Is it Okay to Give Used Gifts?

by Katy on December 20, 2012 · 33 comments

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 would 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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{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

Dan Garner December 20, 2012 at 9:33 am

Hi Katy,
I love the idea of used gifts. Besides making good, economical sense it is more environmentally sustainable as well.

By the way, I just recently discovered your blog through Our So Called Life ‘s blog. Very nice. I fully believe in your cause. You have a new follower.

Dan @ ZenPresence


Katy December 20, 2012 at 11:03 am

Welcome, Dan!



Jan December 20, 2012 at 9:43 am
Katy December 20, 2012 at 10:58 am

That is fantastic, thank you! I have already shared the photo on Facebook and tagged my cousins. My grandfather was a very successful business man, and there are so many stories about him and “the business.”



Monica December 20, 2012 at 10:22 am

Regifting a pretty silver and aquamarine necklace/earrings set to my 14 yr old niece. I haven’t worn it in 10 years, and she will LOVE it! Got a 1/2 price Leapster 2 game for my daughter at the children’s consignment store, as well as the pink and purple tutu’s she wanted. They were $2 less at Christmas Tree shop–but I wasn’t going to drive across town in late afternoon traffic to save $4. I wanted to save my sanity! Thanks for all the helpful hints on successful re-gifting!


Emily December 20, 2012 at 10:57 am

I assume that your family, or at least your sister, doesn’t read your blog? She’s missing out!


Katy December 20, 2012 at 11:02 am

I called her and told her to not read today’s post, and to delete the post if she subscribes.



katzien December 20, 2012 at 11:24 am

You’re so right that cheap is unrelated to generosity. Some people can be cheap and stingy at the same time, but for me, living cheaply allows me to do for others when I am inpsired. Thanks for your continued blogging!


marie December 20, 2012 at 12:19 pm

A gift is just that. A gift! It doesn’t have to be brand new in a box.
It should be given with love!

And yes, I have given used things as gifts.


greenstrivings December 20, 2012 at 12:35 pm

These are great presents, so thoughtful and well-chosen — way better than running to a bigbox store and throwing random stuff into a cart. Reading your blog over the last few months very much encouraged me to consider giving thrifted presents. I was hoping to score at my local thrift store but didn’t do as well as I wanted. I have now learned that I need to start looking earlier, d’oh. Thankfully I only give presents to my children, at least of the durable goods type, and eBay was a big help there. Relatives get food/wine or experience gifts.


Katy December 20, 2012 at 12:57 pm

Buying ahead of time is key when buying used. However, I’m stilling pulling together my gifts, but I’m confident it’ll all be done by the 25th.



Linda in Indiana December 20, 2012 at 1:08 pm

I agree that your gifting is wonderful….lots of thought about what would mean something and be something special for the recipient. Also, by giving recycled….you are being so kind to the earth and our future generations.
I found a few things to include that were thrifted. My gifting is including some beautiful mugs found at Goodwill filled with candy. Also a really neat CD that I knew my best friend would love. A really neat book for her also. I created a sewing kit from items I already had. Not nearly as many second owner items as I would have liked…but it is a journey. Several other gifts include or consist of handmade, home grown or crafted items. I just keep trying to move forward and be thoughtful about consuming and hopefully improve yearly. You are such a wonderful inspiration…thank you!


PigPennies December 20, 2012 at 2:49 pm

Every holiday season tons of opportunities for giving to those less fortunate come up. This year a group of friends adopted a local family to complete their holiday wish list. It included things like pots and pans and children’s books. I happened to have a bunch of beautiful Eric Carle books in duplicate having bought a couple lots of books for my son on eBay, and also had a spare set of Calphalon cookware still in great condition. But, of course, the donation lists always specify that gifts must be new. I don’t know how to feel about that when I buy myself everything possible used, and would be happy to be given these items. What do you think?


Terri December 21, 2012 at 6:51 am

I run a local food pantry and at Christmas time we also ask that all gifts be new. The reason is that what you might consider gently used is wonderful, but some people donate things that truly belong in the garbage. So most organizations looking for giving to those less fortunate will ask for new. Might I suggest that you talk to someone in charge and show them what you have. They may have another family that would feel very blessed to receive your spare set of cookware.


Lois December 20, 2012 at 3:58 pm

We have been giving used gifts for years. With the opening of so many used stores for movies, music and books you can pretty much find something for everyone. We also pick up book from library sales as well knowing our money supports the library in providing more materials we can use through the year. This year my one used gift I am giving is a family heirloom. It belonged to my great grandmother, then her son (my grandfather), it skipped to me, and now it’s time to pass it on to my son who has loved this piece of art almost as much I have. He doesn’t know this yet, so I can’t wait to see his face when he unwraps it.


