‘Tis the season of giving, and Meridian readers are giving ideas for inexpensive gifts to give during these recessionary times.  Here are some letters with ideas that are sure to generate a smile, give you an idea, or even raise your eyebrows:

I am not only fine with used gifts; I love them.  I was raised believing that anything someone else had first has more meaning, and my hand-me-down clothes were my favorites.  I can remember waiting and waiting to grow into a special jumper.  I had used shoes and used everything.  We also had no debt. 

Over the years I have noticed that the higher the net worth of the person, the more likely that he appreciates used things.  It actually really bothers me that when we do things like make sock puppets to give away at church or give away toys they must be new while my kids all get used.  It is a backwards world.  For me the whole purpose of the sock puppet is to use up old, lonely, unmatched socks.

My grandmother, who was independently wealthy, would tell me every time she gave me a gift to pass it on if someone else would enjoy it more.  Once my mother was out with this grandmother, her MIL, and saw something she wanted in the trash.  She asked my grandmother if she would mind if she just grabbed it.  My grandmother could not understand why she would even ask.  This grandmother grew up with housekeepers and was wealthy her whole life.  She was a New England Blue Blood.

I associate a need to maintain appearances with people who are all hat and no cattle.  The appearance is more important than the substance, and that mentality has led us to have people going deep in to debt for bigger, fancier everything.

As for me, I don’t want more stuff.  The best gift I have gotten recently is homemade cards I could send out.  I use them and they go away and they are not fattening, nor are they clutter.  Another great gift I got was home made potholders.  I am always short of them.  I like the aprons I got as well, but now I have enough.  I love flowers, and home grown would be better than store bought.  I recently got used dishes from a friend, and I love them.  I would say anyone who is offended is not worth worrying about and lacks spirit.

Liz in L.A.

Liz, the last thing I want to be accused of is being someone who is all hat and no cattle.  Just the thought of it makes me want to moo!  I, too, am fine with homemade gifts as long as they’re in good condition. 

I’ve been working on a biography of a Baptist preacher whose pet peeve is people who donate “rags” to thrift stores and then represent them as good clothing for tax deductions.  Readers, if you’re a gift recycler, make sure you don’t try to pawn off something that’s used and broken as a legitimate gift.  Clark and I still shake our heads over a gift we got one year.  It had been a package of three assorted breads, but the giver had eaten one of the loaves of bread and had stuffed the bread-shaped hole in the box with candy or nuts.  That was a gift that just didn’t make us feel warm or fuzzy.  If you’re going to recycle, do it right.

As far as giving used gifts, it does depend on who you are giving them to.  I don’t mind shopping at the thrift store for gifts.  We have found a few treasures, even new items!

My children are okay with used gifts, but they still receive new gifts also.

If money became tighter, I would let my children know that all their gifts would be used items that year.

My youngest does prefer new gifts over used.  (When my children were very young, they had no idea that a gift was used, nor did they even care!)

I wouldn’t dream of giving my in-laws anything used.  My own parents may be okay with it, depending upon what it is.  My mother loves antiques, and of course they are used.

My husband doesn’t love a getting a used gift, but when money is tight, and sometimes when I have found something he would love online, at a yard sale, or at Deseret Industries, he actually gets excited — especially when I tell him the price.

My sister actually gets upset if we purchase a new puzzle for her at full price when she knows we can purchase a stack of puzzles at the thrift store for the same amount.  We bought her a whole stack of puzzles for Christmas last year, and she was tickled pink!

Here is something we have done at our church at very seasons, but it could be adapted just for Christmas time.  I will call it the Christmas Swap.  We invite everyone in our church and community to come and participate.  It is like a big thrift store drive, but everyone in the community gets to look over the items and take what they want.

Here’s how it works:

  1. We send out flyers, make announcements, and send emails.  Everyone is invited — family, friends, associates, the more the better.
  2. We specify this in the announcements: “Bring anything you do not need or want anymore.  Only bring items that are in good condition and usable, anything that the DI would accept.  You are giving these items away for free, so they will not be returned to you if left over.”
  3. We set up in the church gym on tables and on the floor.  We separate the items into categories: toys, decorations, books, clothing, and so on.
  4. Everyone who comes looks through the items and takes whatever they want.  No cost, no money exchanged.  No questions asked.
  5. We clean up after two hours or the designated time, we pack up everything left and take it to Deseret Industries.

