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The Tightwad Try-Alls: Tips for Better Gift Giving

 Our family has been doing the “draw names and exchange presents with just one person because it’s too expensive and overwhelming to buy gifts for everyone” thing for about 8 years now. It’s a great approach to the holidays, both from a budgetary standpoint and in keeping focus on family and away from all the stuff-addiction. It gets tricky, though, because a lot of times we draw the same people year after year. I mean, thanks Aunt Gertrude*, but I’ve had my fill of scratchy wool socks. Especially because Uncle Jack gives Starbucks gift cards EVERY YEAR. I want in on that!

Let me introduce you to the WHEEL! OF! GIFTS! (please oh please tell me you read that in your best Pat Sajak voice?) . I came across this idea in the Tightwad Gazette, and I think it’s a perfect way to organize our annual gift swap! Here’s how it works: The wheel includes each persons name on the inside and outside, and rotates each year to create the partners…the person on the inside of the wheel gives a gift to the person on the outside.  You could make this wheel any way you choose…I was in the mood for something colorful and fun, and had some free time to play around online. If you want to make the same wheel I did, follow these directions:

1. Go to Pie Color to create a pie chart with any colors you choose. This is a free site that allows you to customize pie charts, and I found it to be pretty simple. I just indicated how many slices my chart needed, picked colors and saved it to my computer.

2. Go to Picnik and upload your pie chart. This is also a free photo editing website, and you don’t even have to sign up or anything to work on one photo. You can crop your chart and add text. You could create two separate wheels, one with the names outside and one with the names inside. For some reason, it made more sense to me to make one wheel with names in both places, then print that wheel twice…

3. Print the wheels and cut them out. I used this fancy circle cutter I got for Christmas last year to cut the inner circle, and cut the larger outer circle by hand. Then connect the two pieces using a brad. That’s it! Unless you want to get extra awesome and laminate it or something.

To keep track of the partners each year, make a small mark on one of the inside names, and write the year on one of the outside names. For example, I would put a star by Julie’s name, and write 2011 by Breanna. Next year I’d write 2012 by Benjamin, and the name with the star (Julie) would move to the current year. Store the WHEEL! OF! GIFTS! with your Christmas decorations and it’ll be ready for you next year!


The Tightwad Gazette also includes a really great list of tips for giving better gifts in these swap situations. While these particular tips aren’t expressly about saving money on gifts, they will help you use your money in smarter ways:

  • Don’t get hung up on gifts being a big surprise. “Most people would forgo the surprise element to assure that they will receive things they will genuinely appreciate. So if you are not sure your gift idea will be appreciated ask the recipient in advance and give them the opportunity to decline.”
  • Give expendable gifts. “Things such as food items, postage stamps, stationery and gift certificates are always winners. These are especially good for elderly people or people with limited space.” (ummm…postage stamps though? Maybe not.)
  • Replace an item that is worn-out. “Examples of things to replace include worn towels, an old wallet, appliances that are acting up etc.”
  • Avoid gifts that decorate people’s homes for them, especially gifts that demand to be located in a prominent part of the home. “Examples may include family photos and holiday decorations. It’s not a matter of the thing being in poor taste but that the recipient would not have chosen it for his own home. If uncertain, ask!” (picture texts come in handy here!)
  • Consult parents as to what and how much they feel might be appropriate to give their child. “The parents have the chore of dealing with a temperamental overwhelmed child and a mountain of gifts they have no room to store. Ask for suggestions so you can target a void. Children often have toys that can be added on to…a few more tracks for the train set or a set of Barbie clothes.”
  • Avoid the “domino principle” in gift giving. An example from my own life: in 7th grade I was obsessed with sunflowers. I wanted them on everything! By 8th grade I was SO OVER SUNFLOWERS! Guess how long it took before I stopped receiving sunflower-centric gifts? I’ll tell you when it finally stops…(my grandmother, bless her heart.)
  • Offer the recipient a service that’s meaningful to them. “You might offer a winter’s worth of snow shoveling to an elderly person, or a night’s babysitting to parents of young children. If you possess a specific skill offer that.”
  • Gifts should be selected based on needs, internally generated desires (rather than desires created by advertisers)  and consistent with budgets. “During the holiday season we are bombarded with ads. Consider avoiding these like the plague!”

*Aunt Gertrude and Uncle Jack are fictional characters. Probably.




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2 Responses to The Tightwad Try-Alls: Tips for Better Gift Giving

  1. I am so in love with this series. You are rocking it like the casbah.

  2. JessA says:

    Love this! I want to comment that one year I gave my grandma a letter writing kit: a basket with cards, stationery, pens and, yes, postage stamps. She was thrilled with it and especially the stamps because they are pricey and it saved her from going to the post office. So, stamps can be a good gift for the right person! 🙂

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