Rachel Gillespie December 20, 2012 at 4:13 pm

I admire that you do this. I’m such wimp about it and still trying to people please. The irony is that I give very uncreatively and feel that giving second-hand might actually unleash more creativity and please people more anyway. At the moment it’s about budget, not the gift itself which is not what the whole spirit of the season is about.
If I was your sister I’d be ecstatic about the coin, as I’m sure she’ll be.
What I am happy with are the gifts of concert tickets and baseball tickets I’m giving to various family members. I know they’re going to love them and that makes me very happy.


Lynnette December 20, 2012 at 9:02 pm

This was my first year purchasing “used” gifts and I made out like a bandit! I found brand new items at the thrift stores: socks and flannel PJ pants for mom, Dearfoam slippers for dad, 2 unopened puzzles and a rain bonnet for Grandma, pair of UGG slippers for bestie, pair of Eddie Bauer jeans for partner all of the items still had the tags attached or had never been worn!! I also found a childhood gift my mom always talks about remembering at Christmas on Etsy and I found a vintage lighter for my dad’s b-day (3 days after Christmas) …all utilitarian gifts that I think everyone will love and enjoy! Much of what I bought would have been cost prohibitive if I had purchased new, so being able to upgrade my gift giving is incentive enough for me to plan ahead and shop all year long for next Christmas!!


AFS December 20, 2012 at 9:18 pm

Katy- How did you happen to find the luckey token? Did you know about them before you found it on ebay? Why was the the token so expensive? Were you bidding against other family members? I’ve never heard of your grandfather’s store (but then I’ve never been in the market for a fur). Is it a very popular store? The token doesn’t seem to me to be something that would go as high as $28, or that someone would think to list it on ebay. Without the family connection it seems to be just an old trinket. (no offence meant towards your family)


AFS December 20, 2012 at 9:22 pm

Katy- How did you ever find that lucky token? Did you “search” for it or just happen to find it listed on ebay? Why was the token so expensive? Were you bidding against other family members? I’ve never heard of your grandfather’s store (but then I’ve never been in the market for a fur). Is it a very popular store? The token doesn’t seem to me to be something that would go as high as $28, or that someone would think to list it on ebay. Without the family connection it seems to be just an old trinket. (no offence meant towards your family)


AFS December 20, 2012 at 9:29 pm

Katy- How did you ever find the lucky token? Did you ‘search’ for it on ebay, or did you just happen to come across it? Why was the token so expensive? Were you bidding against other family members? I’ve never heard of your grandfather’s store (but then I’ve never been in the market for a fur). Is it a very popular store? The token doesn’t seem to me to be something that would go as high as $28, or that someone would think to list it on ebay. Without the family connection it seems to be just an old trinket. (no offence meant towards your family)


Sharon December 20, 2012 at 9:54 pm

I loved this post! I am giving my adult niece a Scentsty burner she had admired in my house. I got it brand new in box form GW, and I had saved the box. It never really went with my kitchen but I was desperate to have one. $6. It will match her kitchen perfectly. I am giving my sister a like new children’s book I got at a Little Free Library because it has Boston terrier in it, she has one and collects stuff with them.


Jen December 21, 2012 at 7:55 am

I mix and match new, used, and sale depending on the person. This year I am still shopping (unusual for me) due to a rash of illness in the family and at work, and am discovering that shopping at the last minute isn’t always a bad thing. A friend had admired some big mercury glass type ornaments in a local store but didnt want to pay the price. Yesterday they were 40% off, so she’ll be thrilled to get them and I am thrilled with the bargain! And I’m giving them to her today so she can enjoy having them up at her family celebration Christmas Eve!


Paula in the UP December 22, 2012 at 6:19 am

All your gifts seem very thoughtful and you always do seem to find good items. One thing that I think makes it easier for you to do this is your “known” for this, you write a blog about it and you’ve been doing it for some time. You also appreciate when you receive “used” items in return, which in turn means you have family and friends who also shop in a similar fashion.

My family is not be so appreciative of this style of shopping/ gifting. Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t spendthrift snobs, but they don’t embrace this type of shopping/ gifting. Now if I were to find an item with tag still on or something I’ve crafted from used items that would be acceptable. That and they’d never know!! All that being said I do regift things I’ve gotten as gifts, but outside my family.


