Do you, like I did, struggle with your desire to be generous and your need to be thrifty?

Not only are these qualities not mutually exclusive, they are in fact compatible and complementary.

I am generous by nature. I give of my time, my ears, my food, my wisdom, and I love to give useful quality, gifts! On the other hand, I am an extremely thrifty lower income, single mama with 5 kids who works very hard to provide for my family. Wedding these two apparently opposing qualities is thankfully part of my legacy. With grandparents that came through the depression and started their own family in the dirty 30s in rural and mining country in Canada, I was raised with wonderful examples of both thrift & generosity. (You can read about this legacy in my Cabbages or Potatoes post.)

Before I share just a few of my deep dark secrets of exactly how to give good gifts on a tight budget let me talk about generosity …

what is generosity?

As someone on the lower socioeconomic income scale who has also experienced great tragedy and loss, my family has been the recipients of tremendous, unheard-of kindness and generosity. The gifts we have received both from known and anonymous benefactors have been miraculous, life-giving and utterly mind-blowing.

On days when I dare to slip into self-pity or feel that I am alone on this earth in my struggles, I need only to remember one of the many, many ways I have been shown great love and care. I am certainly NOT alone in this battle. These generous givers serve as a beacon of light to me of the kind of generosity I want to show to others. It is important to note here that not all of our amazing benefactors have given out of their plenty.

I have been humbled to tears to observe gifts that have come from places of struggle as well. And it is these hearts of sacrifice and open-handed benevolence that I desire to imitate.

a few amazing examples of how to be generous

The family, who upon learning that we wanted to take up Cross Country Skiing, found us used, but all good condition, skis for the younger children and offered to help us learn how to use them. And another family who picked up all our bicycles and had them repaired and tuned up so we could bike as a family again.

The year my youngest had her “Magical Christmas” which is always the year they are 5, a man we did not recognize knocked on our door and delivered piles and piles of extravagantly wrapped gifts that were clearly purchased with each of my children’s interests and personalities in mind. These were carefully thought out and beautifully wrapped and though we have a decent guess as to where they came from, the givers never did reveal themselves.

When our business was failing and our monthly income was only $148.00, we received several miraculous and anonymous financial gifts that were always exactly the amount we needed to keep afloat. Once it was this odd amount of $334.00 which turned out to be precisely the shortfall that month for our mortgage payment.

If I didn’t believe in miracles, I would have been seriously creeped out. The most sacrificial and amazing of all financial gifts, I am not ready to share about. One day…

who is the generosity for?

Now, I hesitate to talk about the opposite examples but someone has to do it. Let me first state that one of my foundational principles is thankfulness. Regardless of the quality of the gift I am always thankful that someone took the time and effort to think of us. 

The examples I do not prefer to imitate however, (which in my circle of friends and acquaintances are rare let me assure you) are when people see someone in need and use this as an opportunity to share, donate, or unload their castoff items. I have observed this as an attempt to make themselves feel better about the “poor” person’s tragedy while also unloading items they didn’t want anyway.

here are a few examples

“Kids, we need to sort through all your toys and give some away to the poor children so that you have room for new toys this Christmas!” I cringe just writing this.

“We heard your husband died and wanted to bring you 8 large boxes of baked goods that we didn’t sell this week.” Please don’t read me as ungrateful… We ate what we could but this was all stuff that was headed to the trash and they got to feel good about giving it to a poor widow. We were grateful…. But…. cringe again.

A distant relative, who decided to get to know us as a result of one of our tragedies, showed up that first Christmas with a large pile of gifts for my kids. The kids expressed gratefulness and were truly thankful for the intent. The gifts consisted of Dollar Store coloring books, very cheap scarves and mitts from the Dollar Store, and several toys that broke within a week, likely from the same shopping expedition. You get the idea. Cringe.

To be clear about each of these examples. I was and am grateful for the thoughts and kind intent. These however are not the type of generosity I wish to emulate or teach my children to follow. I share them as food for pondering.

great gift-giving on a budget

Ok, finally, let’s talk about giving great gifts. And what truly is a great gift? There are so many types of gifts and reasons for giving that it would fill an entire book to be specific. Instead, I will talk about principles and practices that have helped me to be more generous.

the gift box

My favorite tool for good gift-giving is The Gift Box. When I was first married, I started with a small container which has now grown to be a full-sized 40-gallon red tote in my basement. My gift tote is large enough to hold a wide variety of gift items as well as wrapping paper and gift bags.

