How to Buy Gifts for the Non-Consumer Advocate — A Primer

by Katy on January 8, 2010 · 32 comments

For years, even before I joined The Compact, (buy nothing new movement) my husband has been accused me of being a difficult person to buy presents for. I think nothing could be farther form the truth. Sure, I’m not your stereotypical wife who wants diamond jewelry and expensive meals, but that doesn’t mean that it’s all that hard to find me a gift. Sure, I returned everything he bought me for my 40th birthday, and instead bought a Goodwill salt and pepper set and took an antique mantel clock in to be refurbished. But my needs are truly simple.

My birthday was on Monday, and although we don’t exchange holiday gifts, we do indulge for birthdays. I don’t really care about the gifts I receive, and truth be told, I’d probably be willing to give it up.

But my husband came through big time for me this year! Big time.

My husband started the day asking me if I felt like it was time to open a present. He then handed me an envelope which contained a $120 gift certificate to the Clogs-N-More store, which is down the street from us. And before you start choking over the price of this gift, let me explain. I hardly ever buy new clothes or shoes for myself, but when I do, I buy high quality. As a nurse, I’ve worked my way through the rainbow of comfortable shoe options, and have arrived (and stayed) at Dansko. I have a great pair for work, and had recently even took them in to get new insoles. But my job is well . . . messy, (Labor and delivery = every possible bodily fluid to step in that can come from a woman.) and I never wear those work shoes outside the hospital. Ever.

I had a number of errands to run that day, but you can be sure that I prioritized a little shoe shopping. I made a beeline straight the to patent leather babies I’d been coveting for ages and brought them to the counter to pay. As a nurse, I get a 5% discount, but I noticed that they had a sign up about a Chinook Book coupon. And when asked, the clerk informed me that the coupon was for %15. That’s a significant difference, especially when you’re talking about $120 shoes. Reluctantly, I put the shoes on-hold and drove off on my other errands.

Luckily, one of my errands was lunch out with my step-mother Lindy, and she was happy to let me tear out the coupon I needed from her Chinook Book. Yesss!

Back across town with coupon in hand, I was able to not only buy the shoes, but had enough left over for a pair of Smart Wool socks. An indulgence I would normally scoff at. ($18 for a pair of socks? Puh-leez!)

I finally made it home in the late afternoon, at which point my husband asked me if I wanted another present. (What? Me again!) He brings down a huge gift bag and I pull out a nice big expandable wooden laundry rack. Score! I have an indoor laundry line, but it’s in a dark, cold and cluttery unfinished room that I actually hate to use. Ideally, I should be using it anyway, but I seem to be pretty good at avoiding it lately. I excitedly put a load of laundry into the wash, and set up the rack in our bedroom, which is not cold, dark and cluttery. Okay, maybe a little cluttery.

After dinner that evening, my husband had the kids bring me one last gift bag, which holds a box of PG Tips tea, a tube of McVitie’s digestive biscuits and a drawing of a Brown Betty teapot. (He had bought one that arrived in pieces, and had a new one on order from a local shop.) At this point, my husband has crossed the line into the land of too many gifts. And this is where I start to look bad, well . . . “difficult to buy presents for.”

I privately told him that although I appreciated these gifts, I already had a teapot that I really liked. I didn’t need another one. I then asked him if he liked coffee, and he answered “yes.” I asked if he liked to receive coffee theme gifts such as flavored coffees. His answer was an emphatic “no.” I gently explained that I like to drink tea, but I like Red Rose brand tea and am not wanting to drink anything else. The PG Tips were cute and all English-y, but were wasted on me.

So the replacement tea pot order was cancelled, the tea sits in the cupboard and the digestive biscuits? Let’s just say we made quick work of them. (Said the non-consumer, wiping crumbs off her lap.)

Do your loved ones complain that you are hard to buy for? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

Kristen@TheFrugalGirl January 8, 2010 at 2:58 am

Aww, it sounds like your husband did a very good job overall. Go, Mr. Non-Consumer Advocate!

My husband’s complaint (which is not really a complaint) comes from the fact that he can’t understand why I like to get such practical gifts (he dutifully bought me a skillet for Christmas, though! lol).