We did a clothing swap in the fall for back to school, and it was a great success!  We had many, many happy people who saved a lot of money on back-to-school clothing this year, and when we were done, we filled the back of a truck, with a shell on it, full of clothing to take to the DI.

I think a Christmas Swap would help many families right now in this time of economic challenge!

Here is another idea to help stay within your budget:

  1. Calculate or budget how much you will spend on Christmas.
  2. Make a Christmas list and budget for each person.  I will spend $10 on my sister Gertrude.  I will spend $5 on my nephew Gilbert.  I will spend $5 on Uncle Hans.  I will spend this much on each of my children.  I will spend $2 per neighbor.
  3. Now go to the bank and cash out all the Christmas money you budgeted.
  4. Take a pile of envelopes and write the name of each person on a separate envelope and add the amount of money budgeted to that person in the envelope. (For example, Hildegarde gets $10.) 
  5. When you shop for that person, use the cash budgeted and control yourself by not spending more than is in the envelope.

Remember — Christmas is not about how much money you spend on a person.  Money is not proof of love.

  Spend time with that person instead.  An even more meaningful gift would be to make that person a gift yourself, something that would be valued and treasured.  Or write a meaningful, heartfelt letter.  This means more to most people than anything money can buy.

If money is really tight, or almost nonexistent, alert everyone that you are doing a homemade Christmas this year and that no gifts you give will be store-bought.  Then have fun as a family making gifts for everyone.

Also remember, “The more you give the more you receive.”  If you do not have money give the gift of time or service, but never stop giving.

Suzzette Liu

Thanks for some great ideas, Suzzette.  Regarding the Christmas Swap, you don’t even have to have tangible items for a swap like that to work.  Our Relief Society is doing a service swap for Christmas this year, and people can sign up to make homemade treats or perform acts of service for other Relief Society members.  Then everyone chooses a service she wants and takes home her own Christmas present.

Your readers’ comments triggered some thoughts about some of the gifts I have given out for Christmas the past few years. 

I have about 55 books of short Christmas stories.  I choose my favorite stories and make copies of those pages.  Then I trim them and make slightly enlarged copies to put in a three-ring binder.  I also save special Christmas stories I find in various magazines and make copies of them.  They cover Christmas topics from the serious, the spiritual, the humorous, and the frivolous.  From “The Gift of the Magi,” to “Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus,” to “Santa Is Stuck in the Chimney.” 

I put them in alphabetical order by author (and title, if there is more than one article by the same author), and number the pages with a black felt-tip pen.  I include a title on the front of the binder and on the spine.  (Many binders have clear plastic on the outside so you can insert paper in them.) 

I prepare a table of contents using Excel, showing author, title, source, date of publication, number of pages, a one- or two-word description of the topic, and a page number for the binder. 

Once I have a “master” binder of stories, I can quickly duplicate it at a copy service store. 

I’ve done five binders so far, and they average about 57 articles and 146 pages in each one.  It costs about $17 for each completed binder, plus postage (which is about $9 each).  Even if you only made one for yourself, it would be worth it. 

These stories can be read over and over, at any time of the year, and they are still uplifting and touching no matter how many times you read them. 

I only prepare a few for those who appreciate the stories and good writing.  It would be way too expensive to prepare a binder for everyone.  Too many people use TV rather than reading to seek uplifting thoughts and stories. 


That’s a great idea Collector.  Readers, if you want to adopt this idea, be sure to show the author, title, source, and date of publication of each story.  A lot of these stories may be copyrighted, and I’m the last person who wants people to go out and break copyright laws.

By the way, this same advice goes if you make music CDs for people.  In fact, the copyright laws on music are so strict that I would not only refuse to make a CD for someone that contained copyrighted music, but I don’t even listen to CDs that are made as gifts for me.  I’m pretty loose about a lot of things, but I absolutely toe the line on copyright infringement.  Ignorance of the law is not an excuse that will stand up in court.

Our last letter today is a self-described rant, but one that nevertheless contains some good thoughts.  Here is what the ranter has to say:

First of all I would like to say that Christmas is not a commandment. Nowhere in the scriptures does it say, “Thou shalt honor the Christmas day and make it holy.” That being said, I am ready to be a real iconoclast about all this gift-giving.

