Frugal Gifts

I remember back to an etiquette class I took in college where I was taught that a proper gift was something that someone wouldn’t usually buy or do for themselves. I often think back to this when I’m planning a gift for someone. I try to put myself in their shoes and think of what would be special for them.

Gift giving and receiving are normal parts of our lives. Often many of the holidays we have today were created or expanded by businesses for their benefit. Valentines Day can be a very materialistic holiday, and for most people it is. Each year my husband and I make a fondue and champagne dinner together. We used to go out for dinner, but found it more romantic and less stressful (not to mention less expensive) to make at home. The fondue restaurants in our area were always full and it was difficult to make reservations. Since there was such a demand for this day, we felt rushed and there was usually a set (and more expensive) menu. When at home we are relaxed and enjoy both making and eating the dinner together.

This is another area where most American’s have become excessive, materialistic, and wasteful. We need to get back to the thought pattern that, “It’s the thought that counts.” Does Dad need or even want another tie for Father’s Day? This is especially true when Dad rarely if ever wears a tie. It is much more practical to spend $20 on something that the gift receiver will truly enjoy than $50+ for something that will just clutter up their home. Do your children really need a large quantity of presents just to open (items that they don’t need or even really want), or would they prefer one or two items that they really want and will be able to use? If that special person really doesn’t “need” anything, entertainment is a good option. Gift certificates for movie tickets, dining out, a manicure, massage, etc are great options. In this time of high gas prices and other economic problems we daily live with, so many people are cutting back on leisure activities they once took for granite. With a little thought and creativity, you can chose that gift they will enjoy using.

In this time of financial difficulty (or at least uncertainty) for most Americans and many around the world, we must consider our own financial situation before we decide how much to spend on gifts. If $20 or more is doable for your financial situation, then stick to what you can afford. If that amount would be a hardship on you, be truthful in that fact with yourself and consider a creative solution to show that person you care. A card, or phone call will show that special person that you didn’t forget their birthday. You could invite that special friend over for coffee for her birthday, bake the chocolate lover a batch of brownies or a cake (inexpensive if made from scratch), or offer to baby sit so the “birthday girl or guy” can go out for a special birthday dinner. Don’t undervalue your time as a gift. To the typical person in a fast paced society, your time can be a very valuable gift.


Couples Time Ideas

We all like to spend time with that special someone. By being a little creative we can keep that spark in the relationship (or kindle a new one) without breaking the bank. Here are some ideas of frugal ways to spend time with that special someone.


Get Active:

Go for a walk – There are many romantic locations around most towns. Take a walk around a botanical garden, park, at the beach, a lake, state park, or even a nightly stroll around the block after dinner.

Mall walk – If the weather isn’t too great outside, enjoy a walk in the mall. People watching can also be pretty fun.

Go for a hike – If you live by the mountains or a state park, enjoy the rugged outdoors and the company.

Take a bike ride – If you don’t have a bike, ask a friend to borrow theirs or you may be able to find a reasonable rental rate.

Play basketball – Basketball hoops can easily be found in most neighborhood parks.

Go for a run – Enjoy going for a run together in a local park or neighborhood. If you’re more the competitive type, sign up for a local 5K run together. These usually support a local charity or good cause.

Go for a swim – Is there a pool, beach or lake nearby? This is a great opportunity for a little something different.

Play tennis – Many city parks offer free tennis court usage.

Go ice skating – Look out for those ice skating rink coupons.

Go bowling – Bowling coupons or specials are usually available (whenever there aren’t leagues playing). It’s best to call ahead first.

Rent (or borrow) a boat – If you live close to a river or lake that rents boats, why not give it a try. Whether you want to try a paddle boat, row boat, canoe, sail boat, or fishing boat, enjoy getting out and doing something different.

Golf or Put-put Golf – Check to see if you can find a city owned golf course, they are usually much less expensive. Or, try a game of pu-put for something out of the ordinary.

Play in the snow – Enjoy reliving your youth and you can even make a snowman together.


Enjoy Food or a Drink:

Cook dinner at home – Much more reasonable for those special occasions and less crowded on holidays like Valentines Day. Just think the bottle of wine you order in a restaurant is typically half the price at the local grocery or liquor store. The little things really add up. Make the event more special and cook together. After a nice dinner, try keeping the TV off (for once). Enjoy putting a puzzle together, playing a board game or even an video game (for those competitive types).

Go to brunch or lunch – If going out to eat is top on the list of things you want to do, brunch or lunch are more frugal options than dinner. Look for a restaurant with specials (very common for lunch) and check for coupons also. Enjoy!

Have a picnic – Enjoy the outdoors and a bite to eat too. You have the option of simple sandwiches or an elaborate spread, and since you’re preparing it yourself you can control the price.

Go out for coffee – Going out for coffee or tea instead of dinner is a great way to get out of the house and still be frugal. We don’t have to go all out for every date. Just spending time together is the main goal, and most coffee houses are quiet enough that you can actually talk.

