By this time of year, your wallet is probably feeling quite light indeed. Whether it was emptied by tuition and textbooks or by beer and video games makes no difference – you’re broke. But now that you’re an "adult," your family expects you to partake in holiday gift-giving, just like everyone else.
Now you could try getting crafty and reliving your childhood, but macaroni necklaces probably won’t go over as well as when you were five. And ornaments made from maxi pads? My mom may find them funny, but she’s probably an exception rather than the rule.
Never fear! There are gifts you can give that are tasteful, cheap, and will even be appreciated! All you have to do is give the gift of what you know.
Giving Away Experience
In your time on this planet, you’ve surely managed to pick up a few skills, maybe even some skillz! Through careful study, or trail by fire, you’ve learned to accomplish at least a few tasks more complicated than tying your shoes. But did you ever think you could use your talents as free/cheap presents?
This concept is best communicated with examples:
We college students have learned how to navigate the web (and Web 2.0), bother people on Facebook, move all of our contacts between different email providers and software, and do a ton of other things that we just take for granted. A lot of this stuff can be foreign and difficult to older members of your family. Even my mother, an early adopter who was programming in Basic in the 80s (yeah, really), hasn’t really gotten the hang of things like RSS yet.
Write up an I.O.U for a computer session and give it as your gift. You can sit down and teach someone how to accomplish a task that you know would make their life easier. Or, you can gather the feeds for the sites they like into Google Reader. And, for the sake of all of us, install Firefox and make them stop using Internet Explorer!
Again – no macaroni necklaces! But maybe you have picked up some craft skills that you can use. Knitting and crochet are quite popular among my friends, even some of the male ones! But we knitters have learned that knitting presents for your whole family is both expensive AND time consuming, which pretty much knocks it out of the "frugal gifts" category.
Instead, teach the craft that you’ve learned. Wrap up some yarn and needles (or a crochet hook), or maybe a beginners needle-point set. Some people, upon receiving this gift, will demand that you start teaching them right then and there! That’s one way to get out of the holiday small talk for a few hours: "Sorry Uncle Phil, I’d love to talk fishing with you, but I’m trying to teach your daughter to knit. It’s her Christmas present!"
Bonus: people love to have good stories about how they learned a craft. Mine is kind of boring (I taught myself, from books), but it’s nice to be able to say "Someone really close to me taught me as a Christmas present!"
I can juggle! Barely. But I can certainly juggle better than my brother, and that’s the point, isn’t it? Fun skills like this are great gifts for the children in your family. In a few years I hope to teach my niece how to juggle (she’s 4), although I’ll probably have to wait a while to teach her infant brother. And yes, maybe I can teach my own brother a thing or two at the same time!
Installation and Assembly
Every family has that thing. You know that thing? That thing that’s in the basement! It was given to the family a few years ago, and it would be totally sweet to get it out and use it, but no one has taken the time to put it together or install it yet. (In my family, it was a jungle gym.)
If you’re capable, go down into the basement or out into the storage shed, find The Thing, and put to together so that people can finally get some use out of it. It might seem too hard, but maybe you can wrangle some siblings into helping you. And remember, most Things come with instructions! (If not, you could also Google it.)
The Key to Making This Work
There are hundreds of ways you can turn your expertise into a gift. But what you really need to do is make sure the gift will be appreciated by the recipient. Find and need, and fill it. Computer help probably won’t be wanted or needed by a teenage sibling or cousin. Listen to your friends and family talk for clue about what you could help them with.
"That darn computer never seems to work right!"
"Wow, that’s a great scarf, did you make that yourself?"
"I always wished I could juggle…"
"If only we had That Thing from the basement put together, I could really use it!"
Even when they don’t mean to, people will tell you what they need.
This post is a part of the College Money Network’s Frugal Holiday Ideas series. Check out these other posts in the series:
Holiday Gifts: Thoughtful is > Expensive
The Best Frugal Christmas Gift Ever
Frugal Gift Ideas