Holiday gift ideas for the budget-conscious

‘Tis the season to be thrifty, you might be telling yourself. Many are already feeling the pinch — or the punch, for those who have already lost their jobs and homes — of the current economic crisis. And indeed, it’s time to tighten the belt some more.

And here comes the Christmas holidays, when commercialism is usually at its all-time high. Will consumers still be buying gifts for their loved ones at fever pitch to mark the merry season? Probably not. Already, there have been media reports of a slowdown in retail store sales almost everywhere. It appears that people are putting off purchases this time around.

But if you’re the type who just couldn’t — or wouldn’t — forego the Christmas gift-giving tradition ‘just because,’ Freitag has this to say: Be creative! Gifts need not be bought from the store all the time. A little imagination, plus some DIY (do-it-yourself) skills, will do the trick.

Here are some basic Christimas gift ideas for the budget-conscious:

• Make your own gifts. If you’re good at knitting, for example, you can knit scarves, gloves or socks for your loved ones (of course, this is for those who live in four-season countries). Or you can bake cakes and cookies and give these homemade goodies as Christmas presents. You can also indulge in some paper crafts and design your own decorative boxes (using shoeboxes) that can be used as fancy containers of CDs, DVDs and photos. Hopefully, the people who will receive your labor-of-love gifts will appreciate the extra effort you put into the task.

• Offer your personalized services. Services are as good as products. Depending on your skills and talents, you can offer services ranging from ad copy writing, taking photos, and teaching a foreign language to cooking/baking, sewing, and repairing stuff (cars, clocks, watches, and what-have-you). The idea is, offer services based on yours talents and skills.

• Design and print out your own gift certificates. This is related to tips 1 and 2; but it comes in voucher form. Using bond paper and your computer keyboard (or pen, if you’re technically challenged), design a set of gift coupons for your family and friends. For instance, you can give your spouse the following gift certificate: This entitles ___________________ (fill in the blank with your spouse’s, child’s, or friend’s name) to a one-hour foot massage at home. Valid till December 24, 2009. Or you can give this gift coupon to your best friend: This entitles _________________ to five hours of Adobe Photoshop lessons. Valid till December 24, 2009. These are just examples. Of course, you can customize your gift certificates based on your personal skills and the actual needs of your family and friends.

• Give ‘time gifts.’ Sometimes, spending quality time with your family is the best gift you can ever give to them — not just on Christmas Day, mind you. In this age of busyness, a number of career-driven people compensate the lack of time they spend with their family by showering them with expensive gifts. However, their familial presence, especially on special occasions, is actually more important than the actual presents. Studies show that children value more the time they spend with their beloved parents than the material things they receive from them. So spend more time with your loved ones this holiday season. That, in itself, is already a priceless gift.

• Recycle gifts. This is a delicate topic. Some people are not open to the idea of recycling gifts (i.e. giving away a present you have received to another person), and regard it as something unethical. However, others do this actively out of pure pragmatism. A newspaper editor, for instance, may opt to give away the tons of new books or IT products he/she receives from corporate publicists to his/her family and friends just because he/she has more than enough books or software products, and his recipients are more than happy to have them. As long as there’s no sentimental value attached to the gifts, many deem this gift-giving style acceptable. What’s important, these pragmatists say, is that the recycled gifts are all in pristine condition (read: unused) and something that would really be appreciated by the would-be recipients. (Note: One should not recycle gifts as a form of ‘convenience dumping’ activity that would save him/her lots of money. The giver should always think hard if the item is in line with what the recipient needs or wants. So you don’t give a book on good parenting to a menopausal spinster or a Logitech mouse to a non-computer user.)

These are just some cost-cutting tips for those who still have the resources to give presents this holiday season.

But if we can get rid of this Christmas gift-giving tradition altogether in this time of economic gloom, then well and good. After all, as the cliche goes, the best things in life are free. Our love, care, and presence should be sufficient enough for our family and friends all-year round.