Give Nice But Cheap Gifts This Holiday Season

6 Ways to Save Money While Pleasing Friends and Family

Family getting ready for Christmas
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Cheap gifts often seem so, well, cheap. But your loved ones don't really want you to bust your budget buying an extravagant present. Sure, it takes more time and effort to find perfect, cheap gifts for everyone on your list. But you may find that the recipients are just as happy - or more so - with cheap gifts this holiday season. Here are 6 ways to save money.

Shop Ahead of Time

The best way to overspend on gifts is to procrastinate on your holiday shopping.

If you make a list of recipients with some possible gift ideas, you can keep an eye out for the perfect present throughout your day-to-day life. You never know when you'll be on a errand or routine shopping trip and spot the perfect item on sale.

Buying in advance gives you the opportunity to combine purchases to save on trips to the store - or shipping if you're buying online.

Give Homemade Presents

Starting early also makes it easier to put together gifts yourself. Not only are homemade gifts cheaper, they can be more meaningful because of the personal touch.

Some ideas include:

  • Fill photo books, calendars or a collage with pictures of your children and other family. Photos that show your family growing make a nice series. You can order through a vendor like Snapfish or Kodakgallery, or make a collage yourself.
  • Frame children's artwork for a grandparent or doting aunt or uncle. That also helps solve the problem of storing all the projects your kids bring home.
  • Personalize a tote or mug for any close friend or family member with washable paint, gel pens or permanent markers. Choose a small bag for makeup or a larger carryall for everyday use.
  • Bake goodies for a guaranteed crowd pleaser, especially when you include the recipe. Consider giving coupons redeemable for muffins or bread later in the year, since the holidays can mean food overload.
  • Measure cookie or muffin ingredients into an empty glass jar. Layer the flour, sugar and other ingredients carefully so they remain in separate bands and give the jar an interesting look. Don't forget cooking instructions and a pretty ribbon.
  • Cut firewood for friends and family with fireplaces or wood stoves, if you own land with trees or can find cheap logs. Everyone appreciates help with winter heating costs.

Use Your Work Connections

Does your employer offer corporate discounts? You'll never know if you don't ask!

If your company makes consumer goods, from nice soap to magazines, you've got your stocking stuffers. Or maybe you can get coupons for shopping at partner organizations.

Think creatively when looking for ways to use your work connections. You may take for granted that you walk past the company's server farm every day to get to your office. But your computer-obsessed niece might love a personalized tour.

Even if you don't take advantage of corporate perks, make sure to tell your friends and family they're available. If they use your discount for someone on their list, maybe they can hook you up with cut-price gifts for your loved ones.

Offer Experiences, Not Things

How many gifts that you're received through the years do you remember?

I'm guessing only a handful stand out in your memory.

But think about the trips, outings and late-night dinners filled with laughter. The experiences with family and friends are what truly enrich our lives.

You can give children a coupon for a special outing alone with Mom or Dad. Give friends with kids coupons for nights that you'll babysit their brood. Promise your spouse a weekend with no child care or home maintenance.

Think of other little tasks that you wouldn't mind doing and your friends would appreciate. What about a manicure, laundry, housecleaning, taking their carpool shift, a music concert or serenade? Can you host a birthday party for a friend with no backyard?

Pool Resources With Friends and Family

None of us truly needs another scented candle or coffee mug. But the electronics gizmo or expensive accessory that you know your friend wants may be just beyond your budget.

Now's the time to pool resources. Chip in with your siblings or cousins to buy your parents an outstanding gift. Enlist friends so you can afford to give your friend that designer purse she wants.

If you have a regular Christmas celebration with family or friends, propose a grab bag this year so everyone saves money. Or what about only giving presents to the kids, not the adults? Make sure to communicate ahead of time so everyone can make appropriate shopping plans.

Go Small But Meaningful

You don't have to give the big gift to be thoughtful. Think about what your friends and family love best and look for a way to upgrade that experience.

Give gourmet coffee or a Starbucks gift card to the caffeine addict on your list. Or gourmet nuts or chocolate to friends who love those treats.

Figure out the indulgences that your loved ones deny themselves, whether it's expensive face cream or microbrew beer.

You'll discover for yourself that it is the thought that counts, while giving your wallet a break.