Linda January 8, 2010 at 4:18 am

I like practical gifts. This year my husband spent too much on my birthday gift (just before Christmas), he bought me an edible arrangement. The whole family enjoyed it! Of course, I was thinking how much it would cost me to make this!

I just bought my first pair of Dansko shoes. I love them! My doctor recommended them since I have problems with plantar faciitus (spell?). My local store had an amazing sale and I got them for only $80. This is much more than I would ever spend on a pair of shoes. They are so worth it! My feet feel great and I have not had any problems with my feet.

Also, I just started to not buy anything new. I have a very tough friend to buy a birthday gift. She likes Coach everything. I, on the other hand, have a problem with Coach, since they moved their operations to China but are still charging high prices. When asked why they are not making them in the US anymore, they said they could not keep up with the production in the US. I live in an area with many closed mills, many stickers out of work. I know that they could find American workers to make their products.

Anyway, I found the most beautiful sterling cuff bracelet at an antique store for a great price. I think she will love it!


Eleanor January 8, 2010 at 4:51 am

This is great; I thought I was the only woman in the US who’d be happier with a gift certificate from Goodwill instead of the mall! I have also been wondering if I am the only woman out there who “wants” very little materially but has a husband who loves to lavish with gifts.
Good for him for coming up with the “Clogs-n-More” gift cert, and good for you for indulging!
My similar note: I do love Lucchese cowgirl boots, and hubby loves to see me wear them. So, one Christmas I saw a pair I really wanted for $400- NO WAY. I scouted around on the internet and found them for $100, gave him the link, and now I own a pair of boots that, properly cared for, will last me for decades.


WilliamB January 8, 2010 at 6:42 am

My nearest and dearest complain that I’m hard to buy for. They’re right. I have most of the stuffI want. Now what I need is time to use them! So I tend to suggest time-savers.

This year I asked for an alarm watch. I want one I can set for both time periods and specific times. The former will remind me to waste only 20 min online before returning to necessary tasks, the latter that I’m supposed to do X (such as go running) at a given time. I have high hopes this will help me use my time more effectively and so have free time to use the stuff I already have.

The next thing I’m going to ask for is someone to hang up the decorations in my office. It’s not high enough on my list for me to do it but I certainly would love it done.


Jacquelyn January 8, 2010 at 8:52 am

I think anyone who’s content with what they have is hard to buy for. I don’t feel like I NEED anything, but occasionally there are things that truly make life easier or need replacing. I just have to make sure I point out what these things are. I got a clothes drying rack for Christmas because I showed my husband the link for it months ago and told him I’d love to have one. I’ll admit, I am disappointed when I get an impractical or expensive gift that I don’t really need. But I am always grateful to be thought of, and I’m not ashamed to tastefully re-gift!


Julia (Color Me Green) January 8, 2010 at 8:59 am

This is so funny…my boyfriend is similarly afraid to buy me gifts and didn’t end up getting me anything for christmas this year on time…although he finally made peace with not surprising me with some fancy jewelry and bought me something off my suggested list a week later.


Lisa January 8, 2010 at 10:33 am

We rarely exchange gifts so when we do, it always seems like a special occasion. We tend to buy things for one another when we stumble across an item we know will be used and loved….on any day of the year. I love practical gifts while my husband prefers collectibles. (He has every Coca-Cola doodad known to mankind!) What an odd couple we are! I’m glad you’re feeling better today and hope you’re on the mend.


Meg January 8, 2010 at 10:48 am

My husband and I are very hard to shop for. We’re somewhat minimalist, so we’re very selective about what stuff we let into the house, and now we’re vegan, so that rules out a lot more stuff.

We’ve told everyone “no gifts”, at least for Christmas. That cuts down a lot on the gifts and that way we can enjoy Christmas without spending a lot of time shopping for everyone else. And everyone has been really cool about it, except my mom. And unfortunately, she doesn’t really buy stuff we want. This year there was a kitchen table because she thinks it’s a sin that we don’t have one, but it’s not the style we wanted and it only seats two, so what’s the point if when it’s just us we prefer to sit at the coffee table? As hard as it was, we asked her to please take it back because just wouldn’t use it.

