How frugal gifting (not cheap) makes a gift more valuable (And Some Ideas For A Perfect Gift)

Counting down to just two days before Christmas, many of us are probably out there doing some last-minute shopping. Busy crossing out the names on the Christmas gift lists. 

It is also the time of the year when we all have one question in common—what will be the perfect gift?

The act of giving is nice. Especially if it is to someone you really care about. 

It gives us the feeling of happiness the scientists call the “warm glow” effect.

Perhaps you may even recall yourself feeling more excited than the gift receiver who’s preparing to open your gift.

And the euphoric moment when your anticipated reaction was projected on the receiver’s face.

This definitely makes it worth adding prosocial spending to your budget. 

But here’s the twist. 

Imagine spending more on an item that is meant as a gift for your best friend. (That must be a perfect gift because I’ve spent so much on it!

But it turns out that your gift disappoints rather than delight as your best friend didn’t really like that gift.

Sounds sad, right? 

If you’re a frugal person, you’d prioritize avoiding wastefulness and getting the most value out of the money you spend on purchases. 

So surely you wouldn’t want to be spending your hard-earned money on a gift that will end up being one of the 5 billion pounds of unwanted gifts that end up in the garbage

If you want to know how to pick the perfect gift while sticking to the principles of frugal living, this post is for you.

What is Frugal Gifting

Before we proceed, it will be a good idea to be clear about the definition of frugal gifting so it won’t be confused with giving cheap gifts. 

Frugal gifting basically means a thoughtful and practical gift that costs within your means

It is different from giving cheap gifts which prioritize only the lowest cost of the items.

Having said that, when you give a gift, you’re looking for a return in terms of:

  • Warm glow effect in which you feel happy when the receiver actually loves and appreciates your gift. 
  • The tightening of social bonds between you and the gift receiver. 

So how can you maximize the value gained from the money you spend instead of being a person who gives unwanted gifts and a contributor to global wastes?


Why do we give gifts?

It’ll make sense to pause for a moment and think of gifts. What’s the point of giving gifts? Why has it become customary today?

Superficially, we give gifts because we’re supposed to do so on occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, and the approaching festive season—Christmas! 

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Underlying that custom is an important purpose: appreciation. We give people gifts to show that we are grateful for them and value the role they play in our lives. 

So of course we would want to give the person we care about a gift that’ll make them grin from ear to ear that will stick for as long as it possibly could. 

Just imagine the look on their face when they open your gift with a big happy “Wow, I love it!” 


The misconception of giving gifts

Now, we may have some ideas about what value an ideal gift should have. 

“If the gift is bigger and more valuable, it must be a great gift then!”

If that’s what you think, it means you’re not thoughtful enough.

Perhaps you may think “What?! If I’m not thoughtful enough, why would I spend so much on that gift?”

I know, when you really care for a person, you would want to spend more on them because it just shows how much you care for and values them. 

But a study has shown that receivers don’t actually care about the price of the gift. Instead, they often judge the value of the gift based on its practicality and pretty much less about its monetary value. 


It’s the thought that counts

The old adage “it’s the thought that counts” is often associated with having received an unwanted gift

But to see it from a different perspective, it’s the kind of thought that counts because eventually, as a gift giver, your thoughts will dictate your decision on the type of gifts you’ll choose. 

That paper also shows that gift givers usually take into consideration the desirability of a gift like the quality of a restaurant, the cost of the coffee maker, and the complexity of a photo-editing program. 

Such thoughts eventually lead to their selection of gifts such as expensive rugs, meticulously crafted kitchen hardware, or any expensive goods that communicate beyond practicality. 

In contrast, gift receivers actually prefer practicality over desirabilities such as the proximity of the restaurant, the ease of the coffee maker, and the learning curve of the photo-editing program. 

Imagine spending $300 on a coffee maker with various functions for your best friend who loves drinking coffee—that must be the perfect gift!

