Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Low-Cost, High-Utility Christmas Presents

When I got married, one of the more unexpected presents that we received was the church cookbook from my husband’s Great-Aunt.  At first, I did not think too much of it, and as an elderly woman in a small rural town who probably does not shop online, there’s probably not too many options.  However, as I leafed through the pages, I found that what I was given was really a family recipe book.  My husband’s father’s family has been attending that same church for over 100 years, and each recipe appeared to be authored by aunts, cousins, second cousins, grandparents, and even nods to women who would have been the DH’s great-grandmother or great-great-grandmother.  The gift cost $15, the profits went to Senior programming at the church, and I have what may have been the most thoughtful gift we received for our wedding. 

I share this to illustrate one point – low-cost Christmas presents (or, any presents) will just look cheap if they are not thoughtful.  Thoughtful presents are thoughtful, even if they did not cost a lot of money.  The best gifts are meaningful presents that will be valued by the recipient, a concept that relates to the Economics term of Utility.  It’s not usefulness, but that can be a component, but utility refers to the satisfaction received by the end user.  Applying this concept to gift-giving is apt: Maximizing the happiness of the recipient while minimizing the costs to the consumer (you) is the goal.

Yes, buying your nephew a Wii may fall into this category if you score a deal on an excellent bundle.  Mom probably just wants you to come home.  Maybe bring a pie.  Your brother will buy his own electronics.  So what DO you get them?  The answer is something thoughtful. 

One of the things I love to give are photos.  Ready to reduce your father to tears?  A picture of your trip to Cooperstown when you were 5 in a holder that incorporates a signed baseball by Stan Musial will do it, and your sister who bought him a home theater system is going to have to hear about the time Grandpa took Dad to the game in St. Louis and they came *this* close to catching a Stan the Man homerun ball throughout the rest of the evening.  If you have even the slightest twinge of sibling rivalry, you will understand the importance of such things. 

A good place to start is a nice list of frugal gifts.  Use these with caution, though.  I thoughtlessly chosen gift from a list like this will not be doing anyone any favors (little utility for Aunt Marge).  It may stir some creativity.  If you are reading this post today, then you have the ability to take an okay present and knock it out of the park.  Figure out the recipient (maybe someone newly married, or a college student living on their own for the first time), and start asking family members for recipes.  A good starting point is Thanksgiving Dinner.  Who makes the pies?  Who makes the green beans?  Is there a secret to the turkey?  Get these recipes together – print them out on cardstock (or Avery Index Cards with a preset recipe card template) with a story on the back about the recipe & how long it has been in the family – and put them in a nice box.  The best part is with other people in on the gift, those around you at Christmas will have a vested interest when your niece opens it up.

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