As a thrifty giver, I struggle to spend a bunch of money on frivolous wrapping that could have been better used to get a nicer or more useful gift. I save gift bags, buy off-season quality, but deeply discounted, wrapping paper & ribbon, and my favorite, I keep a roll of plain paper in there for decorating and making our own creative wrap.

But back to the meat of the gift box. Knowing the types of people and occasions in my life, I am constantly keeping my eyes open for great gifts. Having kids, birthday parties are a common occurrence. I make note of things my own children love and when I see a deal or a sale, I scoop up several and into the gift box they go. Baby showers and wedding showers are events that I try to keep ahead of by watching for great deals. Learning where your favorite shops stash their closeout items and following online deal hunters are great sources. End-of-season closeouts are great as well.

things I have had in my thrifty gift box

When we receive an invitation to a party or shower, not only can I save money by shopping in my gift box, but I save the time and stress of rushing out at the last minute to the store.

The gift box saves time and money and covers most of our incidental physical gift-giving needs.

thinking outside the (gift) box

In our world of excess stuff, I wish to challenge you to also think outside the box. Gifts do not need to be things and often the best gifts come from our knowledge of the recipient. Here is a list of creative gifts that will oft be remembered much longer than a physical item.

  • A heartfelt handmade card that highlights things you love about the person
  • Flowers picked from your garden and dropped on their doorstep with a sweet note
  • An offer of childcare so a couple can have some much-needed time together
  • Dinner out together with friends
  • A basket of fruit
  • Dinner dropped off when you know they are having a busy week
  • A nice clothing item (if you know the person well) that you saw at the thrift store that you know they would love
  • Secretly (or not secretly) pay a bill for someone who is trying so hard to get ahead
  • Pay for the groceries of a stranger in line
  • Buy groceries or necessities for a friend
  • Offer to teach someone a skill
  • This list is limited only by your imagination

The most important skill in being a great gift-giver is to be interested in and a good observer of people. Noticing little things about them, what they do or don’t like. What are the things that bring them joy or seem to make their life just a little bit better or easier? Identify the needs they have. Armed with a little bit of information you can more easily plot ways to bless them.

compatibility of thrift and generosity

I said I would show you how these two are indeed compatible. I suspect having read this far that you are already beginning to see the relationship between these traits that appear, at first glance, to oppose each other.

Because of my thriftiness, I am able to stretch my small income to be increasingly generous. By spending less on groceries and cutting my utility bills, my discretionary giving fund can be a little larger. By always keeping my eyes peeled for deals, I can plan ahead to have gifts, cardmaking supplies, stamps, gift wrapping materials etc. on hand. In making our own pretty packaging for gifts we also have more money available for the actual gift.

Thrifty is not synonymous with stingy. We can in fact harness our thriftiness to enable generosity instead.

legacy of altruism

Watching my children carry on their great-grandparents’ legacy of open-handed generosity brings tremendous joy to me every day. Regardless of their wants, every single one of these kids will instantly offer to help someone in need. I mentioned that my kids get a “Magical Christmas” at age 5. This is the year we try to get everything on their list and completely excessively spoil them. Everyone gets involved and goes entirely over the top. It is extravagant, excessive, terrible, and delightful at once. 

That, however, is the only time. From there on out, it is my goal to cultivate temperance and minimalism. For many years I have given my kids a book, an item they really want, and a giving gift. The giving gift is an amount of money with the instructions to find someone else to bless with it. They are very creative and have done many things from buying items to hand out to homeless people, to sponsoring a child in a third world country to pooling their funds and building a well in a village…

in conclusion

I leave you with the encouragement that by learning to be increasingly thrifty, practicing living with less and planning ahead, you will find both your budget and your emotional energy increased to allow you to be delightfully generous.

If this was helpful or encouraging to you, I would love for you to share it with your friends and groups. Thank you for reading.  


You can find more inspiration on my author page.

This post contains affiliate links to collections of some of the recommended items to have on hand in your gift box.

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