Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Frugal Gifts for the Holidays

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free
'tis the gift to come down where you ought to be
And when we find ourselves in the place just right
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained
To bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed
To turn, turn will be our delight
'Till by turning, turning we come round right.

-- From "Simple Gifts" by Aaron Copland, based on a traditional Shaker tune.

Whether you are frugal due to circumstance (unemployed), by nature (we won't say "cheap"), or by training, there are ways to find gifts for your family that may cost little or nothing. We also mention cheaper alternatives to more expensive gifts, and some creative tools for you and your family.

Let's get down to specific gifts:

For your job-hunting or just frugal significant other: 
Need a new planner, organizer, calendar for the New Year to organize that job search or work? Productive Flourishing offers PDF pages for Daily, Weekly, Monthly, Quarterly and Annual planning guides. (Subscribe to the free newsletter to get access to all of them.) You can purchase a 12-month supply of guides for $12. Print them out and put them in a nice loose-leaf binder. You can also try it out yourself. Note, all the PDFs are for 8.5x11 inch sheets.

Another top-notch site for free PDF's of planner pages (in many sizes) is the D*I*Y Planner website Even if your partner has a planner, you'll find many special pages you can add to it.

Need paper for a “classic” 5.5”x8.5” planner binder? Buy a ream of good quality printer paper and have the office store's copy shop cut the pages in half. (They usually charge $1-2 for the cut.)Want to use that paper with the common seven-ring binder? Go to the Franklin-Covey shop and buy an all-metal, polished 7-hole puncher for $25.

Buying a computer for that job hunt (or upgrading an old one, or just need some software)? If you don't already own Microsoft Office, download and take the free LibreOffice suite for a test drive (or the almost identical ).

Don't need an entire office suite, just a word processor? Try AbiWord It's lightweight and will work on your college-student's netbook and Grandma's old PC, too.

Is Auntie Janie known for her organizing or creative writing? Freemind is a free mindmapping software program for brainstorming, organizing, outlining, and thinking.

Your daughter Susan is into journals/diaries and Uncle Ulysses likes fine pens? Rather than spend $550 on a good Mont Blanc, give a hard-bound notebook with good quality paper. The Moleskine notebooks are popular for writing, journaling,  organizing and sketching and are available with lined, graph, dotted or blank pages in several sizes.  If Ulysses writes with fountain pens or Suze is into painting, try the Moleskine with watercolor paper that doesn't bleed through; good for sketching, painting, and travel and artist journals. In spite of the marketing hype, the Moleskines are actually pretty good notebooks and have an entire Internet sub-culture devoted to using them for writing, getting things done, artwork, travel, making lists, meeting notes and much more.

Are the Moleskines too pricy? Check your office supply, art or book store for some of the other quality notebook options. Staples often offers a pocket-sized Moleskine-like notebook on sale for $3, about a quarter of the original's price. Some other quality notebook makers -- all available online, some in stores -- are: Rhodia, Clairfontaine, Ecosystem Life, Black n' Red, Exacompta, Global Art Handbook Journals, Piccadilly Journals, and Derwent.

Add a three-pack of Pentel EnerGel pens (I like the 0.5 mm tip) or some Pilot G-2 pens for economical and smooth writing.

Has Aunt Gertrude been bragging about her upcoming European excursion?  Check out the Moleskine City Guides (for major European and a few American cities) which are practical and a lot cheaper than a set of matched luggage (

Is your nephew Bruce learning digital photography? Get some free high-quality photo editing software. (Windows only) is a high-end photo editor and paint program. The GNU Image Manipulation Program,, with the marketing-challenged acronym GIMP, is actually a terrific, if complex, photo editing program (with lots of add-ons available), also free. 

Alternatively, printer ink cartridges and good photo paper are always appreciated by the photographer.

Cute little Timothy is grown and now texting on his Android phone or iPhone? A $25 gift card or check gets him some great software or games on the Android or Apple Marketplace.

And that computer geek in the household (you know who you are) will always appreciate a 16- or 32-Gigabyte USB flash drive (or a camera memory chip), usually reasonably priced and frequently on sale. Load it with free portable Windows software at or and

And, for all my frugal friends, please accept these gift ideas as my holiday present with wishes for a happy and frugal holiday season and for a great job (or continued success) in the New Year!