Is it Okay to Give Used Gifts?

by Katy on December 2, 2015 · 25 comments

The following is a reprint of a previously published post. Enjoy!

Many people on their frugal journey are perfectly fine with scrimping and saving for themselves, but are hesitant to buy used gifts for their loved ones. Or . . . when they pick up a fantastic $5 used gift that normally wold have cost $50, they feel like they still need to buy additional gifts to make up the difference. I’m here to tell you that:

A) It’s okay to give used gifts.

B) Base what you’re giving on the actual gift rather than how much you paid for said gift.

I just finished packing up my sister’s and niece’s package which I will mail out to New York City as soon as I’ve completed this blog post. This box is filled with fantastic gifts, yet the contents set me back no more than $30.

My eight-year-old niece is getting:

  • Tinkertoys from the Goodwill outlet, (pay by the pound) an adorable plush Japanese doll still in package from Goodwill, a large stack of Zilpha Keatley Snyder hand me down books from my son; and a Goodwill miniature silver plate Revere for Gorham bowl that is perfectly proportioned for her American Girl doll. (All the women in our family have this bowl, so the miniature version totally melted my heart.)

My 47-year-old sister is getting:

  • A necklace and earrings, (Goodwill) a groovy Le Sportsack zipper pouch, (Goodwill) and a new looking vintage recipe box. From eBay she’ll be getting a good luck coin that was given out at the 1938 opening of my grandfather’s fur store in Pittsburgh. (I did pay $28 for it, but c’mon, I had to buy it!)


My father talked to his 86-year-old brother about the coin and learned that these were given out in conjunction with the opening of one of his stores, and that my grandfather had 5000 carnations to give out to the ladies yet he ran out! There’s also a ton of additional family information surrounding this coin that I had never heard before.

My sister will love this gift, and it’s the perfect thing for someone who lives in a Manhattan apartment with a family of four. And she’ll enjoy calling our uncle and learning all the family lore.

Yes, I did splurge on new $70 custom Vans sneakers for my 13-year-old nephew, but everything else came from Goodwill or eBay. I feel really good about this year’s gifts, and not one ounce of regret for the cheap factor.

It’s okay to be cheap, because it’s completely unrelated to generosity.

Now . . . I quickly need to call my sister and tell her to not read today’s blog post.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Jennifer December 2, 2015 at 12:46 pm

This is my first year to give “used” gifts. Several Dora the Explorer DVDs I got at a yard sale for my youngest daughter and MudPie NIB gloves that have my older daughter’s initials on them that I also got at a yard sale. These things are in perfect condition and will get so much use. Both items would have cost well over $50 for all.To get Mud pie brand gloves already embroidered with the initials I needed is incredibly lucky. Hoping my mom will gift me her “used” antique glass as a gift when she is through enjoying it.


Lynn D. December 2, 2015 at 1:36 pm

There’s a flip-side to this; sometimes it’s ok to give overly extravagant gifts. When my son was very little, he was very interested in a certain animal. My mother and I usually bought his stuffed animals from Goodwill, but she saw a wonderful version of this animal in a catalog. That’s way too much to spend on a three year old, we thought. But hey, a three year old has no idea what stuff costs and it was the perfect gift for him. My mom could afford it. The important thing was not to shower him with too many gifts. Funny, I can’t remember what the animal was now!


Jennifer December 2, 2015 at 1:55 pm



Ruby December 2, 2015 at 1:53 pm

As a child, my husband loved the book “The Kitchen Madonna.” One year I found a beautiful hardcover copy of it used for $7. He still thinks that was the best gift ever. So used is perfectly fine when it’s something the recipient would love that is hard to find.


Betsey December 2, 2015 at 3:03 pm

I have a friend whose family does the neatest stuff. They all put $5 in a pot, draw names, and then find the best used gift they can. Whoever comes up with the neatest gift gets the pot. They put a $7 limit on the gift itself. Fun!

So yes. It is perfectly fine to give used gifts.


Bee December 2, 2015 at 4:19 pm

I often give gifts that I have found at auction, thrift stores and estate sales. However, I do make sure that they are in good condition. This holiday season I purchased an ice cream maker for my daughter who loves to cook. It has been on her list for quite sometime. It was new, still in the box and 1/4 of retail. I have also pick up interesting cookbooks for her throughout the year. As a ccokbook collector, she finds old cookbooks are often more interesting than newer editions. Lastly, when cleaning out my jewelry box, I ran across some little diamonds earrings my husband (her dad) gave me for my 21st birthday. I paired these with some pearl earring jackets. They are beautiful! And I am under budget.


