The Frugal Gift Giving Guide

by Anne Heerdt


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I don't mind cooking a big meal with all the trimmings, as long as people are going to eat it. I enjoy taking the time to get good ingredients and make a dish or dinner that everyone likes and will eat. I just don't like waste. Any meal is too much if it goes to waste. I have the same feeling about gift giving. I enjoy finding gifts, giving them to the right person, and watching how they enjoy it. However, it is a rotten feeling to know that your gift was not used for any reason. It could be the recipient got several of the same items, maybe it didn't work or maybe your idea wasn't a good fit after all. For whatever reason, the good feelings and intentions in giving that gift didn't do what you hoped for.

Even though not all gifts will be a hit, there are many ways to prevent waste at the holiday season or any time we give a gift. Prevention can take care of the most common reasons a gift is not used fully. However, it is easy to forget these simple tips in the excitement and time stress of buying. There is only so much time and energy at the holidays or anytime we buy a gift, and because time is precious, we want to make sure we are not wasting time or money when we purchase a present. The last couple of years I have worked retail in the holiday and post-holiday season. It is difficult to work with frustrated customers when a few simple tips would solve the majority of problems.

  • Read your receipt. Just take a minute after checkout to look over your receipt. Many retailers give a summary of the return policy for their store on the receipt or an expiration date for exchanges and returns. If you get a great deal but the return receipt is going to expire before you can give the gift, then it should be an item you are confident about.

  • Find out the current return policy. Many retailers update return policies or simply enforce existing policies more strictly over time. Don't count on what you were able to do the year before or what your neighbor says. We all know someone who used a tent an entire summer and still returned it. Unfortunately, policies change when a few customers take advantage.

  • Give gift receipts. Many stores offer these, print them automatically if you tell the cashier you are buying a gift, and do full returns if you present one. If you are getting a gift, then take the gift receipt.

  • Don't take it personally. Providing a friend or family member the means to return or exchange a gift does not take away the special nature of the gift. There are many reasons the recipient may need to return an item. Some stores have the same policy even if you are exchanging for another size or because it is defective in some way.

  • Choose where you shop. Think about where you are shopping and where the gift is going. If one retailer has a good policy and nationwide stores, it may be better to get gifts for out-of-state relatives there. Children and older folks may feel more comfortable going to a store they know or is close to home if anything goes wrong as well.

  • Love those funky gifts. Sometimes you just find the greatest item and you know they are either going to love it or hate it, but they can't return it. Enjoy the fun of getting the gift but include a "white elephant receipt," which allows the recipient to pass along the gift guilt free if they can't use it. This is a good idea for like-minded friends and relatives.

  • Remember this when you receive the gift. Above all else, remember that this is a gift from someone who cares about you. They took the time, money and effort to find something special for you. Even if it is not your size or your taste, they still thought about you.

  • The people at the return counter are people too. I just have to throw this in. Even though the vast majority of people are nice, it doesn't take too many upset customers to ruin your day. Often the front line person, and sometimes even managers, are unable to change store policy. Just keep it civil.

  • Sometime it still doesn't work. Despite all the prevention tips for avoiding waste in gift giving, sometimes it just doesn't work. I have heard many times "But what do I do with it?". There are ways to keep the item out of the landfill and honor the original intent.

Five Things to Do with Gifts

  1. Donate to charity, Goodwill, Salvation Army, animal shelters, schools, libraries, homeless shelters, holiday gift programs and hospitals.

  2. Re-gift to someone (remember where you got it from).

  3. Find someone starting out or starting over to give to. Young people need everything!

  4. Make something new out of it. Fabric can be used in many ways. The item can be cut apart, painted over and re-born. Or give it to a crafty person to do that for you.

  5. Recycle it in all or part. Printers can have ink recycled, and cords can be used in many ways. Paper, plastic bottles, and glass containers are all recyclable, even if you dump out the contents.

Anne Heerdt lives and writes with her three kids and several animals in Colorado. She has been practicing frugality for more years than she will admit to.

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