Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Frugal gift baskets, and dollar stores

What's not to like about a blog called Not Made of Money?

Their contribution to last week's Festival of Frugality was a post called 5 Christmas Gift Baskets You Can Put Together For An Inexpensive (but thoughtful) Gift, based on items found at a dollar store.

That's a nice variation on an overused gift idea that (as shown in magazines) often ends up being either very expensive or completely impractical. I think the silliest gift-basket idea I've seen was a cookie-baking kit that included tubes of frozen cookie dough--now how is that supposed to survive under the Christmas tree? If someone does happen to notice that frozen dough in the basket and rescues it before it perishes, then they have to wreck the beautiful arrangement and all the bows and plastic wrapping just to get at it, so what is the point? (If that was your idea, I apologize, but maybe you can explain how you'd handle frozen food mixed in with the other things.)

Anyway, I think Not Made of Money has some good suggestions, if you do shop at dollar stores. Some people don't, on principle. Others of us do, also on principle. I've discussed the reasons we do shop there (mostly for our own Treehouse family members) with online friends, awhile back. Some of it comes down to what we expect of kids at Christmas time, and the fact that not everybody wants to make or get macaroni necklaces year after year. (And, if you've never thought about this, it's harder for homeschoolers to keep homemade gifts secret from each other than it is for most people!) There are few yard sales around here this time of year, so we head for the dollar store. (And try to stay out of each others' way while we're there!)

We've had some amazing successes and a few duds (ballet slippers that fell apart by the end of the day). The youngest Squirreling has been made happy with play food (including pretend canned things that you open with a plastic can opener), pink opera gloves, and paper dolls to cut out (from the scrapbooking section). The older girls have given each other gel pens, stickers, decorative boxes, and other craft and school supplies. The grownups have been given (on different occasions) giant barbecue tongs (very useful), hand lotion (Mr. Fixit really appreciated it), chocolate bars, and various kitchen thises and thatses. The toy section has also been raided to find grownup stocking stuffers (Mr. Fixit still plays with his tiny motorcycle set).

Yes, I know many of these things are made in factories overseas. I understand why that bothers people.

However, so are many of the things you buy at more expensive stores.

And if you noticed--many of the things we've given are edible or otherwise consumable or disposable (pens, lotion, paper). We try to avoid the stuff that ends up being clutter forever.

Not all our gifts come from the dollar store. There are always a few larger things (like a new snow toy or a CD-Rom, or Crayons' pirate snakes-and-ladders game), there are usually books from Mama Squirrel (I'm not giving away any secrets here), sometimes there are handmade things (The Apprentice has made great bead earrings for everyone who has pierced ears, and last year Mama Squirrel crocheted the girls some Christmas-coloured hair scrunchies), and sometimes there are used things (some squirrel-shaped salt-and-peppers once showed up in Mr. Fixit's stocking). And there are a few family squirrels and the lady next door who add to the things under the tree.

But the fun of exchanging the small gifts--the dollar store items and the Sunday School productions and the all-afternoon-in-the-bedroom projects--is one of the best parts of the holiday for us. Not THE best or the biggest part, because it shouldn't be, and that's another reason we keep things small. It's about the hunt and the surprise, the little jokes, and the quest to find something that's truly appreciated for a small amount of cash; it's not about presents getting more extravagant every year. And for us--dollar store or not--those are the thoughts that count.

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