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Secrets to Selecting the Perfect Gift

Frugal Parenting (featured column)
by Rachel Keller

Selecting a gift for another person need not be agony. You can have fun by following these suggestions and ideas. Gifts need not be new, but they should have special meaning for the recipient.

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Both my mother and mother-in-law enjoy books. My mother-in-law loves to visit secondhand bookstores and collects certain authors. Whenever I visit a secondhand bookstore, I am on the lookout for books for myself and for others. I often pay less than half what I would pay new, and my family and friends appreciate the gifts. I would rather give a secondhand item that is wanted and appreciated than something new that adds to clutter.

While most people shop at stores, consider shopping online. Sites such as eBay offer a wide variety of products at great prices. By selling some of your surplus items, you can have some extra cash for Christmas purchases.

Be alert to what people may need. Listen carefully to what others say. Observe their surroundings. What do they need that maybe they don't even realize? Often, we overlook something obvious. Your family and friends will be touched by your thoughtfulness when you get them something they needed yet never asked for.

When you think of ideas, or hear someone mention something, write it down in a notebook. (Don't rely on your memory.) Having a written list is especially helpful when grandparents or relatives ask what your children and spouse need for Christmas.

Look for bargains throughout the year. I do most of my Christmas shopping after Christmas. I keep two large boxes of gifts--one for children and the other for adults. Have the box labeled with what is inside. (This is especially helpful if you store the box on a high shelf.)

Allow a little extra money in your Christmas budget for the unexpected gift. An alternative is to buy a few extra generic gifts after Christmas to keep in your gift boxes for that forgotten individual or unexpected gift exchange.

Coming up with the perfect gift for your children to give to grandparents is not always easy. If you live too far away from grandparents to visit often, your children may want to make an original tape for their grandparents. Have them talk, sing, play the piano, or whatever your children want to do. It is not hard to fill up the tape if you make this an ongoing project throughout the year. Consider making a video tape for the grandparents. They will treasure these priceless gifts.

What about the person who has everything or says he needs nothing? Try one of these ideas:

Gift Certificates

Nearly all establishments and retailers offer gift certificates. These are great for out-of-town relatives or friends since you can easily mail them. If you have difficulty deciding on a specific store for the gift certificate, try getting one for a mall.

Gift Baskets

Consider a basket or tin of items appropriate to the individual (cookies, fruit basket, beauty items, pantry items, etc.) While you can purchase gift baskets already made, you can save money by making your own. Buy baskets or tins inexpensively at thrift stores or yard sales. If they look worn, spray paint them any color you choose. Put tissue paper, foam peanuts, or shredded paper in the bottom and arrange the items on top. Use shrink wrap and a blow dryer for a professional look. Place a bow on top.


A wonderful idea for grandparents who live far away is to make a scrap book. Even young children can color pictures for a book. Include photographs of the family.

Collect photographs (especially disorganized ones) and put together in a acid free photo book. If you are unable to do a book, do a few pages. Start a photo book and add pages as Christmas gifts each year.

Go through old photographs and consider restoring one and/or enlarging and placing in a special frame.

Frame a picture of you and the recipient.

Time or Service

Offering your time or talent makes a thoughtful gift. You can design a wonderful gift certificate on the computer, or use your artistic abilities to make one freehand.

Movies, Magazines, or Books

Consider books, videos or a subscription to a magazine.

Christmas Ornaments

You can buy a new ornament or make homemade ones. Even children can make ornaments for grandparents.


If the recipient likes music, consider a compact disc from their favorite singer or group.

Tickets to Games, Performances or concerts

Depending on what the recipient likes, this might make an excellent gift.

Charitable Contributions or Memberships

You can give to charitable organizations in honor of an individual, or purchase a membership in a local museum. The recipient can enjoy the community organization, while your gift helps support it. While we usually think of gift giving at Christmas and other special occasions, a spontaneous gift occasionally shows someone that we think they are special. Though a gift may be small or simple, it is the gesture of kindness that is important. In 1873, author Charles Dudley Warner wrote: "The excellence of a gift lies in its appropriateness rather than its value."

During this Christmas season, take time to remember the most important gift of all: God's gift of His dear son. Without that gift, there would be no Christmas.

The best Christmas gift we can give to each other is the presence of a happy family all wrapped up with one another.

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Copyright © 2004 by Rachel Keller. All rights reserved.

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