Non-Consumer Gift Giving

by Katy on May 17, 2011 · 23 comments

It may sound somewhat ungenerous, but my goals for gift giving are threefold:

  1. Give a truly useful or perfect-for-the-recipient gift.
  2. Minimize packaging/non-sustainable crappiness whenever possible.
  3. Spend as little as possible.

Today was my husband’s birthday and I was able to hit all three of my requirements without much effort. Here’s what I bought:

  • A hardback Shutterfly book of family photos.
  • A shaving kit with ceramic mug, bar of shaving soap and an ole timey shaving brush.

I used a Groupon for the photo book, (I had Groupon credit from referring people, so it was free) and my Swagbucks Amazon credit covered the cost of the shaving kit. I paid a few dollars for the Shutterfly shipping, but otherwise everything was free.

My husband loved both the gifts, and gave the shaving kit a big thumbs up. (I have to admit that this gift was somewhat selfish, as I’m the one excited to stop buying aerosol cans of shaving cream, as we have two, soon to be three shaving men in our household!)

People often assume that I am a terrible gift giver, as my Non-Consumerism radiates from me like spray tan from the cast of Jersey Shore, but I think I actually rock the gift giving department. I buy Goodwill and garage sale gifts year round, and occasionally splash out with expensive gifts. (My younger son turns 13 in a few days, and we’re going to let him choose a concert to attend, most likely Bruno Mars.) I prefer experiential gifts, edible gifts, used gifts or something I am 100% sure that the recipient will love. I do not want to be cluttering up other people’s lives!

I guess what I’m saying is that just because I’m cheap doesn’t mean that I’m not generous.

Do you struggle with giving gifts without going over budget or outside your green values? Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which help support The Non-Consumer Advocate.


{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Katherine May 17, 2011 at 4:34 am

I struggle with this a lot! I like to give gifts that are thoughtful and also want to fight the feeling that we have to spend a lot for it to be a good gift. Your gift to your husband is right up my alley! I love a good gift and love it even more if I find it at a great price!

At this point in my extended family, I have earned the reputation for being hard to buy for. Namely, my in-laws have a hard time buying for my kids. They buy quantity and we are drowning in gifts for weeks after their visits. It is one of the many ways my MIL expresses her love for our kids, but it overwhelms me (in our two bedroom apartment- space is limited!). My husband has expressed several times that we do not want more clothes or toys for them, but rather consumable gifts- a membership to the kids’ museum, swim lessons, etc. They know that mostly comes from me, and I am sort of known as being a hard-a** about gifts.

It is a hard balance to strike.


Kate May 17, 2011 at 4:40 am

I, too, think long and hard before giving gifts. This year we gave my mom a day of gardening for her birthday- hard-core, pulling out invasive vines in a ditch, gardening. She can’t physically do it anymore and she said it was the best gift she’d ever gotten. For Mother’s Day, my MIL received a free(FREE!) photo collage from a drug store in her town – she got photos(she doesn’t have a computer, so I can’t just email them to her) and I minimized the amount of stuff going into her home. I do try, however, to make sure they still feel like they’re getting something – I don’t want my gifts to feel like accusations of their pack-rat tendencies!


Jennifer May 17, 2011 at 5:04 am

I give books to kids. The little ones get picture books that I pick out–I am getting pretty good at figuring out age-appropriate books, and if I buy something a little too difficult, it just hangs out for a few months until the kid ages up. My older nephew gets either gift certificates to the comic book store or for digital books for his Nook. It was a family joke for awhile that the kids could pick out my presents at a hundred yards because my bookstore has very recognizable wrapping paper.

I give as many “experience” gifts as possible. (And I like getting them too). Especially going out for a nice dinner, but also plays, food tasting tours, spa treatments, etc. If the point of a gift is to do something for someone that they wouldn’t for themselves…most in my circle would buy whatever they need, but are much less likely to plan a treat for themselves. We also had a realization that my dad doesn’t particularly need “surprise” presents. He is happy as a clam with baseball tickets for the whole family every single year, and likes having that treat to look forward to.


Barb @ 1 Sentence Diary May 17, 2011 at 5:12 am

In most cases, I *love* giving gifts. I think the best gifts are those that the recipient will enjoy, but probably wouldn’t have gotten for themselves. I love the idea of the “gardening day” that Kate mentioned giving to her mom.
Recently, we gave my mother (who is moving into a new condo) several hours with an interior designer. She loved it! She really enjoyed having someone with whom she could talk through all the details, layout, and colors of the new place.
One of the best gifts I ever got was a song, written (skillfully) just for me. It’s beautiful, and it’s about me.
In my opinion, the definition of the good gift is one that shows that you actually know the person receiving it, and what might appeal to them. It’s not at all about the money. But that said, occassionally my gifts (both given and received) do fall flat. Once in a while a gift just misses the mark — but that’s OK. No one gets everything right all the time.


