With the holidays approaching, it’s time to think about Christmas shopping. We always talk about ways to save money on gifts, from hitting the sales to drawing names out of a hat. That’s all well and good, but these strategies only save money for the buyer. How about turning the savings around this year and buying gifts that save money for their recipients?
Particularly in a down economy, gifts that help the recipient save money are much appreciated. You can still save money when buying most of these items if you use the tried and true shopping methods, but the following gift ideas have the added benefit of helping the recipients save money over the long term, as well. Who can argue with a gift that saves them money?
Reusable shopping bags
More and more municipalities are enacting bans, fees, or taxes on plastic bags, meaning that bringing your own bags to the store is becoming a way to save money by avoiding the fees and taxes. Some stores also give cash, coupons for money off your next order, or loyalty points back for every bag you bring in. It’s usually a small amount of money, but it does add up. Sites like Reusablebags.com sell a wide variety of bag styles and sizes that make great gifts and help the recipient save some cash at the store.
Always a staple of the holidays, a well considered gift card can save your recipient money because they won’t have to dip into their own funds to purchase something they want or need. Try to get a card to a store you know the recipient loves or shops at frequently and that carries useful stuff. Cards to stores that carry only expensive, “dream” merchandise aren’t really money savers because the recipient is locked into buying something frivolous when they might have preferred to spend the money on something useful or “everyday.” To save your recipient money, stick to bigger stores like Target, Wal-Mart, grocery stores, large department stores, large bed and bath stores, or clothing stores. At those places, your recipients can either get something they need or splurge on something fun and they will have lots of choices. And, with the lower prices at many of these stores, your gift will go further.
If you recipient has a favorite or needs a certain magazine for professional reasons, offer to pick up the subscription tab for the year. That way, your gift recipient won’t have to use their own funds to pay for it.
Pay for a service
Does your recipient hate to clean? Spring for a cleaning service. Hate to cook? Give them a gift certificate to a service like Schwanns that delivers prepared meals. Hate to mow the lawn? Give them the gift of a landscaping service. If they already have such services, offer to pick up the tab for a few months. Items such as these not only relieve the burden from people who don’t like or can’t do these things, but they save them money because they don’t have to pay for the service themselves.
Know what they need and buy them that
Rather than blindly hunting for the “perfect gift,” ask you recipients what they need and then get it for them. If they need clothes, try a gift card to a retailer that sells many styles. If they need food, get a gift card to a grocery store. If they need hobby or office supplies, either get a gift card or fill a box with several items. If they need household supplies like cleaners, toiletries, or linens, get a gift card to a big-box store, or create a gift basket with several items. Gifts that meet a need are just as appreciated (if not more so) than the doo-dad that you thought was “so cute” that you had to buy it. And getting them what they need means they won’t have to spend their own money to buy it.
A night out
You can give a gift certificate to a restaurant and a movie theater so that your recipient can have a night out with friends or family. Everyone appreciates the chance to escape for a few hours and a dinner out and a movie is a great combination. Your recipients will love having the chance to get out without having to pay for it themselves.
Offer to pay for a sitter
If your recipients have kids, offer to pick up the tab for a babysitter for a night or two. Sometimes people want to go out, but don’t want to spring for a babysitter so they stay home. Give them the chance to go out without having to pay for a sitter themselves.
Reusable water bottles
Your recipients won’t have to spend money on bottled water anymore if you get them a good quality, reusable water bottle with a built in filtration system. If they don’t mind the taste of tap water but buy bottled water for it’s portability, you can get a reusable water bottle without filtration for a little less money.
Set up a savings account
This can be a good one for kids or grandkids. Open an account (making sure to get any bonuses for opening a new account) and seed it with a little money. Even if nothing more is ever added to it, it will still gain some interest. You can add money to it each holiday to keep your gift growing. Alternatively, you could gift savings bonds or shares of stocks to help your recipients gain a bit of money.
A membership to a warehouse club
If your recipient lives near a club such as Sam’s, Costco, or BJ’s buy them a membership. They’ll save money on food, household items, and gas (if the club has a station) and they won’t have to pay the membership fee.
Movie rental subscription
Services like Netflix and Blockbuster can provide a lot of entertainment for very low cost. You’ll save your recipients money because they won’t have to pay the service fee themselves, and they might cut down on DVD purchases, trips to the movies, and cable subscriptions.
Gifts for the couponer
If you know someone who is into (or wants to be into) couponing, there are several gift choices. First, you can get them a subscription to the local Sunday paper if they don’t already have one. This is a great source of coupons. Second, you can purchase a membership for them at a coupon/shopping website such as TheGroceryGame.com. Third, you can buy them an organizational system for their coupons, such as a binder and pockets, recipe box, or divided filing pouch.
Seeds and materials for a window or container garden
If your recipient has a green thumb (or just wants to reduce their grocery costs), consider setting them up with some pots, dirt and seeds/starter plants to grow their own vegetables or herbs. Many plants can be grown in containers in small spaces, so even those with limited space can grow at least a few things.
