charity in honour of the person who chose it.
4. DIY Daiso Christmas. Daiso is a great place for containers and crafts. Here are some gift ideas that anyone can do.
Gift baskets that are sold in stores can be quite expensive. Furthermore, they may not be tailored to the recipient. By making your own, you can fill a Daiso container with baby-themed gifts, favourite snacks, pet toys, or put a memorable photo in a $2 Daiso frame. You can also “dress up” your gift with ribbons and wraps (which Daiso also sells). For more DIY Daiso gift ideas, please visit Thingies.
5. Subsidised Christmas. Wouldn’t it be awesome if someone else paid a portion of your Christmas expenses? If you look hard enough, there are many opportunities for subsidies in Singapore. Some gift ideas that are subsidised include the Actxa Stride steps tracker. If you sign up for the National Steps Challenge Season 2, you can get a FREE tracker (U.P. $19.80). This makes a great gift for anyone who is interested in staying healthy and fit (ideally, everyone!). You can perhaps help your parents sign up, and collect the tracker for them. Enrolling a parent in a Skills Future course can also be a good (and potentially free) subsidised gift. Don’t think these are just academic courses, there are fun hobby courses too that qualify for the credit.
6. Secret Santa with Spending Cap (Christmas Challenge). Secret Santas are great because instead of buying everyone in the family or in the office a gift, you only need to concentrate on one person, and the gift usually has a reasonable spending cap. With a spending cap, it becomes a fun challenge to see what you can get for, say $25, and compare it to what others were able to get. Secret Santas are fun and economical, but do require some coordination.
7. Click & Buy (Time-Saving Christmas). There are times when you just want to spend as little time as possible with choosing a gift. These circumstances are usually gifts to colleagues, bosses, teachers, and other acquaintances. In addition to last year’s frugal gift guide, here are some thoughtful, yet value-conscious gifts that won’t make you appear “cheap”.
Do you have any other ideas for frugal gifts? I’d love to hear from you. Please comment with your recommendations.