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Being frugal but not cheap

Want to be frugal but not cheap this holiday season? Find lots of frugal and meaningful tips and ideas in this article.

There is a way to be be frugal but not cheap this holiday season.

Want to know the difference between being frugal and being cheap?


Frugal says, “I want this Christmas to be handmade in order to give of myself to those around me.; Handmade is beautiful and a good use of my resources. When I give handmade it enables me to bless more people”

Cheap say, “I want this Christmas to be handmade in order to not spend money on people I really don’t care about but feel obligated to give them a gift. So I’m going to find the cheapest craft I can and then brag about how little I spent. I don’t really care if they are diabetic they’re getting cookies just like everyone else.”

To be honest, it’s better to just not give a gift if you feel obligated to do so. Have the guts to just not give if you cannot do it cheerfully.

I love this quote from Maya Angelou “When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.” That is my mantra this Christmas season.

Giving and Receiving

Gift giving is a two sided coin – there’s the giving side but there’s also the receiving side – and both sides are important. I’ve heard parents say things like, “Don’t give my child a gift because I wan them to be givers and not receivers.” I get that sometimes we need to limit what comes into our homes, but receiving is part of giving. If everyone said that, then no one could give.

Being a gracious receiver isn’t the same as being a taker. It’s about appreciating the other person and giving value to their gift to you.

Learning to value the giver and not just the gift is an important part of being frugal and not cheap. It’s all about the attitude. So, I can wear the pipe cleaner and pony bead bracelet from my grandson with the same appreciation and pride that I wear the custom pendant necklace from my son who is a jeweler. They are both valuable to me.

If we don’t want to be cheap this holiday season, we need to value the giver and not just the gifts.

Frugal giving means that you take the receiver into consideration. What does he like or not like? For several years we gave our parents homemade jam for part of their Christmas gifts. After a while we realized that the only time the jam got eaten was when we were visiting. That certainly isn’t much of a gift for them, we could just bring jam with us when we visited instead of giving them a “gift” that they didn’t use. Our parents are older and don’t really bake, they always waited for us to visit so we could share the jam and it wouldn’t go bad. So, we stopped giving them jam as a gift and just bring jam on our visits.

Let me be clear that I don’t think we should let others dictate what our gift giving will be. I know there are some families that have outrageous expectations for their members, and that isn’t what I’m talking about. I’m talking about honoring the recipient with our consideration and not just a gift.

Homemade jams are a great gift idea.

Less really is more

Especially when it comes to children, less is better. We’re on the downward slope of parenting and one thing I’ve come to realize is that my children don’t need or even really want all the things I want to give them.

I wish I had learned this earlier in my parenting, it would have helped keep a lot of clutter out of my home. Most children would appreciate a few well thought out gifts more than a lot of things that aren’t meaningful to them.

Less is also more when it comes to giving outside your family. If you give something that’s small, you can give to a lot more people than if you give something that’s expensive.

Every year we give jam and jelly to our children’s co-op teachers, AWANA leaders, dance teachers, etc. which account is about 40 people. There is no way we could buy gifts for 40 people and yet, we’re able to show our appreciation to each of them by giving a small handmade gift and a thank you note.

Using reclaimed wood to make a meaningful and frugal cribbage board gift.

Is Handmade Frugal?

Most of the time, handmade is frugal. However, if you have to rush and buy expensive tools or supplies then handmade is not frugal. Also not everyone appreciates handmade and that’s okay. There are a few people on our list that we don’t give handmade gifts to because the gifts don’t bless the receiver so it’s not really a gift. Instead we give them something store bought that is still frugal and something they will use.

I’m passionate about giving handmade, I truly think it’s one of the most amazing ways you can bless someone because you’re giving a part of yourself. However, when you give store bought, you’re also giving part of yourself – your time and your money. Remember, it’s all in the attitudes of the giver and the receiver.

Matching pajamas is a fun frugal but not cheap gift.

Frugal and Meaningful Handmade Ideas

If money is especially tight this year you don’t have to opt out of gift giving. There are lots of gifts you can make for under $1. There are also gifts you can make for free, such as these candle holders or this cribbage board, made from tree limbs that are meant for the wood pile.

There are many gifts you could make with beeswax and oil (such as coconut or almond oil). Beeswax has such a nice scent that you don’t need to put essential oils in it to scent it. Of course you can but you don’t have to. If you know a local beekeeper you can get beeswax very inexpensively or maybe even for free. If not you can order it, it’s usually about $1 an ounce but you can make a lot of things with an ounce of beeswax.

If you’re a fabric lover and sewing enthusiast you could make a lap quilt or quilted placemat using the same technique. One of my favorite places to find fabric is the thrift store. I especially like it when I find vintage sheets to use, so much good fabric. I’ve also made quilts out of old jeans and flannel shirts. The only thing I had to buy was the batting. If you have a young lady on your list, a messenger bag is a wonderful gift. A young child might really like a crayon tote bag.

Every year I make matching pajamas for all the cousins, the girls get one style and the boys get another. I buy the flannel when it’s on sale and I use inexpensive t-shirts and applique their initial onto it. It’s a fun tradition.

If your family loves games, this pick up sticks game is easy to make (in fact, a small child could make it) and super fun. There are several other game how to’s in the Handmade Wooden Games ebook. Most can be made with reclaimed wood and with basic hand tools.