A good cookbook
Maybe your recipient eats out a lot because he, “Just doesn’t know what to fix.” A good cookbook can solve that problem and save the recipient hundreds in dining out costs. Ideally the recipes should be easy and quick to prepare and require simple, easy to find ingredients and utensils. Otherwise, the recipient will quickly get frustrated and spend more money on equipment and ingredients than they would have by continuing to eat out.
If your recipient is looking for ways to save money, a book such as The Tightwad Gazette can be a good choice. It’s full of ideas to save money, but it’s not preachy. A person can easily find many ways to save money with this book, but be careful. Only give it to someone that you’re sure would appreciate it, otherwise they might think you’re calling them poor or insinuating that they have financial problems.
Digital camera and/or photo printer
Aside from being fun, digital cameras save a lot of money over a conventional camera. Your recipient will no longer have to pay for film or film processing. You can go a step further and buy a photo printer and paper so they can print their own photos. If they already have a digital camera, the photo printer can be a great add on.
Fans, window AC’s, and/or space heaters
Heating and cooling costs are usually the biggest components of an energy bill. Portable fans, window air conditioners, and space heaters allow you to heat and cool just the rooms you are occupying, rather than cooling or heating the whole house, saving a ton of money. Some of these items have gotten so fancy that they make great gifts. You can also buy decorative ceiling fans and offer to pay for the installation (or do it yourself). With heating and cooling costs going through the roof, a chance to save a few bucks is a welcome gift.
Reusable lunch tote/kit
A great looking lunch tote and accessories (like sandwich boxes, utensils, thermos/bottle, and napkins) make bringing lunch to work or school fun, easy and more enjoyable than the plain old brown bag. Your recipient will save by eating in more often, rather than going out every day.
You can eliminate the need for your recipient to buy paper napkins and paper towels by giving them attractive cloth substitutes. Many sizes and designs are available and, since they can be tossed in the wash with the regular laundry, they don’t add to the chore load.
Gift certificates to fast food restaurants
I love getting these because, no matter now much I plan my meals or stockpile groceries, there are still those days when I have to grab something on the run. Things get hectic, or unexpected events occur and the next thing I know I’m in line at the drive-thru. With a stash of gift cards in my purse, I don’t have to worry about these unexpected meals out taking a bite out of my budget.
Rechargeable batteries and charger
So many things these days are driven by batteries that you can spend a fortune feeding batteries to your gizmos. Give someone a set of rechargeable batteries (in a common size, like AA) and a charger and save them from buying so many batteries.
The cost of gas is going up and up, so why not buy someone a full tank or two? Most gas stations now sell gift cards that can be used for their “brand” of fuel at any participating station. I don’t know anyone who would turn down the gift of free gas these days.
A gift card to a greeting card store
I know I spend a lot on greeting cards every year. From birthdays, to holidays, to graduations, there’s always an occasion that warrants a card. How nice it would be to have a gift card to a Hallmark store (or similar) to draw upon every time I needed a card and wrapping paper.
These save a lot on energy costs because they are set to keep the house warmer or cooler when no one is home or everyone’s asleep and not benefiting from the “ideal” temperature. Why waste the money to heat or cool an empty house? Set it up once, and a programmable thermostat does the job without someone having to remember to turn the temperature up and down all the time.
Reusable air filters
These tend to do a better job than the cheap air filters, plus you can reuse them over and over again with just a simple wash to keep them clean. You’ll save your recipients money both in energy costs (these make air systems run more efficiently) and in the cost of replacement filters.
Compact fluorescent light bulbs
They don’t make a very sexy gift, but CFL’s use about 75% less energy than regular bulbs and last ten times longer. Your gift recipient will save on energy costs as well as the cost of bulbs over the long term.
Low flow devices
Low flow faucets and shower heads aren’t sexy gifts, but they do save money on the water bills. These devices have come a long way and now come in massaging and other fancy varieties that make good gifts.
Go with a theme
Some of my best gifts have been big boxes or gift baskets filled with items that have a theme. For example, I once got a gift basket full of nothing but pet supplies. It was all stuff I would have bought at some point, but it saved me the money. I’ve given boxes filled with office supplies to people who have their own businesses and gift baskets of cleaning supplies and household goods to people buying new homes. I’ve given gifts of toiletries and toiletry totes to kids going away to college and boxes filled with “green” items to those looking to change their lifestyles. You can make gift baskets for new babies with diapers, wipes, tissue and other supplies. Useful items can be grouped and packaged in interesting and attractive ways to make great, creative gifts. It’s great to give something like this because, if it’s all things the recipient would have bought at some point, it saves them the money.
These ideas aren’t only for Christmas. Gifts that save money are welcome on birthdays, graduations, baby showers, and other occasions, as well. To come up with gifts that save your recipients money, think of the things that you spend money on, and then come up with a creative way to make that a gift. Chances are your recipient has to spend money on that category or item as well, and will be relieved to avoid or reduce the expense. I much prefer a gift that helps me save money over receiving another knick-knack that I have no need for and have to clean. It’s great to think of ways to save money on your gift giving, but if your gifts can save your recipients money at the same time, you’ll be doing them a great service.
Image courtesy of jek in the box