All of us own plenty of stuff. Most of us have been literally blessed, as Malachi says, “that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” We don’t know where we’re going to put the stuff we already have. The average American has $25,000 worth of stuff they never use.

And how many of us spend money on gifts for people we hardly know, that we buy out of a sense of obligation, that either gather dust or get sold on eBay? In fact, I propose that there is no such thing as the joy of giving. There is only the joy of gratitude. Giving a gift that is not gratefully received is no joy at all. Giving gifts that no one needs, no one wants, and no one appreciates, is a waste of time and money. It’s time that we stopped doing it. The stories we read in the Ensign about wonderful Christmas gifts are usually from the Great Depression when people were a lot more grateful for every single thing they had.

It’s fun to buy gifts for little kids. Little kids have as much fun with the box as they do with the toy! When I was a young mother, a member of my ward said that she told her children, “Jesus only got three gifts for His birthday, and that is enough for you.” The three-gift concept helps you know when enough is enough. Little kids see magic in just about anything you get them, and their toys don’t cost a lot. I’ve even heard of mothers who save the boxes from the toys, re-wrapped forgotten toys and given them to their kids the next year, and the little kids didn’t even notice that they weren’t brand-new.

And as for older kids, I used to feel guilty if I didn’t fill them with delight. Then I heard a wise speaker say, “Necessity is the mother of invention. How do you expect your kids to be inventive if they already have everything they want?” That’s when I realized that disappointment was good for my kids! It makes them ambitious! It makes them want jobs! If your kid doesn’t want something bad enough to work for it, why should you spend your hard-earned money for it? What do we value most? The things we are given or the things we work for? If our kids have everything they want at home, why would they ever want to go out into the world to make their fortune? Disappointment is character-building.

One year for Mother’s Day my family did … nothing. Absolutely nothing. Here I was, treating every holiday and birthday as if someone might die of disappointment, but they seemed to think I would survive. Obviously my family thought that these things were silly. Well, maybe they were right! Maybe this family had the right idea!

Suddenly I pondered what my life would be like if I weren’t planning birthdays, Easter baskets, and Christmas gifts. It sounded really good! I told the family that the Gift Fairy was taking a year off.

I told them they would vote with their actions whether they thought these holidays were worth doing. And it was great! In fact, it was the best Christmas ever because the kids made it happen for each other. The Gift Fairy put fruit in the stockings and eggs in their Easter baskets. I never was quite so crazed over holidays again. And they found out that holidays don’t just happen like a sunrise.

One of the things I did about 15 years ago was start making “non-gift-giving treaties” with adult relatives. How this works is at Thanksgiving time I sent out greeting cards with the message, “At this season of giving, we give thanks for the people we love, especially you. And in light of the current economic situation, we would like to propose that instead of giving gifts this year, we each take the money and donate it to someone truly in need.”

Now it may be that you find that you don’t have extra money to donate to the needy, and this is where you can get those old items you no longer need and donate them to the thrift store where no one will turn up their noses at them, but receive them with gratitude. Family members who really love you will understand, and the obnoxious ones may be annoyed, but you’ll be able to get them off your gift list. (They were going to get annoyed over something anyway.)

I am a grandmother who has been married for 34 years, and I have plenty of plenty. What I love is to receive kind words in a card or even an email. It doesn’t take a lot of space and it doesn’t take a lot of money. One year I gave each of my aunts a little gift bag with little notes inside telling them what they have taught me, what qualities I admire about them, and how much I love them. It took a little time, and hardly any money. When a couple of months later one of them died suddenly, I was especially grateful that I knew that she knew how much she meant to me.

These are my thoughts on Christmas, with or without a recession.

Lora Kinder

Riverside, California 

Thanks for a great letter, Lori.  As someone who loves to give gifts, even I can recognize that there are people on my list who really shouldn’t be there.  Perhaps it’s time for all of us to reexamine why we’re giving gifts.  If we’re giving them for the right reason, great.  If we’re giving gifts that people will appreciate, even better.  But to just rush out and buy the first thing that comes to mind for the purpose of crossing somebody off a checklist makes no sense whatsoever. If you’re giving gifts out of a sense of obligation rather than a sense of joy, it may be time to rethink your gift list.

Okay, people, that’s it for this time.  I’ll look forward to “seeing” you next week.

Until next time — Kathy

“One must know not just how to accept a gift, but with what grace to share it.”

Maya Angelou