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The Art of Gift-Giving: How to give meaningful gifts on any budget.


We’re about 18 days ‘til Christmas now, and other holidays are approaching even more quickly. So there’s a good chance that you’re mostly done your gift shopping, or you at least have a good idea of what you’ll be buying and just need to run around getting it. But there’s always that one person who we really want to impress, right? Maybe it’s because we love them so much, we want to blow them away with a gift that will amaze. Maybe it’s because they manage amaze us every year, and it’s  our turn, already! Or maybe, if you’re like me, there’s just some people that we love to make cry with happiness. But there’s a knack to perfect giving-giving, one that can’t be taught, but can be developed through practice and imagination. It starts here:


Many years ago, I read an article about gift giving; the author spoke of a man who constantly complained of being unable to find matching socks of equal wear after laundry day had taken its usual toll on his sock population. One year, his friend bought him 365 pairs of socks. The recipient was speechless, and declared it the finest gift he’d ever received. The lesson here? Sometimes we can give a gift that may seem of lesser value to the untrained eye, but that actually means far more to the recipient than any gems, flatscreen TVs, or other treasure.


My nutritionist has a rule that every day, I must eat 5 colours of fruits and veggies. This dastardly trick means that I now eat about twice the amount of vegetation as I used to, all in my efforts to eat the colours…the quantity is a bonus side-effect of the main goal. This same almost-accidental concept can work in gift-giving, as well: try to never give someone a gift that came singularly packaged. Some examples for you:

-You buy your friend a DVD. Try adding some microwave popcorn packs and a cool popcorn bowl.

-You find your sweetheart a favourite book. Try adding a handmade bookmark, a fabric book cover, or a throw blanket for snuggling.

-You make your sister an apron. Try sliding a couple packets of specialty spices into the pocket.

These little added touches give you a chance to show your love and familiarity with this person. And it will happen naturally, if you simply set the rule that no one gift will ever come from one package.


I used to love penguins. And I made the mistake of letting people know that. The result? I had penguin documentaries, penguin earrings, penguin plates, and penguin slippers. Yes, you can go for the obvious gift, but why not try to think a bit outside the norm? For the penguin lover, perhaps sponsor an acre of South Pole in their name. For the gardener, get a ‘Make Your Own Garden Stones’ kit, and make them some pretty cement stepping stones. For the person who just bought a house and is busy renovating, get them a fancy binder, fill it with those old-school sticker pages, and then divide it into sections like, “Kitchen”, “Bathroom”, etc…include a note that explains your friend should cut out images of her ideal décor items and stick them into each section.

I’ll warn you now, this is one of the trickier, more advanced forms of gift-giving. It may require more improvisational skills than some people possess. But if you grab a coffee, a pad of paper, and a half-hour of quiet time, you can brainstorm some pretty great ideas for the people in your life with particular hobbies or loves.

Bonus tip: take note of a secondary hobby or fanaticism. During the same time I was wild for penguins, I was also writing a lot of music. If someone had surprised me with a stack of fresh notation paper and a box of my favourite pencils, I would have been pretty thrilled. I could have written all sorts of music about the misery of having too many penguin plushies.


Does your work friend eat the same yogurt every day? Buy them a pack of that yogurt, wrap it prettily, and put a brief note explaining that you’d noticed. Does your husband admire the applewood charcoal at the grocery store but frugally decides to buy the regular? Surprise him with a bag of the good stuff. Does your sister swear under her breath every time she fights with the broken zipper on her change purse? There’s an easy solution right there.

With some of these less grandiose gifts, I find that a brief note of explanation will go a long way to helping the recipient appreciate the full awesomeness of the fact that you noticed these little details and kept track. I like to use this trick for all sorts of occasions; for instance, last time I was at the hair dresser’s, my stylist was arguing with his coworkers about whether or not that classic purple Thrills gum (the one that tastes like soap) was good or gross. My stylist insisted it was delish, and that he wishes it was still around. I happen to know where I can get some, so the next time I’m in, attached to his tip I will paperclip a pack of that disgusting purple gum.


Take a deep breath. Make a list before you go near any sort of shopping location. And trust in your knowledge of your loved ones! It’ll come to you more easily than you’d think. The real secret here is that any effort to personalize a gift will shine and will make a huge difference to the recipient. And some people will just never shed a tear…this year, I’m planning on pinching my best friend if she’s still stone-faced by the end of Christmas.


Jordan Kent-Baas is co-author of the award-nominated blog Project: Priceless—The Free Wedding Experiment, and Project: Priceless—the NEST (the newlywed experience). The wedding experiment harnessed the power of social media to create a 140-person wedding for virtually no cost, while the NEST chronicles Jordan and Brian’s experience as frugal newlyweds. She is a social media fanatic who works in marketing and communications, and aspires to one day be a full-time author. Jordan lives with her fat senior pug and her sweet handsome husband, Brian; she has a passion for crafting, and exploring new activities around the city. Jordan has a dream of one day being a really good cook…in the meantime, she keeps a frozen pizza on hand just in case. You can connect with Jordan via her blogs at, on Facebook at, or on twitter, under her handle @projectpricelss.

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