Kathy December 2, 2015 at 4:25 pm

Love the coin and story! Awesome gift! I get and give used gifts. Money isn’t the issue. It’s what is the best fit for the person. I have received some stunning antiques and heirloom jewelry. I have given rare books that received rave reviews and one book I am still being thanked for years after it was given.

One year I gave a rare antique depression cookie jar to my mom found at a church rummage sale. At the time I did not know it was rare only that I liked it and I was sure my mom would like it. Less than a dollar. My mother in law who was with me said it was a crappy gift and she would be insulted if her kids gave her used crap. My mom loved it and discovered years later that it was really worth $$$$.

I have to add that years and years ago I use to have the time to shop at thrift stores and rummage sales. My mother in law always bought tons of used Avon and Tupperware stuff. Apparently it’s ok to buy the stuff yourself but not receive it as a gift. I use to get a secret thrill gifting used Avon and Tupperware (cleaned and beautifully boxed) junk which she proudly used and displayed like fine china in her home.


Isabelle December 2, 2015 at 5:14 pm

Hmm… I’m not sure about this one.
Stuff for my own young kids (we do have used gifts in the pile for our 3yo and 5yo this year), books in good condition and special/vintage stuff are ok for me, but if it’s something that is usually in a package I would not give outside of my kids or husband. To me it screams “I don’t have enough money to buy gifts/I’m cheap” and as much as I call myself a frugal person I do not want to be perceived as cheap.


Jennifer December 2, 2015 at 5:41 pm

I think it depends on the gift. I got an barbie electronic game still in the box with all the directions still in place. It was just like it would be if you got it at a regular store but I got it at a thrift store. It was listed as $30+ on Amazon so the receiver never would have known it was from a thrift store. It would be technically perceived as a $30+ gift I gave that I only spent $5 on. Also, I gave teacher gifts last year in super cute( and scrubbed thoroughly) thrifted mugs with brand new contents(hot chocolate, pens, lotions)inside that I wrapped nicely in cellophane from another project. I gues my point is there are lots of variables here. You have to think outside the box for sure. I am fairly new to this myself but I think it’s worth the challenge. Also, if the person you are gifting is important enough to be receiving a gift from you just remember they know you well and that your intentions are good.


Isabelle December 3, 2015 at 4:27 am

Oh, I’m right there with you if it’s still in a brand new looking package! But if it’s out of the box, visibly used, I would not feel comfortable giving it outside of my own small family. Not so much because I think it’s wrong, but because I would feel self-conscious about what the person might think of me.


Marianne December 2, 2015 at 5:48 pm

We exchange gifts at work, we make it fun, can’t spend more than $6 total & it can be used or new We have such a great time with this. Point being it is not the cost of the gift it is the fun involved!
My kids who are adults are great at re-gifting gifts, I taught them well. If you are not going to use it make sure someone else will.
The only person I will not buy used for is my sister. She thinks it is cheap. Honestly I would rather have a $5 gift I want than a $100 gift I don’t want or need. Christmas is so commercial.

That coin is pretty cool!


janine December 2, 2015 at 9:40 pm

I just sent a baby gift to my nephew – the card was a print of a beautiful painting from the Cochrane Gallery – but I bought it at a thrift shop. It had not been used, obviously, but it was donated. The actual gift was a new stuffed toy. Personally, I don’t care where it came from – I love vintage and antique gifts- they are often much more unusual and beautiful than the cheap plastic stuff that comes from China. I do take into account how the recipient will feel about “used” stuff, however.
Loved the coin – showed originality, a sense of history and family pride!


Michele December 3, 2015 at 12:16 am

I have given 2nd hand gifts and have gotten mixed replies. I have come to realize that those who were underwhelmed were the type who can’t be pleased with anything. 😉


JD December 3, 2015 at 6:45 am

I have given used gifts, but not outside of my immediate family. By immediate family, I include my siblings their spouses, my kids and their spouses, and grandkids. The few non-family gifts go to people who will NOT appreciate used gifts. I’ve tried to work on that issue, but some people are going to be offended, and that’s that. I can make handmade gifts and they are somewhat okay with that, but second-hand? No way.
My sisters and I love to gift each other with vintage items, and my kids are used to me buying used books for them and used clothes for their babies. I let people know I love vintage things and don’t care if a gift is used, but some folks in our extended family are dead set against such things and won’t give them even when asked. I keep trying. Of course, some of these people, I’ve managed to get out of gift exchanges with them altogether, so it doesn’t matter anymore what they think.


