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Be thoughtful with secondhand gifts

By on October 4, 2009

antique shop
photo by foshie

DEAR SARA: A friend’s birthday is coming soon, and, before I started being frugal, I used to spend about $30 on friends for birthdays. But I need to get that number down now. I was wondering if you have given thrift-store finds as gifts and if there were any negative reactions from it. I think this particular friend wouldn’t mind, because she shops at them and is also thrifty, but I don’t know if it would go over so well with other people I know. Any thoughts on this? Good or bad experiences? — Lisa H., California

DEAR LISA: I’ve given and received secondhand gifts without any bad reactions. It depends on what you’re giving and the person to whom you’re giving the gift. You have to have the same thoughtful consideration when giving gifts, whether they’re secondhand, discounted or expensive. These are your friends. Ask them. It’s also helpful to know if they collect anything. Collectors tend to appreciate older items. Think about it: If you’re buying an older item from a thrift store, estate sale, flea market or antique shop, how would anyone know which place you actually bought the gift or for what price? And if it’s new and still packaged, they wouldn’t know at all. But if you want to be safe, there are plenty of opportunities throughout the year to buy brand-new items on sale or at dollar stores. Or invite them over for lunch, treats and a movie rental. The important thing is to keep in mind their hobbies, interests, needs or wants and not your own. The items you love may not be gifts anyone else would enjoy. Listen for small clues throughout the year, and try to avoid last-minute shopping.

DEAR SARA: I am making cookies, and I would like to freeze some for another day. What is the best way to defrost them, on a rack or plate? Do they go soggy afterward? — Kelz, England

DEAR KELZ: Place them on the counter still wrapped, so a rack or plate is unnecessary. They’ll defrost at room temperature quickly and without getting soggy. When freezing them, make sure that the cookies are cooled, and aim for a single layer or with wax paper between layers to prevent cookies from sticking together. Cookie dough freezes well, too. You can roll it into logs. To make dough logs, place the cookie dough onto wax paper or plastic wrap, roll the dough into a log, twist the ends, and freeze the logs. You can place this in the freezer wrapped with just the wax paper or plastic wrap, or place the wrapped log in a plastic baggie, too. When you’re ready to use the dough, thaw in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. Then you can slice and bake. Or use a cookie scoop, or roll the dough into balls and drop the dough onto a wax- or parchment-paper-lined cookie sheet. Freeze for about an hour to harden so they hold their shape, then transfer into plastic baggies and freeze. When you’re ready to bake, you can thaw for 30 minutes at room temperature, but you don’t have to thaw them at all before baking.


  1. mary

    10/5/2009 at 12:22 am

    Another idea for inexpensive or free, but thoughtful gifts, is items acquired through coupons. This past year, I collected free dog and cat food and treats throughout the year using coupons and sales. I had enough to give very large gift boxes to three of the in-laws. I was really worried about how it would be received. I put a lot of effort into the acquisition and hoped it would not be seen as chinchy. They were thrilled and had lots of questions about how they could do the same thing.

    Another almost free idea is to use your coupon acquired free or almost free items and make a gift basket. Free pasta and sauce can make a great Italian food gift when put in an inexpensive pasta bowl (from the thrift store is new enough). The variations on this are endless.

    I also re-gift if appropriate and I think the person would really like it.

    And food gifts are cheap and really well received (if you bake!).

  2. Michelle S.

    10/5/2009 at 9:19 am

    I second the gift basket idea. First because everyone loves the basket itself and also because the ideas are almost limitless if you plan throughout the year. You can always get great baskets at the dollar store and then just make custom baskets. If your friend is a crafter, fill the basket with craft items you get on sale at Michaels or the dollar store. For coffee or tea lovers–find a pretty mug and then put in some home-made cookies and coffee, tea, hot chocolate. You can even melt chocolate and dip some spoons (from the dollar store, a flea market or even plastic ones) in it for a nice addition. Book lovers–There are endless places to get cheap books and you throw in some homemade cookies and a bookmark (also easy to make) and it’s another great gift. For friends who like to pamper themselves: some shower gel, lotion,a pouf, and a candle all can be bought on sale or at the dollar store. Anyway, some effort and your not-so expensive gift looks like an incredibly special gift, which it is.

  3. Sara Noel

    10/5/2009 at 9:27 am

    I made chocolate dipped spoons last yr for my kids. I had been meaning to make them for years. Anyway, my kids loved them. I simply melted chocolate candy melts, dipped the spoons, rolled them in sprinkles and cookie sugars and stored them into the freezer. My kids loved chocolate dipped pretzel rods, too.

  4. Sara Noel

    10/5/2009 at 9:40 am

    Mary, the pet food/treats gift is an awesome idea. Gift baskets are a great if you’re a smart frugal shopper. I don’t suggest it for some people though. It can be too easy to overspend trying to fill the containers.

  5. Wendy

    11/8/2009 at 1:57 am

    Gift baskets are the way to go when you don’t have a lot of money to spend. I made a gift basket for my cousin in college which included a nice mug plus teas and hot coco mix I already had for those late study nights. I also included a nice pen and a journal notebook, which didn’t cost much at all. Placed them in a decorative box I already had that she could use for extra storage. She LOVED it and it was so inexpensive and so useful!

    I go to the post-holiday sales specifically for gift basket items for the following year!

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