Reduce spending with gifts from the heart

December 05, 2003|by LYNN F. LITTLE

Exchanging gifts during the holidays is a wonderful tradition. Giving and receiving carefully chosen presents warms our hearts and brings delight to the faces of both young and old.

But in today's materialistic world, we often forget the true spirit of giving. And on a practical level, sometimes we just can't afford to purchase all the gifts we want to give without winding up in serious debt.

To help sidestep these problems, why not consider using personal gift certificates that focus on creatively giving of ourselves to family members and friends, while spending little or no money?

In addition to the nice touch of a homemade gift, do-it-yourself gift certificates address several specific objectives:

  • They provide an alternative to purchased gifts.

  • They reduce holiday spending.

  • They nourish generosity.

  • They encourage interpersonal creativity.

  • They strengthen relationships.

Creating your own gift certificates is part of the fun. Let your creativity flow. For example, you may want to use colored markers, stickers and ribbons.


What type of gifts might you give? A 12-year-old boy might give his stepmother a Saturday morning off, starting with breakfast in bed. An older teenager might give his or her grandparent three gift certificates, each one good for a round-trip drive to the grocery, a friend's home, or the doctor's office. A father might take his daughter out to her favorite restaurant. An uncle might take his nephew to a sports event.

The possibilities are limited only by your imagination. Here are some additional idea starters: a walk together at a nearby state park; a springtime picnic for two; a backyard cookout for a child's friends; a three-minute shoulder rub; 10 minutes of the giver's time to do a chore for the recipient; an offer to cook a meal; a car wash inside and out; help to weed the garden; a pledge to wash dishes; 20 minutes of reading out loud from a favorite book; a 15-minute personal concert of live music; an offer to clean the bathroom, kitchen floor or living room windows.

When giving a personal gift certificate, follow-through is essential. Make it very clear to the receiver that this is a serious, valid offer and that you expect him or her to make use of it. The giver should be sure that he or she has the time and resources to follow through with the service indicated on the certificate. Consider carefully what you promise and don't offer anything that you think might be too difficult, expensive or impractical to provide.

Store-bought gifts, particularly when lovingly selected with the unique needs of the recipient in mind, carry the beautiful spirit of the holiday season. Likewise, created-by-you gift certificates can also play a special role in your expressions of thoughtfulness and love. In offering a homemade gift certificate to a loved one, you are sharing three of your most valuable treasures - yourself, your energy and your time.

To receive a camera-ready copy of four ready-to-use gift certificates (that can be duplicated) you can send a self addressed, stamped (37 cents) business-size envelope to Maryland Cooperative Extension-Washington County Office, 7303 Sharpsburg Pike, Boonsboro, MD 21713. One or more of these gift certificates fit nicely into a standard 4 3/8-inch by 5 3/4-inch envelope. Kids of all ages can use markers, crayons or other media to put an artistic touch on the envelopes.

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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