MW December 3, 2015 at 7:53 am

Well, if it weren’t for used gifts, this year we would only be able to afford *%& from the Dollar Tree. I spent most of this year looking at used books stores, rummage sales, thrift stores and our closets for presents for a long list of people. I’ve spent a couple of months sewing and baking for other gifts. If someone is going to be offended by my gift of love, they are probably somebody I should strike off my gift list.


N December 3, 2015 at 8:50 am

Whenever the holidays come around, I am relieved that I only exchange gifts with my parents. My husband and I take a vacation as a gift to each other for Christmas, and we’ve phased out gifts to all other friends and other relatives with no drama at all (in fact, everyone seems relieved). This was the best decision we’ve ever made regarding the holidays. It’s not that we are opposed to generosity: We might treat someone to a nice dinner or bottle of wine if we get together around the holidays, or give them something later in the year if they need it or we find something perfect. However, the gifting pressure is removed and the holidays are a heck of a lot more enjoyable. After exchanging gift cards a few times with people (and also realizing that a lot of the clutter in my house was stuff that had been gifted to me) it just seemed like we were going through the gifting motions (as were most people we knew) because of a pressure to give gifts. Getting out of this cycle makes the holidays wonderful. I know this becomes harder once children are in the picture, but we hope to mostly give experience gifts when we have kids.


Vickie December 3, 2015 at 8:53 am

I agree.
At the pawn shop yesterday:
1) I bought an HP laptop computer with Windows 8 pro on it for my daughter. Likely not more than a year or so old.
2) I bought a Wii mini and 6 games for my granddaughters.
Total paid: $152 – that’s about $4 or 500 dollars less than new.
I won’t waste my money on anything my daughter and kids want, whether new or used, so I find good, used products if possible and it not, I find a good deal online for what they are wanting.
In a later year, if they decide they’re done with what they received, or outgrow it and it still works or is in good shape, it’s donated to my our local shelter. That way it’s passed on as a useful item, instead of ending up in the landfill.


Vickie December 3, 2015 at 8:54 am

That line should have been “anything my daughter and grandkids don’t want”.


Connie December 3, 2015 at 9:30 am

Zilpha Keatley Snyder books – I would consider this pure gold (and I’m saying that from 40+ years after first reading them!)


Nan December 3, 2015 at 9:52 am

The coin is neat but not considering that, I’d rather give the family $100 and let them buy what they want- nice meal at home or out. I give people used things- DVDs, books, toys- but not for a present, just to give it to them any time of the year. Why so much for your nephew? Vans are usually BOGO here at the outlet mall.


Katy December 3, 2015 at 12:05 pm

It was a combination birthday/Chanukah gift where he got to design his own shoes.


Beth December 3, 2015 at 12:43 pm

I have no problem with giving or receiving new or used gifts. I keep the recipient in mind when I’m giving a gift-some people don’t see the quality in a used gift and would be offended, whereas others enjoy used gifts immensely. And whether I’m buying used or new, I try to make the gift as perfect for the recipient as possible. If I’m buying a gift for someone and it’s not going to be special/useful/meaningful/etc… to them, then it doesn’t matter whether it’s used or new-it’s simply not the right gift.


Rosa December 4, 2015 at 3:47 pm

I actually would prefer used gifts, and my close friends generally do too. But the vast majority of our gift giving is extended family members for whom there’s a set unofficial $$ value – if people get discounts or buy cheap, the expectation is more stuff, not savings.

It just really depends how the recipient feels. You want them to feel loved, valued, and not cheated (if it’s a socially-mandatory exchange).


Shevaun December 7, 2015 at 5:55 am

I think it depends on how much thought you really put into a gift. Like, I’d rather receive a wonderful pair of used gloves that are just perfect for me (I’m super picky about gloves) than some random scented candle or perfumed lotion (which trigger headaches for me… most painful present EVER).

My point isn’t to knock folks who like candles or lotion… my point is that when someone gives those things to me, I know that they know nothing about me. But someone who knows about my weird-glove-preferences? That’s like a little wave hello every time I reach in my pocket.


priskill December 7, 2015 at 7:20 am

Wow, the coins are too awesome and worth every penny — family history! Enjoying your blog, have come from The Frugal Girl and you guys are just wonderful. Love 5 frugal things and the clever redos (tray=earring rack 🙂 I am reluctant to give used things to people I don’t know that well (people I work with) but have given my mom some cool used china that I knew she would like. I guess you have to know your audience. Cheers!


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