The right gift, at the right price

There are more events - weddings, graduation ceremonies, baby showers, etc. - in May, June and July than almost every other month combined. Mapping out a strategy can help lessen the burden on your brain and your bank account. Folks: we’re entering the height of the gift-giving season. There are more events – weddings, graduation ceremonies, baby showers, etc. – in May, June and July than almost every other month combined. And whether you love to give gifts, or would prefer almost any other method of showing your love and admiration, a disorganized last-minute approach can do serious damage to your wallet.

Last-minute gift buying – like last minute buying of almost anything – leads to misguided purchases. You buy something you want (instead of what your giftee wants), or fall victim to peer pressure (“if so-and-so is spending $100, I have to spend $100”), or revert to the same old habit (every baby gets a blanket even if the blanket that used to cost you $35, now costs $60). Whether you always look for the “perfect” present, or find yourself snagging a gift 45 minutes before your nephew’s graduation party, taking a more strategic approach could help save you money and guilt. Here’s how:

Plan by quarter. Look ahead three months in your calendar (I think it’s easiest to do this by season – spring, summer, etc.). Compile a list of all the occasions for which a gift is expected, then figure out how much you can afford to spend. Is it $300? $500? A thousand dollars? Once you do that, you know how the gifts you have to buy match up against the money in your budget.

Remember, not all gifts are created equal. You don’t have to treat every gift the same way – and there’s no need to pull the same lever every time. Think about the person you’re buying for – what do they value? It’s usually one of four things: 1) money -to help them start a new phase of their life 2) time – spending time with you, or finding more time for them; 3) thoughtfulness – whether it’s a picture album or a piece of art; or 4) practicality – they want exactly the item they’ve asked for (think wedding or shower registry). Remember: don’t confuse what you would want with what the person you’re buying for values.

Prioritize and get creative. Once you know how many gifts you need to buy (and when), and have a ballpark gift budget tailored to each recipient, you’re ready to shop. For a few starter ideas:

  • Elevate the ordinary. You can add a personal touch to just about any gift, without it costing you more money. Buy a bride her basic cake pans, but include your handwritten recipes. Give a graduate a frame, with a photo you took inside. Inexpensive and thoughtful.
  • Take advantage of deals. Be on the look out for appropriate gifts that are on sale – a spa day for a new mom, dessert at a fancy restaurant for a new couple, membership in a professional association for a recent graduate – all great gifts, potentially at a fraction of the cost (if they are on sale and you plan ahead).
  • Give the gift of time. Time is the one thing no one has enough of. Deliver a week’s worth of meals to a new mom, plan an afternoon at the art museum with your mother-in-law, take a graduate to a seminar. My daughter’s wedding gift to her cousin was to plan the entire honeymoon–port to port. Time with or for someone can be a treasured offering.

The dirty little secret? Gifts are an obligation. Whether you love or hate buying gifts, it’s something you have to do. And in this post-Great Recession economy, it’s not as easy (or wise) to spend $50 per gift carte blanche. Mapping out a strategy – and removing any element of surprise – can help lessen the burden on your brain and your bank account.

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5 Responses to The right gift, at the right price

  1. Debbie Lillard says:

    My mother in law loves to spend time with her grandchildren so last year she offered to take them to an event for each one’s birthday. My daughter got tickets to a Broadway show, my son got tickets to a Phillies game and the other son, tickets to a soccer game. They all loved their one-on-one time with one parent (we drove)& their grandma.

    • Julie Morgenstern says:

      Love it Debbie–Time and experience are the most precious gift for kids (and grownups!). I’m sure you and your Mom enjoyed it as much as the kids did.

  2. Heidi R. says:

    I give simple – but go over the top with wrapping. A family favorite was a tin of cookies I gave for a birthday. I made 4 or 5 different kinds of cookies and put them in a tin I had spray painted blue and sprinkled with glitter while the paint was still wet, so it looked like outer space. Kind of. On top, I glued a photo of the recipient’s face and pictures of cookies rotating around his head like planets. I put the tin in the box and filled with packing material until all you could see was the photo of the guy with his cookie planets. That was five years ago and they still talk about how exciting it was to open and think, “What is that???!!” and they always remember the time I spent putting it together. It probably cost $10.

  3. Julie Morgenstern says:

    Nice idea Heidi. Reminds that time is the most treasured and thoughtful gift of all.

  4. Rick S says:

    I love the idea of using your talents to make a gift special. My daughter is 1 year out of beauty school and for her cousin’s wedding gift offered to do the bride, Mother of the bride, and brides maid hair for the wedding day. She brought all the supplies to the church so they had one less place to go. Everyone looked great and were so relaxed. I am very proud of my daugher. She even did minor touch ups later for the dance.

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