Friday, June 28, 2013

For those rare, rare times when yard-sale-purchased gifts just won't do

Buying gifts.

This gift thing is a real challenge for a committed frugalist like me.  I'm thinking about gifts now because it's yard sale season, which is when I do most of my gift-buying.

For one thing, yard sales are a great place to gather up cool trinkets and toys that are very small -- come early December, we'll wrap them in a shoebox and send them via Operation Christmas Child overseas.  And speaking of children, this is a great time to get inexpensive things that my boys lust for:  J-son still fawns over the $5 lava lamp I got him two years ago; N-son loved his 25¢ Sponge Bob lamp to death, unfortunately.  The living room where I'm typing now is completely strewn with the wooden train track sets that cost about a jillion dollars in a real store, but that I snagged 4 years ago for $15.  So, yes, my boys will get yard sale presents from me for Christmas this year (and they're going to love them).

Even for adults, it's entirely possible to find great gifts at yard sales.  For one thing, most of my friends and family know of my allergy to stores, and they are cool with getting nice things that for some reason don't have tags attached.  For those people on my gift-giving-list who might be offended by getting second-hand items, I have to be a bit more careful, but I don't have to abandon my open-air-market ways.  Really, our society is just so over-full-of-stuff that people sometimes sell new items, still in the box, for pennies on the dollar.

But there are times when even I think a yard sale gift won't do.  There are big life events that just seem to call for something more substantial than the usual curb-side treasure.

For example, graduation.  I've had four family members graduate from college recently.  Graduation is a Big Deal in our family, and it calls for something significant.  But what does a frugal, stodgy person like me get for a Contemporary Individual of today?  And can I do something that honors the person and celebrates that achievement, while still remaining true to my own values of thrift, discipline, and all that other dismal stuff?

This was an especially hard question for me when I thought about my older step-daughter, one of the first of the next generation to graduate.  She'd grown up both in my house and in her mother's home, and the two homes had very different approaches to spending.  I mean, our homes were even more different than you might expect just knowing me.  For example: her mom bought her a brand new car when she turned 16.  My step-daughter already had her own computer and her own smart phone.  She had so many clothes that she gave her hand-me-downs to me.  It was really hard to think of something -- anything -- I could get her that she didn't already have, or that her mother's side of the family wouldn't have gotten her a better one.

At almost the same time, my birth daughter (who didn't yet know how to drive but who had taught herself to knit and crochet) was graduating.  For her, it was easier to decide:  she needed a sewing machine.  Yes.  She was, after all, flesh of my flesh, and we both knew she'd love taking after her mother in the mending and creating way as well.

Somehow, it dawned on me that I had the answer to *both* gifts at once.  Because although my step-daughter might not actually ever use that sewing machine, really, there's a good chance she wouldn't have ended up needing anything I gave her.   But my step-daughter knew how much I love sewing, so she'd realize the gift meant a lot to me.  Better yet, there was no way her mother was going to go out and buy her a sewing machine, so I wasn't about to get trumped.  [Since then, her boyfriend used it to make a dog bed for her dog, so I know it's gotten some use.  Score!]

And that is how I hit on the graduation sewing machine:  a gift that is substantial and fancy enough to be worthy of a graduation honor, but that is still consonant with a Miser Mom lifestyle.  My crafty nephew got his sewing machine a year later; my younger step-daughter is getting ready to take hers to grad school this fall.  She's already made herself a spool-bag with it.  Whoop!


  1. What a great idea! My parents gave me a Lane cedar chest. For a first baby my parents gave each child a rocking chair. I love traditions like that. Keep up the good work.

    1. What I love about this most is that my sons, aged 13 and 14, are now saying, "We can't wait to graduate from college so we can get OUR sewing machines!". Like you need to go to college for that! - MM