Personal spa set are always a hit. You can give lots of items or just a few. The key is to use what you have available locally. If you have pine trees use pine. If you grow chamomile use that and make a sleepy time bath tea.

Using herbs from your garden is a great way to give frugal but not cheap gifts.

Speaking of teas, making a custom tea blend and giving it in a cute jar with a tea ball is a great gift. If you want to make bags you can make them from unbleached coffee filters. Finding a cute tea cup at a thrift store or a plain one and monogramming it or writing a saying on it would also be a nice touch.

Culinary seasoning are super expensive at the store but if you grow your own herbs or buy in bulk they can be quite inexpensive. I love these spice mixes and these meat rubs. You could put them in small mason jars or small ziplock bags with a nice label.

There are a lot of other gift ideas in Homemade Gifts from the Kitchen ebook. 

If working with paper is your thing, then you’ll love this decoupaged sign. I used the same technique and made family name signs a few years ago. I knew it was going to be a hit when my brother in law asked about our sign on Christmas morning. He was quite surprised to open one just like it  a few hours later.

If you have children in your life maybe a silhouette of them for grandparents (or parents if the children aren’t yours) is just the gift you’ve been looking for. Our son made them for us one year and we framed them but they would also be great on small pieces of wood as tree ornaments.

Homemade jam in a fabric gift bag is a wonderful frugal but not cheap gift.

Frugal Gift Wrapping

We wrap most of our gifts in fabric bags that I make. Sometimes the recipient will give me back the bag but I never ask for it back. For jams that are going to large groups I just cut circles out of pretty scrapbook paper, put it over the lid and put the band back on. Sometimes I’ll put a bit of ribbon around the band but not always. I know some people use fabric squares and do the same thing. We also keep a newspaper end roll on hand an will use that with ribbon or baker’s twine to wrap some things. We can get a huge roll that will last several years for only $3 from our local newspaper.

Of course you could use regular newspaper too, it looks lovely when tied with a nice bow, or other recycled paper. You could even make small boxes out of last years’ Christmas Cards.

On a Personal Note

Carl and I have spent 4 of our last 10 Christmases with him being unemployed. We spent the first 10 Christmases with Carl in school and we lived below the national poverty line.I know what it means to not have money to spend on people you love during the holidays. It is tough.

But I learned something wonderful, I can still give gifts to those I love. I just have to be a little more creative. And I have to not feel bad about it.

We live in a culture that consumes, and consumes a lot. But I’m not sure that’s really a good thing. I want our family to give gifts that are meaningful and that people will enjoy. So whether it’s a jar of homemade jam or DIY Spa Gift Baskets for our siblings, I can feel good about giving them something that no one else can

A handmade item from our family.

Want to be frugal but not cheap this holiday season? Find lots of frugal and meaningful tips and ideas in this article.

Thanks for sharing with your friends!

Susan Sieg

Friday 9th of October 2020

Thanks for your great posts and ideas!!

Angi Schneider

Saturday 10th of October 2020

You're so welcome! Glad you enjoy them.

Lisa Bedford

Tuesday 5th of December 2017

Great post! Many of us spend so much money each day. We seem to have no control over it. This article really gave me idea how use more practical ways instead to lessen spending . Thanks, keep this up!

Angi Schneider

Tuesday 5th of December 2017

I'm so glad you got some ideas. Sometimes its really hard to figure out how we can do things differently.


Saturday 25th of November 2017

I've been living with very little for years as well as enjoying making handmade even when I was in much better financial positions. I've learned that I have a tendency to make what I want or what's hot at the moment and not always have the receiver's tastes in mind as much as I should. That leads to disappointment for both of us. Colors, scents, fashion sense, all that stuff matters.

Just a couple months ago I made a lotion for my mom's birthday that I was sooooo excited about giving her. I'd tried new oils, added a wee bit of sparkle, and used some new to me techniques. I got it back soon after because one, I hadn't added a scent being wary of what she would like, and the oils had their own scent that she turned out not to like, and two, she's stuck in her ways and not used to lotions that don't have all those added ingredients that mean you use more. She had slathered it on heavy like a store-bought lotion as sat there in horror as she walked around feeling oily and afraid to put on clothes only to ruin them. I'd warned her, but old habits are hard to break. We've become hardwired to use a lot more of a product than we need to because of commercials, a glut of supply, and the products are so watered down.

It was hard for both of us although she's usually my guinea pig for lotions and salves and has become frightening comfortable with really telling me what she thinks about something, even if the new is tough for her to try. (I always have to keep that in mind, even at a youngish 70, she's not in my target market if I actually had one that is.)

Still, I was able to probe her a bit more for scent ideas, tone down the sparkle and add a thing or two that would make it less greasy but still as healthy for her. We both were happy after that.

When you get it all lined up right, it's golden for both of you, much better than that marked down shirt from the discount store or yet another do-hickey that will collect dust, either displayed or hidden away.

Thank you for the tea idea! I make herbal blends for myself all the time and for some reason have never thought about making special ones for the person and passing them on. I know there are some really cute printable labels available on etsy for peanuts that I can use again and again for the tea and other things.

Angi Schneider

Saturday 25th of November 2017

Thanks for sharing this, Gwen. It's so great that your mom and you have such a close relationship and can be honest with each other. We've had to adjust our expectations too and at first it hurts a bit but then I remember it was a gift for someone else and it needs to bless THEM. I bet your friends and family are going to love getting your tea!