Go out for desert – Enjoy a nice evening at home then go out for desert. You’ll have that going out experience for a fraction of the price.

Try happy hour – If you want to enjoy a drink out, try happy hour. Pay attention to the noise level if you really want to talk.


Places to see / Things to do:

Rent a movie – Enjoy movie night at home. Make some popcorn and make a special night of it. You may even be able to find a movie of your liking at the library. It never hurts to look.

Look for the cheap theatre – Most towns have a cheaper theater in town if you really want to get out for a movie. There are also matinees and movie coupons (check your Entertainment book or other local coupon book) to help out on the costs.

Minor league sporting events – The minor league or women’s leagues are much less expensive to attend and often offer a more personal experience too.

Free concerts – These can be a lot of fun. They are often sponsored by local radio stations or the city.

Art or craft shows – Many towns have art and/or craft shows these days. They can be a lot of fun on a nice day. Enjoy the local talent.

Visit a museum – Whether you may enjoy an art museum or science museum they are all around, and usually for a small fee. Check the museum web site for specials (like free after 3 pm) or free days. Coupons may also be available.

Visit the zoo – You may not have a zoo in your local town, but check to see if there is one nearby. Again, check for coupons or specials that may be available.

Visit a historical site – Most towns will have some historical sites to visit. Check out your town and those nearby. Most people tend to take their local sites for granite. Take the time and make the initiative to enjoy your local sites.

Take a class together – Local community colleges, gardens, or clubs offer classes. Find something you’ve both wanted to do, but never taken the time and try it together. Some ideas are cooking, an unusual sport (such as fencing or archery), dancing, yoga, art, gardening, etc. This are usually listed in your local newspaper. Try the local paper online for a quick and up to date listing.

Join a club – There is usually a long list of clubs in the local paper that you may never have thought of. They often have guest speakers and will welcome your visit even if you are not a member.

See a school play – High schools typically have at least one play a year. For a few bucks they can be quite entertaining.

Local college – If you live close to a college, check out what they may offer. Most colleges have fun classes for the locals, but you may also be interested in plays, musical performances, a planetarium, etc. If nothing else the grounds are often nice to walk around for a change of scenery. Many also have old buildings or historic sites that may interest you.


Family Time Ideas

Whether your kids need something to do over a summer or spring break, a weekend, a holiday off school, or just need something to do when the weather is bad or they are home sick, if you’re not creative it can get quite expensive. If done with an fun attitude, you may even be able to slip in something educational for them also. Children need to learn so many lessons that aren’t included in school books. Parents and after school activities have to fill the void that they don’t get in school, to ensure they grow up to be balanced adults. Music, art, and physical education have been greatly reduced if not eliminated in our public school system, and need to be taught somewhere. Caring for others, animals and our environment need to also be added to the mix. Since children learn from our actions, there is no better way to teach these lessons than for them to see us enjoy them or working together toward these goals as a family.


Outside ideas:

Picnic – Whether elaborate (a large family get together, or even multiple families) or intimate (one parent and one child), a family picnic can be an enjoyable activity for everyone. You can even get the kids involved in the kitchen packing for the event, picking the location, and planning activities (throwing a frisbee, a ball game, swimming, etc.).

Get active – Many city parks or gardens offer tennis courts, basketball courts, biking, walking and hiking trails, baseball diamonds, and/or soccer fields. Even if your yard isn’t large enough for these activities, you can usually find great options in your area. Getting and staying active is great for every member of the family.

History around us – Most cities will offer some type of historical attraction close by. These little places that we take for granite in our local area can be very interesting if we invest the time to find out about them. The larger locations are marked by some of our national parks (hopefully you’re lucky enough to be close to them also). This country has a lot and quite a variety to offer us.

Pick your own produce – The kids will love to pick their own strawberries, blueberries, or whatever you have in your area. They love to see how things grow, and after tasting fresh produce they may be more likely to reach for those fresh fruits and veggies.

Zoos – Zoos can be both educational and fun. Children can learn to both love and respect the animals. Membership is something you may want to consider if you will frequently visit. Many memberships will offer reciprocal benefits with other zoos and aquariums. You can also look for discount days or coupons.

Playgrounds – There are many playgrounds available for free. The kids can get some fresh air and exercise at the same time.


Inside ideas:

Aquariums – Aquariums can be an entertaining and educational outing. Many offer great benefits with a family membership (like reciprocal benefits with other aquariums and zoos). Check out the fine print to see if it’s a good deal for your family. Look for discount days or coupons.

Museums – There are a wide variety of museums available. Introducing your kids to art, science, and history in a fun and entertaining way can be invaluable. Many have changing, special or traveling exhibits. Check for discount days and coupons. Membership may also be a good deal if this is some place your family will frequently visit or if other membership benefits (check for a reciprocal museum listing) would be frequently used.