Megg May 17, 2011 at 5:55 am

I just looked up that shave set and it’s only $10?? Awesome, thanks for the great idea of a gift for my husband! He’d love that!
Last year I was able to buy several of my gifts from Goodwill. I bought frames for my grandparents from Goodwill and also a cute fondu snowman for my sis-in-law. My sister got a few used books, too. The most I spent on a present was $30 for my husband…but it was something I know he’ll use and I’m glad I splurged on it.

This year I’ve already started saving presents for Christmas along with a wedding for later the year and a baby book because a lot of my friends are having kids these days. I keep it all out of the way in my garage, and I think I’ll be happy when Christmas season comes and a good chunk of shopping is done!


Vicki May 17, 2011 at 6:35 am

Most of the time when I read your blog I think ,”me too!”. I live giving gifts and work hard to find the right thing. I too often buy used. If I can’t find what I want I’ll get hand made or very practical thing.
For my 30th birthday last week, my husband gave me new headphones for my iPhone. Super consumery I guess, but practical.


Lisa May 17, 2011 at 8:18 am

My dad has used the same Old Spice shaving soap mug since well before I was born. The handle is broken, but don’t even think about suggesting he get a new one.


NMPatricia May 17, 2011 at 11:53 am

It never crossed my mind that you were a terrible gift giver. I am always in awe and perhaps a bit jealous of your creativity and skill in giving the gifts you do. I always think there are incredible. You rock, girl.


Tracy Balzy May 18, 2011 at 6:48 am

What she said!


Lindy May 17, 2011 at 1:15 pm

I’m jealous of your gift giving skills!

My daughter gave me a gift certificate for a facial at a spa for mother’s day and I loved it. I told her it was the best gift I ever got. I couldn’t tell you the past gifts I may have gotten but I for sure will remember this one. It was wonderful and something I wouldn’t have bought for myself. Her friend is the one who gave the facial and I also loved the idea of giving money to an individual (especially someone we know) instead of a mega corp.

Please continue to share your gift ideas or Goodwill gift finds. Maybe it will help me to think outside of the box!


Alicen May 17, 2011 at 1:37 pm

I do try to find gifts on sale so I can give something worth the amount I usually spend, but not actually spend that much 🙂
Occasionally I’ll give something used, but it is usually going with something new – my family and friends aren’t as non-consumer as I am. I also like to give handmade things (food for adults, playdough for kids).
I’m getting to be more and more in tune with experience gifts. For my Mom and Dad for Christmas, we gave them tickets to a comedy evening and gift certificate for dinner out beforehand. For Mother’s Day, we got Mom a load of manure for her garden, delivered it and mostly spread it around the garden. Less work for her, and better veggies. For Mother’s Day, my husband got me 2 new outdoor planters (the 6 year old ones had fallen completely apart), and then also got some annual and perennial plants, as well as a load of mulch for our new flower beds. Definitely not anything I’m throwing out for a good long time!


AnnW May 17, 2011 at 2:37 pm

I love the line “Just because I’m cheap doesn’t mean I’m not generous.” You should put it at the top of your blog. I figured out years ago that we could not afford to spend money on presents for every occasion. We usually only give Christmas presents to the grandparents. For birthdays and Mother’s Day etc that can add up. When my parents moved to assisted living I found years and years worth of presents that were barely opened, or opened but not used. And these were presents that were well selected and were things they wanted. What a waste of money! One of the presents they used the most was an incomplete set of Villeroy and Boch china that I bought for $12 at a yard sale. I couldn’t pass it up because it was in perfect condition. I just had to find someone to give it to. I like to give the grandparents the same thing, like monogramed Land’s End tote bags for the ladies and golf shirts for the men. But eventually you get a lot of tote bags. Gift giving is not hard, you just have to keep an eye out, and be inventive.


Indy May 17, 2011 at 2:59 pm

I’ve always tried to keep gifts thoughtful and personal. I actually bought vintage safety razors, made ceramic shaving bowls (I’m an artist), and found a local soap maker who makes shaving soap, for my bother’s Christmas gifts this past year. They need a better, cheaper, greener shave, and those will come in handy years to come. No more $20 replacement blades.