I do appreciate the thought. I really, really do. And there have been a few small gifts that we’ve liked such as when she donated money in our name to help families in Africa learn to eat healthy using local foods. I thought that was awesome! And my husband and I have really liked the pocket flashlight she bought us. But overall, the big gifts make Christmas very stressful.

Ironically, we have bought a few things since then for ourselves, such as our first blender, a new toaster oven, some stainless steel pitchers to replace the glass ones that broke… So, maybe next year, I’ll just give her a very specific list and see if that works better since she INSISTS on getting us something.


Katy January 8, 2010 at 11:09 am

You’ll get there with your mom, because you’re approaching the issue with love and understanding.

My mother and I have worked very hard on our relationship, and we now understand each other better than ever. For my birthday, she ordered me a “down alternative” comforter to replace the down comforter that’s currently on our bed. I get an asthma attack about half the time I lie down to sleep, (which is new) so I’m hoping a move away from down will solve this issue. Also, she took us out for dinner to celebrate my birthday. Mmm . . . .

For Xmas, she gave me gift certificates to Powell’s bookstore, Goodwill and one other thrift store.

Katy Wolk-Stanley
The Non-Consumer Advocate


Carla January 8, 2010 at 12:21 pm

Presents are just hard, in general. I tend to get my husband the same things over and over: a sailboat calender in December for either his birthday or Christmas, books, books and more books. He reads politics (ugh) constantly but I brought in a new theme this year with something else I knew he was interested in — anti-evolution. For me, I will be nice about most anything you get me except clothes. DO NOT buy me clothes, please. They most likely won’t fit and my taste is extraordinarily plain compared to most women’s and to the junk out there on the racks. He has run the gamut from forgetting birthdays or Chrismas for me entirely to a new stereo system one Christmas. (???) Luv’ him no matter what!


Kayla K January 8, 2010 at 1:22 pm

Last year my boyfriend got me a gift card for groceries that I asked for and loved, but his mom was very mad at him and gave him quite a lecture.
I love practical gifts because I want to pick out indulgences like clothes or home decor items for myself. Preferably thrifted.
I wish I didn’t receives gifts at all because I rarely like what other people think I do and I feel like a horrible person for thinking that way.


magdalena January 8, 2010 at 3:35 pm

Love those clogs! And I would wear them,which would make me look so – medieval? Oh, well. But, Katie, enjoy the PG tips because it is good tea, not flavoured or anything. And you can always use a second pot. I often use two in a day, one for Husband’s Russian tea, one for an herbal tea. And I am so covetous of the drying rack. Mine have disappeared over the last two years, and I really want one again.

Happy birthday!


Dawn January 8, 2010 at 3:59 pm

I am also a Labor and Delivery nurse and wear my Dansko clogs at work. Did you buy these clogs to wear at home? I guess I always just think of them as “work shoes”.
I always have to tell my kids and family to not buy me anything as I have little wants.
Hope you enjoyed your birthday.


Kimberly in So Cal January 8, 2010 at 4:20 pm

Aw, he did a great job! The PG Tips are really good too, so I wouldn’t fault him on that. After all, a happy marriage is worth more than what we get from criticizing our spouses when they try so hard.


AlwaysLearning January 8, 2010 at 4:26 pm

Absolutely I know where you are coming from! My husband always bought me expensive jewelry for years. It took many years of returning gifts before he realized I’m a get-my-hands-dirty kind of girl, who is very, very practical. Goodwill gift cert, veggie plants for my garden, raised veggie beds….then he hit the BIG Jackpot. Last Mother’s Day I received 6 baby chicks and all the fixins, including a few weekends of building a coop. We now have wonderful free range, organic eggs everyday. How Lucky Am I!!


RR January 8, 2010 at 5:00 pm

I was with you until you dissed his gift of PG Tips. If you like Red Rose, PG Tips is the English equivilent. It ain’t fancy tea, it’s the basic “cuppa” stuff that every lower/middle class home has in the cup-board.

