Some Frugal Ideas for Holiday Gifts

by heather

Jolly SantaIt’s hard to believe the holidays are here again. And, like most of you, I’m trying to plan out some green and frugal holiday gifts for my friends and family. For me, going to the mall any time of year is a personal form of torture. But going around the holidays? Forget about it.

Same goes for pretty much any other retail outlet. Parking lots are jammed with people, traffic is bad, lines are long and most sales clerks are grumpy and overworked.

Who needs it?

Instead, all my gifts will either come from my computer, or from my kitchen.

Here are some ideas I’m considering:

1. A Groupon

Buying someone a cool Groupon can be a wonderful, frugal gift.

For instance, today’s offer in Detroit is $25 for $50 at American Apparel. If you have a friend or family member who’s nuts about American Apparel clothing, this would be a cheap way to let them get something they like at the store. And it only costs you $25.

You can buy Groupons to restaurants, pilates classes, spa treatments, teeth whitening…it really runs the gamut. And, most deals are 50%-80% off what you’d normally pay (which is why I love Groupon). But, you never know what’s going to come up, which is why you need to stay on the look out.

If you haven’t heard of Groupon, or don’t quite understand how it works, you can see my analysis of the site here.

2. A Certificate is another place to score some deep discounts on eating out. I’ve bought several gift certificates through this site and all have worked out well.

Here’s how it works. Like Groupon, you “buy” a restaurant gift certificate through For instance, you might pay $3 for a $25 gift certificate to your favorite restaurant. You’re saving $22!

The only catch with is that you have to read the fine print. Most restaurants have a caveat that says you have to spend a set amount of money, like $40, for the gift certificate to work. Make sure you read the terms and conditions carefully for each restaurant, as they’re all different.

I think this gift would work best as an experience. Instead of just giving your friend or family the gift certificate, tell them you’re taking them out to dinner with the certificate. This way you can enjoy each others’ company, and they won’t have to pay a dime. And, you’re still getting a bargain.

Tip: Do NOT just go to and buy a gift certificate for $10. This site always has coupon codes going. Do a search on Google for “ coupon code”. Most of the time, you’ll score a code that will give you an additional 70%-80%. This means that you might pay $2 for a $25 gift certificate. If you sign up for their email list you’ll also receive notices when their gift certificates go on sale (which is practically weekly).

3. A Pandora Membership

Do you have a friend, family member or close co-worker who loves Pandora? Why not get them a year-long membership to the site for $35?

Yes, Pandora is free. But you can only listen for 40 hours per month (sounds like a lot, but if you listen at work it’s easy to top this), and you have to listen to the ads, which can be highly annoying at times.

When you’re a member, you have unlimited listening time. You don’t have to hear any ads. And you’re supporting a worthy endeavor, since Pandora rocks.

4. Homemade Yummies

Several of my friends and family members are going to get boxes or baskets of handmade yummies this year. And if you have the time, giving handmade goods is one of the most frugal (and perhaps rewarding) gifts you can give.

Need some ideas?

  • If you like canning, Raspberry Wine Jellyis a great choice because it’s really simple, you can use frozen raspberries, and it tastes like a million bucks. You could also make Habanero Jam (which is the most delicious jam I made all summer). It doesn’t require seasonal ingredients, and it tastes incredible when paired with pears or a hard cheese.
  • If you want to bake some unique cookies, why not try these Earl Grey Tea Cookies. They taste amazing, and they’re really unique.
  • Have a coffee lover in your life (I’m raising my hand here…). Why not make them some homemade biscotti? If you do this, contact me and I’ll send you my mailing address. Check out this great list of 20 Best Biscotti recipes from Another cool idea? Put the biscotti in an old coffee can and tie with a vintage ribbon.
  • Making someone a freezable dinner is also a unique and thoughtful gift. After all, most of us are super busy during the holidays. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to pull out a delicious dinner we didn’t have to cook ourselves? Real Simple has a great list of freezable dinners here.

Tip: You don’t have to pay and arm and a leg for gourmet ingredients. See this list of 5 gourmet food and cooking ingredients you can get on a budget.

5. A Reusable Shopping Bag

If you know anyone who hasn’t gotten on the reusable shopping bag bandwagon, now’s the time to get them on board? Find a cool one you think they’d love and gift away. Reusable shopping bags also make an awesome gift bag, as well.

Some of my favorite bags come from BlueQ Bags.

Last Word…

I’d love to hear back from you on this. What frugal holiday gifts are you planning? Also, if you have some ideas for homemade yummies, I’d love to hear them! I’m mostly doing homemade this year and would love some inspiration.


ecokaren November 19, 2010 at 7:09 am

I am planning to give iTune cards to teenagers ($25 max) and put the rest of the gift money into their savings in any form that they have. No waste. No wrapping papers.

Adults do not exchange gifts in my house as a general rule. But I will make one mean Christmas meal so we are all good.

All those service folks who make my life easy – mailman, sanitation dept., bank tellers, and alike, I’ll give them homemade treats.

This is how it is in my household every year. No malls for me. But if I do have to buy something, I buy eco-friendly goodies from local or eco-friendly sellers on Etsy – my favorite store.

Dave Doctor November 19, 2010 at 8:09 am

A colorful ornate card. Forgoing a gift allows for buying an expensive card that brings some art and poetry into a person’s life. Adding a personal note makes it invaluable.

Jeannette November 19, 2010 at 11:48 am

I went to a used bookstore and found really fun cookbooks for under $5. Stuff for chocolate lovers, bakers, my friends that like to grill, etc. Then I’m buying random kitchen utensils at the dollar store to decorate the book with and I’m wrapping the book in parchment paper or aluminum foil for sparkle. 🙂

Will November 21, 2010 at 10:51 am

I think a nice, classy, frugal gift is a pen. Everyone over the age of 6 can use one. And it comes in its own box.

Nicole February 3, 2011 at 10:49 pm

This year, I made peppermint bark (white chocolate, rice cereal, and crushed candy canes), an assortment of chocolate with nuts, and peanut brittle. I portioned it all into colored Christmas paper bags I bought from Walmart (4 for $1), hole punched and tied with ribbon and name tags. Though this year I will made reusable fabric bags/totes for Christmas presents to eliminate paper waste.

I also made fun flower hair clips for the girls in my life (which I’m thinking of selling on Etsy – shameless plug). My young nieces were especially delighted since their morning routine includes picking out a hair decoration for school.

I also made Christmas cards from scratch in the theme of Christmas poems and songs like “‘Twas the night before Christmas,” and “Frosty the Snowman,” with personal messages to all my friends and family; which brought tears to my mother-and-sister-in-laws’ eyes.

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