I made paris light switch covers and a paris memo board for one sister since so she can decorate without clutter (she needed both) and for my other sister art supplies and a handmade carrying case to keep them. All my gifts tend to be small but thought out. On the other hand everyone says I’m impossible to buy for since there is very little “stuff” I want. Like You I’d like experiences, food (preferably dark chocolate or good tea), an occasional book, or gift cards to my favorite art suppliers since that is easier than explaining the difference in painting medium oils and the like. Thankfully they have finally stopped trying to buy me cloths and shoes. I need both, but I don’t need them in the wrong size and in special care materials.


Rebecca May 17, 2011 at 7:50 pm

For almost all weddings, I buy either a wooden decorative (but usable) shelf with pegs, or an oil lamp with a bottle of oil (great for a romantic night–or when the lights go out!). For baby showers/newborn gifts, I usually do the handprint/footprint kits. Other than those, I try really hard to buy specific gifts for most of the people I buy for, and it doesn’t make any difference where it comes from, used or new–but almost always on sale or discounted.


Jenne May 17, 2011 at 8:30 pm

We have simply cut down on gift-giving, especially at Christmas. We make gifts in our immediate family, which is lots of fun, what with the skulking and secrets leading up to the big day. My big dilemma is with the ENDLESS kid birthday parties my 7-year-old goes to. For her party, we collect donations for the animal shelter, and there are NO goodie bags, but it’s not the same for other kids. My kids have secondhand everything, but most of their friends (and their mothers) would be aghast if I tried to get them something from the thrift store. I used to give homemade chemistry sets, but that works only once, and it’s driving me nuts to buy plastic kiddie crap from Target. I try to just give art supplies or something consumable whenever possible, but again, she has the same friends and classmates from year to year. Anyone have any bright ideas for things to thrift or make that an average kid won’t completely reject?


Annie May 18, 2011 at 7:41 am

Books. I try to keep up with what is popular for my kids’ age group, and pick them up when I find them cheaply. Even if I have to buy them new at full price, it’s better than buying plastic crap that will be broken and forgotten in two weeks. I also do art supplies, getting them on sale at back-to-school time and then making art kits.


Celeste May 17, 2011 at 9:36 pm

You’ll have to give the shaving brush/soap a try for your legs! It’s much better than canned foam or gel, in my opinion. My husband converted to the brush and soap method several years ago and was thrilled to score a couple of extra brushes recently when we helped my mom clean out a closet. A local soap maker told me that any moisturizing soap containing kaolin clay (for slip) will work as a shaving soap.


Twyla May 18, 2011 at 3:19 am

yes. By yule I am the bad guy with the lame home-made gifts while my daughter gets tonnes of plastic gifts from santa *at her granny’s house*! Oh that makes me so mad that they disrespect my wishes.


Amy May 18, 2011 at 5:01 am

I am new to your blog and am loving it. My sister’s birthday was yesterday and I wasn’t concerned with the money, but wanted something that she would love that she could use up and wouldn’t cause her clutter. My final two ideas were bottles of her favorite wine or a hanging plant for her front porch. The flowers won. Next year, I am planning to grow from seeds and give her those instead. This whole being a more conscious consumer is a series of baby steps, but a worthwhile endeavor, I think. Thank you for your help.


Annie May 18, 2011 at 6:24 am

The best gift I’ve ever received was from my sister-in-law. She made and froze a dozen meals and several deserts. It was such a blessing to come home from work and put one of her premade meals into the oven, no prep work and minimal clean-up. I tried to save them for nights when I’d worked late or the kids had activities, but they were gone after a month.


fairy dust May 18, 2011 at 9:13 am

That’s a fantastic idea!!!


Sarah May 22, 2011 at 3:16 pm

I also wanted to chime in on how much I love the line “Just because I’m cheap doesn’t mean I’m not generous.” I am currently struggling with a family member who is both cheap AND stingy (and sort of like the $45,000 money-stocker in a newer post), so the stinginess does not really make sense to me — sort of seems like an indication of selfishishness? Anyway, without throwing out all of my current neuroses about this current situation, I just wanted to say that I applaud you and I love that line, and I wholeheartedly agree! One can be frugal (cheap) and on a budget and trying to save money/cut debt and still be generous with gifts — I do believe that combination is possible, and you prove it!


Alison Wiley May 24, 2011 at 6:04 am

Katy, I took you up on your offer of last year to use any post of yours I like as a guest post at Diamond-Cut Life. This is the one I like, and posted today, along with (of course) a link back to you.

If you’d like a day off from blogging by posting a piece of mine, here are a few ideas: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Hope you get some more work shifts soon!


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