But it turns out that your best friend doesn’t really like it and doesn’t use it because it is too complex and time-consuming for his already tight schedule. 

Instead, your best friend would have preferred a simpler coffee maker that costs $100 because it is more convenient and easier to use. 

In simple terms, the perfect gift isn’t always based on how much it is worth monetarily but rather, how practical it is to the receiver. 

Now that you have gained an understanding of what a perfect gift is, it should give you a clearer idea of the types of gift you should consider.

If not, here are some ideas of the types of gifts you can consider while sticking to your frugal practices. 


Ideas for a perfect gift that satisfies frugality


Gift experiences

“An experiential gift elicits a strong emotional response when a recipient consumes it — like the fear and awe of a safari adventure, the excitement of a rock concert or the calmness of a spa — and is more intensely emotional than a material possession.”

Journal of Consumer Research

I like to refer to these types of gifts as the gift that keeps giving. 

Whether it’s a cooking class, archery, terrarium class, or a scuba lesson, it is an experience that will be etched in the mind of the receiver.

After that, ask if they can cook for you (if they’ve gone for the cooking class) or even teach you how to do it. I’m sure they’d be glad to do so.

Pro-social material objects

If you want to add a gift experience along with a material gift, consider material gifts like board games. 

It may seem like a simple gift but if you get them to open it and play together, chances are you’ll be able to create an invaluable wonderful experience and memory out of that gift for the receiver, yourself, and the rest of the players which can ultimately help tighten your relationships too! 

Handmade gifts

One thoughtful gift to consider is handmade gifts like handmade food or other material stuff.

Though admittedly, not everyone would appreciate handmade stuff. But for those who do, handmade gifts can always melt the heart of the receiver. 

Most of the gifts that I clearly remember and always thought about are handmade things like homemade cookies, paintings, and a message bottle. 

Extra Tips: You can ask the friends and family of the receiver to each write a note of appreciation that encourages the receiver to be just as they are. Then collect the notes and put them in a bottle and give it as a gift. Trust me, they’ll love it.

Problem solvers

Have they been frowning a lot lately?

Maybe it’s because they’re planning on a dinner night out but have no one to watch their kids? Offer your time to babysit their kids. They’d definitely appreciate a lot for the time and ease of mind you’re offering them.

Or if you know that they are going to have a busy week, consider giving them delivery food vouchers. That’ll help take off the burden of having to worry about meals during their tight week. 

Things that they want

Do you remember any time they talked about things they wanted but didn’t have the chance to get them? Well, that’ll be a great gift! 

Some examples could be if they have been wanting to try out a cooking class or even skydiving. Book them a spot and they will love you for that. 

Add a little spice to the gifts

If you’re not sure what the person might want or like, adding a little spice to your gift can make it more flavorful.

If you’re giving a book, add in a little note or a letter about how that book will bring values to their life. 

Or if you’re thinking of treating them to dinner, make it into a game. Get them to solve puzzles or answer riddles that lead them to their favorite restaurants and serve their favorite food. That’ll give them a wonderful experience and at the same time express your thoughtfulness. 


Final Thoughts

The perfect gift has never meant a bigger or more valuable gift. 

In fact, gifts never express appreciation, people do. And if the person receiving it doesn’t see any value from the gifts themselves, it wouldn’t matter if the gift costs a million dollars because it just doesn’t mean a thing to that person. 

The next time you’re choosing a gift for any occasion, instead of focusing only on the monetary value of the gift, focus on how practical it is for the receiver and make sure it costs within your means, just like how you would consider when making a purchase for yourself. 

So before you wreck your brain and burn a hole in your pocket trying to think and buy the perfect bigger and valuable gift, reconsider your criteria of a perfect gift. 

Now, I’d like to hear from you. 

How do you pick the perfect gifts for people you care about? 

Let me know in the comment section below!

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About Stephanie Jyet Quan Loo

Founder of, a science geek, sports freak, and polyglot. Loves food, books, and snow. Feel free to say hi! 

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