Kitchen time – What kid wouldn’t enjoy making cookies with mom or dad? As the child gets older their duties (taster, mixer, measurer, etc.) can change as they are capable of more. (NOTE: If you plan to taste the dough you may want to use Egg Beaters instead of eggs, since they are pasteurized.) As the children get older a special cake or other special family recipe can be taught.

Library – Browse books together with your kids and share some that were your favorites when you were their age. Enjoy reliving the favorite times of your childhood and being young again. Share with your kids the books you enjoyed the most when you were their age. Many libraries also have special events (like book readings) that your family may be interested in.

Volunteer together – If your children are older, volunteering to help others is a great and rewarding learning experience. This could be anything from helping out with a food drive, helping a neighbor in need, or getting involved at school, church, or the scouts. Check out Volunteer Match for some additional ideas that fit your interests. This web site allows you to search for a volunteer opportunity in your area that matches your skills and interests.

Board games – Board games can be quite inexpensive and a great investment for hours of entertainment. The basics (cards, chess, checkers, Monopoly, Sorry, etc.) can usually be found on sale at Christmas time or even picked up second hand at a garage sale (make sure all needs parts are there).

Enjoy a movie – Rent a movie from NetFlix (save on late fees and offers a great selection) or you may even be able to find one at the library for free. Pop some popcorn and enjoy the family time.

Look for the cheap theatre – Most towns have a cheaper theater in town if you really want to get out for a movie. There are also matinees and movie coupons (check your Entertainment book or other local coupon book) to help out on the costs even further.

Minor league sporting events – The minor league or women’s leagues are much less expensive to attend and often offer a more personal experience too. This is a great way to get the kids to meet some athletes, which are often better role models than the major leagues also.

Art projects – Many web sites have ideas for children’s art projects. This is a great way to keep them entertained inside on a rainy or cold day, but also teaches creativity.

  • – Crayola offers many free creative ideas. Free coloring pages includes over 1000 pages that can be printed off to color. Some are also educational. There are also sections for over 1000 craft ideas which offers crafts for many different holidays, a parents section and an educators section which includes lesson plans.
  • HP Activity Center – The HP Activity Center offers a wide variety of printable projects. You can make calendars, cards, scrapbook pages, invitations, and party decorations to name a few.


Girls Time Ideas

You don’t have to wait for a special occasion, like a bridal shower or bachelorette party to enjoy some time out with the girls. When the man in our life isn’t quite entertained by one of your interests, why not find a girlfriend(s) with that common interest? I know of four friends that started taking weekend vacations together when they were all single. Even through many changes in their lives, they never got away from this tradition. Today many years later, they still get together one weekend a year.

Take a walk – Meet at a park, garden or even the mall, then enjoy the walk and catching up on lost time.

Stroll around an art show – Many towns have a local art show. Grab a friend and enjoy looking around.

Enroll in a class – Learn to quilt, draw, make jewelry, or a new cooking technique together. You can even enjoy making some birthday or Christmas gifts together.

Listen to music – Many restaurants have a band or some live music each week or month.

Volunteer – Whether you help with a local food drive or your child’s school field trip, it can be fun with a friend. Many charities need your help now more than ever. Many worthy causes can also use your quilting, knitting, or crochet skills. It’s always more enjoyable to do with a friend.

Movie night – Rent a movie, make some popcorn, and enjoy that “chick flick” that the husband or boyfriend would rather not watch. Don’t forget some comfortable fuzzy slippers. If you live is separate cities, enjoy the movie at home while you chat on the phone with each other.

Girls night in – Invite friends over to play board games, sing along with the radio and enjoy acting silly.


Frugal Entertainment

To be truly happy we need some type of entertainment in our lives. We’ve all heard the old proverb, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. We all tend to concentrate so much on our work and responsibilities, that we neglect the fun and entertaining part of life. Even when we set aside the time to spend with our loved ones, we often don’t have the frame of mind to enjoy ourselves. Have you ever been watching a movie and have your mind float back to an issue at work? I sure have. Or even worse than that, I have put off spending time with my friends and family (even if only a small amount of time is needed) to accomplish a work task. To ensure we have a healthy, happy, and balanced life, we need to make the most of the time we have and the opportunities around us and spend them with those we love.

Don’t forget to care for yourself. If you need to spend some time alone, that can be just as important to your health and happiness. If you need some quiet time in a bubble bath, with a favorite book, or to walk around a garden with just your camera, then invest that time in yourself. Just as they say when we get on an airplane, put on your own oxygen mask before you put one on your child. There are times when we need to take care of ourselves so we can fully enjoy time with those we care about most. We need to take care of ourselves so we can successfully help and be there for those we care about the most.

It doesn’t matter if you enjoy being in a large group of friends and/or family, with just a few people or by yourself. Browse the following list of frugal entertainment idea categories, or use them for inspiration to think outside the box and develop your own. We all work very hard and deserve to enjoy life also.