Brew it up and enjoy it. If you let it sit, it’ll just get wasted which is a shame.

Sounds like your sweetie did good!


Shannon January 8, 2010 at 5:57 pm

My husband loves gadgets, and tries to get me things I don’t need or want, like the latest greatest mobile phone (the one I got free on our plan a few years ago works fine, thankyouverymuch) or an ipod (I like to share my music w/ the kids) so I basically fixed it all by making a wishlist on etsy of a few thises, thats and the others. He got me a few things, including a sweet art deco birthstone ring that is just gorgeous. He was sort of unsure about buying me something previously owned, but when he saw it he had to admit that it was pretty awesome, esp considering that it wasn’t very expensive at all. It’s been nice for him to see that you don’t have to spend a fortune to get a nice gift for somebody.


Kristin January 8, 2010 at 6:49 pm

Yeah, my heart really bleeds for those of you whose husbands buy you too much or too lavish gifts.

And I echo the sentiments of a few before me – the PG Tips tea is good tea! The first time I bought it was because I read that it’s the #1 tea in England and I figure they know their tea. It is very strong, I find I only need to dunk the tea bag a few times in my cup of hot water to make tea that is plenty strong for me, and then I save the teabag on a little saucer and reuse it later in the day as there is still plenty of tea left to steep. So as you can see this tea is frugal and produces less waste in the form of used teabags. Try it!


Katy January 8, 2010 at 7:52 pm

People — I kept the PG Tips! I really did. I will finish up the current box of Red Rose tea and then dive in to the PG Tips.

This is an interesting subject trend, as The Compact Yahoo group had a long thread about using up (and swapping) tea before buying any new.

I guess our feelings run deep when it comes to tea. I know I have a Pavlovian relaxation response whenever I hear the whistle of a teakettle. Ahh . . . .

Katy Wolk-Stanley
The Non-Consumer Advocate


fairydust January 9, 2010 at 10:55 am

Wonderful ideas and great gifts from hubby!! And Mcvitie’s digestives??? OMG – to die for 🙂


Pat January 9, 2010 at 11:28 am

My husband used to do the jewelry thing (which I always returned and he knew it). He admits to being ‘gift-ally challenged’ so I usually write something on the December page of the calendar. One year I asked for a universal pot lid. I was thinking something simple but he bought the most gorgeous lid I have ever laid my eyes on. This past Christmas I only wanted a new jar of silverware polish which he thought was pretty funny. He did buy that and added a couple of restaurant gift cards too, which I always appreciate. He is finally learning that I have very simple tastes.


Kris-ND January 9, 2010 at 3:53 pm

Sounds like a great b-day! My s-i-l is a L&D nurse as well. She spends alot of money on work shoes, but as you said, you are on your feet ALL day,and it is cheaper to buy good shoes than pay for visits to the Podiatrist.


Greta January 9, 2010 at 5:38 pm

My friends don’t believe me when I say I don’t want gifts. They actually get indignant. I always ask people to contribute to my favorite charities on my birthday, but usually I end up with some dumb thing I don’t need. The exception to this is books. My best friends usually get me books for my birthday and I must admit I do love to OWN them, not just read them. But we all lend back and forth constantly, so that makes me feel better about all the OWNING I like to do where books are concerned.

I love Dansko too! Perhaps it’s a January 4th thing.


Tracy Balazy January 10, 2010 at 1:49 pm

I can relate to what Kayla K. said above regarding feeling bad when she doesn’t liking stuff people buy her, and Greta’s comment about people getting indignant when you insist you didn’t want anything.

Before Christmas, my dad’s wife called me on the phone and asked what I want for Christmas, and I said, ‘Nothing, REALLY!’ and her response was, “Well, we’re going to get you SOMETHING.” And they did. A wine-themed oil lamp. I burn candles so rarely, yet people are always giving me more. Although, to her and my dad’s credit, they also gave me a gift certificate for Value World, one of my favorite thrift stores, thanks to my sister’s coaching (she’s another non-consumer trying to get rid of all the clutter in her home).
I’m 42, and it’ll never change! I know they mean the best, but I have to work on asking them maybe just to stick with the ol’ Value World card next year.