Marcella December 22, 2012 at 3:20 pm

Katy, you should check out this interesting article, from The Age, a newspaper here in Melbourne. It discusses the idea of used gifts, and that “we still subtly connect a gift’s symbolic value with the level of sacrifice it represents.” i.e. how much money did I sacrifice to buy this gift.

It also explores the recent shift that gifts are also becoming an expression of people’s ethics and morals, i.e. non-consumerist beliefs. A good read I think!

Read more:


Ang December 22, 2012 at 3:25 pm

I am always on the lookout for things to regift. I check yard sales and thrift stores all year long. In my opinion, even if something is gently used, if it’s still in good shape and the person I have in mind can really use it, then it’s worth buying. I had 8 people to buy for this year, and only spent about 100 bucks total. And that includes presents for my daughters birthday which is 2 days before Xmas.


Bethany@OurSoCalledLife December 23, 2012 at 5:19 am

We’ve really changed our mindset, when it comes to giving gifts. We’ve realized that we don’t have the means to give anyone anything that they can’t afford, so we’ve stopped quanitfying our gifts in that way, and focused on giving thoughtful things. It doesn’t really matter if gifts “match,” or if one person’s gift is “worth as much” as another’s. The value is in the usefulness and meaning that the gift has, for the recipient. We’ve given used gifts, as well as items from our house that we no longer use, for this reason. And they’ve been better-received than anything expensive we could have bought.


Bethany@OurSoCalledLife December 23, 2012 at 5:26 am

Don’t worry about the “value” of the gift, monetarily speaking. We really need to move away from viewing gift-giving as an equal, economic exchange. A gift is just that, a gift. And it should reflect more thought than monetary value. I’ve given away items that we had in our house but no longer used, because I knew they would be valued beyond measure by someone else. So don’t worry about matching someone else’s gift–instead, focus on finding something perfect for that person, that they wouldn’t get themself. Thinking about it that way, used gifts are not only acceptable, but also might be perfect.


Mr. Everyday Dollar December 23, 2012 at 12:54 pm

I tend to acquire free, and new, things over the course of the year that come in perfect for holiday gifts. For instance, this year I am giving a bottle of wine, a micro-USB car charger, a cookbook and an R/C helicopter that I didn’t pay for. Of course, I did shell out money for the remainder of gifts, but some of them I was able to purchase more inexpensively off eBay (NIB though).


Jessica Wolk-Stanley December 23, 2012 at 7:52 pm

Jessica here…the very happy recipient of Katy’s wonderful gifts! I do indeed love them and I don’t mind that they are used. In fact, being ALMOST as thrifty and ecologically-minded as Katy, my appreciation is enhanced. Also she is getting used gifts from me for her birthday next month, and even something I made from thrifted items. All her gifts are wrapped in used paper I saved from last year, because I am just that demented. I know they say we can’t save the environment with at-home green efforts, but I feel like I should at least try.


Katy December 24, 2012 at 11:02 am




Tatiana December 24, 2012 at 10:50 am

I am fine with used gifts if the person giving them has actually put some thought in it and isn’t just giving away something they don’t want. My sister has given me, more than once, a gift of ‘junk’ she is trying to get rid of. Normally, she is a great gift-giver, so I can always tell when she is just passing stuff off to get rid of it. I’d rather receive no gift than a thoughtless one.

But a thoughtful, meaningful used gift (or regifted wine!) is a great present, in my opinion.


AM December 24, 2012 at 3:34 pm

Greetings Non-Con A, To clarify, everything in the holiday box cost $30 PLUS $28 for the token. Or did you find Tinkertoys, a plush Japanese doll, a Goodwill miniature silver plate Revere for Gorham bowl, a necklace and earrings, a groovy Le Sportsack zipper pouch, and a new looking vintage recipe box, all for $2? If so, you are a FANTASTIC shopper. I agree that your gifting is wonderful….lots of thought about what would mean something and be something special for the recipient. Happy Holidays!


Sarah December 26, 2012 at 2:39 am

I gave a secondhand, mildly used book to my cousin this Christmas. We all buy gifts of +/- 10 euros, but I figured I could get ‘more book’ for that price at a secondhand bookstore. He studies to be a social worker, is interested in fair trade and quite idealist, so I got him a secondhand copy of ‘No logo’ by Naomi Klein (which costs me 12,5 euros) and accompanied it by a card wishing him good luck with his upcoming exams, best wishes for 2013 and a lot of inspiration from this ‘sustainable’ (= secondhand) gift. He liked it!


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