Hooray, it’s Christmas season! But along with the warm fuzzies of twinkling lights, nostalgic Christmas music, and bell ringers outside every Walmart comes the one inevitable stress of Christmas…..Christmas presents.

Now, if you’re a shopping addict that loves to ring up every item you cast your eyes upon using your 15 credit cards until the magnetic strips wear thin, you are likely to experience exhilaration instead of stress when this mega shopping season rolls around. But for those of us who love to give presents but are also struggling to balance it with our Crumb Saving principles to minimize expense (and pride in keeping our credit cards as new and shiny as possible), Christmas-time can bring a real dilemma. What is a Crumb Saver to do when we want to be generous with gift giving but still be responsible with money?

I think it’s important to first mention that every person has to determine for him or herself how much they want, are willing, and/or should spend on someone else. Your unique values, your individual culture, your personal financial goals, and even the meaning you attach to a gift will differ from person to person and from family to family. Basically, I can’t tell you what is best for you and your situation, and you may not agree with how we do things. But most importantly, we all need to take the time to think how we can show our love and appreciation to others while also being financially astute. Because we believe that you can accomplish both….even at Christmas.

I mentioned in a previous post that I grew up in an extremely frugal family that also enjoyed making Christmas special. We loved giving gifts but found that there were other ways besides increasing the price tag to make them meaningful. In this post I’ll share a few of the things my frugal family did growing up and also a few ideas that Al and I currently use to keep our gift expenses under control during Christmas and throughout the rest of the year, too.

1. New Year’s Gift Giving

A really great idea that got initiated when I was young was exchanging gifts on New Year’s Day instead of Christmas Day. Why? For one reason only: After Christmas sales! Imagine going shopping and purchasing an item full price knowing that in just a few days it would likely be marked off 50% or more. Sure, sometimes an item we may have been looking for would no longer be available, but when a good gift is partially defined by how exceptional of a deal you scored, the risk was definitely worth it.

2. Gift Scavenger Hunts

Sometimes when gifts are simple, the joy of the gift can also be found in finding it. One Christmas, instead of a wrapped present, my brother handed my mom an envelope. No, there was definitely no cash or gift card inside. Instead, it was a clue in the form of a riddle. The riddle led her to her closet where she found another challenging riddle in a jacket pocket….which led her all around the house finding additional clues until she finally ended up at the mailbox where she found my brother’s  wrapped little gift. The gift wasn’t anything super spectacular, but the thought and effort he put into his clever clues and the fun we had sniffing them out all around the house, was such a blast that it became a Christmas tradition.

3. Give Favorite Foods

Like good food-loving Asians, one of our favorite gifts to give and receive is food. And fortunately, food is fairly cheap. Growing up, our Christmas shopping consisted of going to the local bargain store or grocery store where we would hunt down Daddy’s favorite crackers (amaranth), Mommy’s favorite chocolates (Almond Roca), or Timmy’s favorite candy (peppermint patties – actually, I think that was my favorite but I got it for him anyway). Or sometimes, it was as easy as scavenging through our own cupboards! You might think it a bit strange when you’re used to going to Toys ‘R Us or Macy’s and picking a $30 gift off the shelf. But hey, we loved it! Not only was it guaranteed to be used (eaten), but instead of taking a random guess as to what someone might like or need, we knew exactly what the other would want.

4. Gifts to Worthy Causes

Have you ever been in the dilemma of what to buy someone who seems to have everything? We sure have! If so, why not consider giving a donation to a worthy cause in their honor? We designate the amount and then let them pick out their favorite charity or non-profit. For someone who has everything, perhaps the best gift they can receive is the satisfaction of knowing they have helped someone else.

5. Gift-Giving Themes

Now that we’re older and have our own families, when our extended families get together we try to avoid the whole obligatory gift scenario:

She gave me a really expensive gift last year, so I better give her something expensive this year! 

Instead, one year we decided that everyone would bring one gift worth $5 or less. It could be from the dollar store or even a re-gift, as long as it was no more than $5. So instead of having to buy 10 gifts, we all just brought one. What a relief! Instead of spending tons of money and time shopping for things that we didn’t even know if they would like or need, we had a hilarious, low-stress gift exchange. Sure, we didn’t go home with amazing, expensive loot piled up in the back of our car, but we went home with memories, without pressures or obligations for next year, and lots of quality family time under our belt.

Gift themes based on price are obviously some of the easiest ones, but here are a few others that we may try in the future (some we’ve referred to already):

  • Food items: exchange favorite snacks or cultural types of food (we like giving gift baskets filled with cultural food items, i.e. dried noodles, sauces, cultural canned foods with a set of chopsticks – useful, fairly inexpensive, and can look really amazing with some wrapping and creativity)
  • Gift cards: this is great for those who are practical and value the utilitarian element of gift-giving – make sure you purchase them discounted at CardPool or somewhere similar for extra savings!
  • Re-gift: everyone brings their most unwanted re-gift item sitting around the house (set the cost amount and make sure it wasn’t initially given by someone in the group!)
  • Donations: everyone give to another’s favorite charity

6. Homemade Gifts

Isn’t it amazing how making something from scratch or by hand instantly gives it an inherent value that leap-frogs any price tag? A handmade scarf in your rich aunt’s favorite color or a basket of fresh homemade breads can mean more to someone than the most expensive gift you could afford from Costco. Though it might not cost you much in dollars, the love and thought put into a unique homemade gift is something that most people really appreciate.

Here are a few that we’ve given or received:

  • Baked items: this is a common one and the options are endless – cookies, breads (esp. made special for the holidays with some type of filling)
  • Food in a jar: dress it up with a a little cloth and ribbon over the lid and a fancy personalized label – almond butter (we found almond meal amazingly cheap one year), apple sauce (or anything else you’ve canned from your garden, even pickles or dried fruits and herbs), powdered drinks (we once received an awesome homemade carob drink mix)
  • Neck warmers: if you’re good at sewing there are tons of things you could make, but warmers filled with rice or flax are pretty easy and appropriate for the season
  • Knitted anything: if you can knit or crochet, you are all set (shame on me for not learning these very well yet)

7. Free Stuff

Don’t forget about all the free stuff that you can collect throughout the year! We told you before about DSW Rewards and how we are able to score all sorts of free (or almost free) things with their $5 and $10 coupons. Similar with RueLaLa. (If you haven’t read the posts yet, read about DSW here and RueLaLa here so you don’t miss out!). Throughout the year we are constantly keeping in mind people’s birthdays and Christmas gifts and have stock-piled socks, hats, purses, and whatever else we can find that we know would make good gifts.

Swagbucks is also a great way to collect free Amazon credit for purchasing gifts. We use it to buy necessary household things during the year, but it also comes in really handy during Christmas since it means we basically buy Christmas gifts for free!

What ways have you found to save money on Christmas gifts? How do you balance trying to saving money with being generous to others? Share with us in the comments!