Amy January 11, 2010 at 8:19 am

I am also a practical gift giver and hopefully receiver and so is my sister. We also regift with one another all the time. (it’s ok if you know its a regift) My husband also thinks that I am a terrible person for whom to buy gifts.

I asked for a cheap toaster for Christmas. He insisted that we would get a toaster, but not as a gift for me. He would get something else. So Christmas came and went and we still didn’t have a toaster. I finally bought one. 😉

Anyway, I just want to be able to USE what I get. My kids think I’m really weird because they got underwear, socks, bras, boxes of pens and boxes of mechanical pencils in their stockings. I also had them go out with me to pick out what they were getting for Christmas. I bought it then and there and wouldn’t let them have it until the big day. I even had the audacity to give it to them in the bags from the store and not wrap it. I simply said, “Why wrap it when you already know what it is?”


Deb January 11, 2010 at 10:23 am

Reading all of these comments tickled my funny bone — I drive my family crazy around birthday and Christmas time. Usually when they ask what I’d like I have a hard time coming up with anything to tell them. Then, when I do tell them, they don’t want to get it for me! Like the year my divorce became final and I asked for a shoe-shine kit, cordless drill and jumper cables for my car. They couldn’t understand why I didn’t want something girly. I don’t mind girly, but I actually needed those things.

I don’t like clutter in my home, it stresses me out, and don’t want to receive stuff unless it’s something specific I actually need. I rarely burn candles, and then they have to be unscented beeswax, can’t use most lotions, etc. due to sensitive skin and allergies. I’m hard to fit for clothing since I have long limbs and a lovely apple build — so pants that fit my waist sag everywhere else which does provide some amusement for the giver when I try the item on and “model”. Or long sleeve items will leave a couple inches of wrist exposed …. LOL as I list this I can see why I drive them nuts!

The funny thing is, I’m actually happy with the simplest of gifts, or even no gift at all. When my daughter was little, she and my husband dug up some wild lilies by the roadside and planted them in our yard for my birthday — one of my favorite presents of all time. My grandmother had me for lunch on Christmas, and that and the nice visit we had was my present. It was great.


Marie-Josée January 11, 2010 at 12:33 pm

Your husband really made a wonderful effort, what a sweetie! I too have been accused of being difficult in the gift department. I used to ask for and get beeswax candles from my children when they were smaller. My wish lists are still comprised of the beeswax candles, and/or experential gifts like a facial or a manicure or pedicure, and/or pratical items that I would not but, like a mister/humidifier for my bedroom that I can use with essential oils. I have such a hard time coming up with a wish list, that it often gets created post-event, and I end up not getting a gift after all, which I don’t resent one bit. We always celebrate with a meal out chosen by the person being celebrated, and for me that is the second best treat. The highlight is spending time with my family.


Marie-Josée January 11, 2010 at 12:35 pm

My comment should read “that I would not buy”…..


Meg January 11, 2010 at 3:28 pm

Thanks, Katy!


KL January 12, 2010 at 12:54 am

I like non-tangible gifts. I do not advocate the thrift idea in itself – I like to splurge – but I simply try to do it without accumulating stuff. And when I buy, I by quality. (With kids, its surprisingly simple to never shop – you never have the time.) The idea of buing only used is great, though currently not practical for me (I try to do with repairing old ones though, usually with seamstress or other professional, and for instance an old wool jacket will soon become uber-cool laptop messenger bag).

So this Christmas, it was opera. For Mother’s day, my husband bought me champagne. The champagne in itself was the present – and a tasty one at that.

We typically give rather practical presents – they may not be used, but at least they are not junk. The last three presents I gave my husband were winter jacket and warm shoes – he did not have those and certainly needed them.


KL January 12, 2010 at 12:58 am

Also, my friends make wonderful giths. I’ve gotten home made cookies, home made chutney, home made chocolate pralines (the most exquisite gift ever!) I love good food, and the amount of time and love spent on those things makes them special.

(Correction to prev comment: last two presents, not three)


Kristy January 12, 2010 at 2:10 pm

I can totally relate…I consider myself moderately stuff-averse.


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