Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Start a Stash for Frugal Impromptu Gifting

Giving gifts has definitely gotten harder as I’ve gotten older. It takes more thought to find nice things that I can afford. But even getting out to comb the malls for something suitable, not to mention the perfect wrapping and card, has gotten more difficult, especially since I stopped driving. But even in “reduced circumstances,” we all want to do what it takes to give presents to our friends and family that they like and appreciate.

And there are so many possible occasions for gift giving!  Sometimes they come up unexpectedly. But you can be prepared for these times. Say you’re invited to dinner at a friend’s, and you want to bring a hostess gift. Or you learn that one of your new friends at your book group is having a birthday and you want to give her something. Or your neighbors invite you to come over for cake and ice cream to celebrate their little boy’s birthday. No problem... just go to your “Gift Stash.” Few things you do to plan ahead will save you more money, time, and aggravation.

It was maybe 30 years ago that I learned how to do this, and it was quite the revelation. I was visiting my friend Connie and her boyfriend, and I’d just announced some kind of happy milestone event. I don’t even remember any more what it was! What I do remember is that after congratulating me, Connie ducked into the hallway, returned just a minute later with a prettily-wrapped gift, and presented it to me. It was a beautiful hand-bound journal, covered in printed raw silk and with handmade paper pages.

Now, this was not an expensive book. Maybe less than $10 at an import store. But it was just beautiful, and I loved it. Moreover, I was surprised and impressed that they had a gift on hand for me, just in case a celebration-worthy event should occur. Some weeks later, her boyfriend Matt explained that when they were out and about, shopping or on vacation, whenever they saw things that would make nice gifts, they bought them, wrapped and tagged them, and kept them in a box in the closet. They didn’t buy for specific people, but just bought attractive or useful things that they thought likely to be admired by most people. Some were more for women than men, and vice-versa, and they also had things for boys and girls. They didn’t say it, but I later learned that they often bought things on sale, or at prices they thought were particularly attractive. We were all pretty much living on a shoestring back in those days.

I always loved this idea, but followed up on it for myself only recently. I have started a Gift Stash with a deep box in my office closet where I put the things I find. I wrap them in nice paper and curling ribbon - I have a thing for curling ribbon - and attach a little tag that says what the gift is. I really should have a written inventory... soon, maybe.

These days, when I don’t drive and getting to the mall can be a big time drain, I’ve pulled things out of my Gift Stash for a number of occasions. Birthdays, celebrations, hostess gifts... anything where I need something, but it doesn’t need to be very expensive. When my children or grandchildren have birthdays or at the holidays, I always shop specifically for them - not from my Gift Stash. But for other occasions, it has really come in handy. And because the things I buy for the Stash are usually marked down, I save a lot of money and can afford to give nicer little presents more often. And everybody loves getting a gift.

So... what kinds of things do I put in my Gift Stash? All kinds of things. Here are some ideas to get you started:
  • Boxed stationery and notes, often from TJ Maxx or Marshall’s. This is a staple, something everyone can use.
  • Pretty earrings, bracelets, and pins, some from craft fairs I visit.
  • Scented soaps, lotions, and liquid hand soaps. Who can't use these?
  • Scarves. Last year my daughter bought me a beautiful paisley scarf from India at a local import shop, priced at about $40. Not long after, I found an almost identical one, at the AC Moore craft store, for $4.99 at half price. So I bought a few. They are lovely, look like they cost a lot more money, and make nice gifts.
  • Gadgety kinds of small electronics and tools, but only reasonably good-quality ones. I’ve gotten these on sale at all kinds of places, including hardware stores, the men’s department at department stores (usually after the holidays), and technology stores. These are for the guys.
  • Hardware stores often have all kinds of interesting, small items that make good gifts. Smaller local stores tend to have better findings than the big-box stores, though. I've gotten the cutest small flashlights, keyholders, and kid's toys at my local Ace Hardware store.
  • Ornamental boxes, small plates, and vases from import and overstock stores. I try to avoid obvious tschotskes, but small ornamental containers of all kinds can be very useful and make nice gifts.
  • Books that have been marked down severely can be found at bookstores, of course. Barnes & Noble has always had great bargain book shelves. But I’ve found some really nice things at other types of stores, notably TJ Maxx. I’ve even found some excellent books at the dollar store. Coffee table-type books, with lots of pictures, seem to be on sale quite often.
  • Wine is a great gift. I don’t buy a lot of wine, but the owner at my local liquor store is interested in wines, and even though they don’t have a huge inventory, he can always point out something good at a good price. When I buy something I like, I try to remember to go back to get a few more bottles for the Stash. Wine makes a great hostess gift, of course.
  • Dollar stores often have really cute things for kids. Some of it is a little junky, but they seem to enjoy them anyway. And no kid is likely to hate a coloring or activity book plus a pack of washable colored pens, or a yoyo, or some of the amusing little games they sell.
  • Handmade items - made by you! - are fantastic gifts, and usually quite frugal. Whatever your hobbies are, you can probably use them to make small gifts. I’m a knitter, and I can use small amounts of leftover yarn to make all kinds of gifts - scarves, mittens, hats, dishcloths, and so on. Crocheters can do the same... I was recently gifted with a really nice crocheted market bag and a beautiful crocheted flower with a long stem to be used as a bookmark. Woodworkers, painters, soap makers, gardeners (think potpourri)... all can make wonderful, unique small gifts.
  • Candles can often be found marked down at gift shops, import stores, and overstock stores. They make nice, small gifts.
  • Luxury candies and snacks are good additions to the Stash Box. Be careful of chocolate, though, as it tends to “flower” when not fresh, and while that doesn’t affect it’s flavor, the white film is unattractive and reveals that the candy is not fresh. I’ve gotten delicious gourmet specialty food items at overstock stores like Marshall’s and TJ Maxx. For example, I used to find some specialty Texas salsas, in colorful jars, that were absolutely delicious and perfect for gifting. If you’re unsure, try one yourself, and if it’s good, go back and buy more for your Gift Stash.

The possibilities for impromptu small gifts are endless. Your imagination will likely supply many more ideas.

The key is to keep an eye out for gifts to stash wherever you’re shopping. Being able to provide a thoughtful, well-received gift at a moment’s notice has definitely made my life easier and more abundant.

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