Frugal Holiday Gift Ideas

Were you up and out at 4:00am to take advantage of Black Friday sales? Me neither.  I prefer to do most of my Christmas shopping online, and have taken advantage of some great online deals from Cyber Monday up to the week before Christmas by surfing online rather than standing in line.

I thought I would share with you a few gifts we have received over the last couple Christmas seasons that have improved our frugal household.  If you are still looking for gift ideas for a frugal friend, you can’t go wrong with one of these selections.  Note, a couple of these suggestions are not cheap, but will help you or a friend become more frugal.

Black & Decker Energy Saver Series Power Monitor. Here is one we don’t have, but it is on our Christmas list this year.  I’ve become a bit obsessive about ways to cut our utility bills (yes, I admit it, I have a problem!).  It hurts opening those huge energy bills in the extreme summer and winter.  This gadget allows you to see the effect of each electrical appliance as they cycle on and off, and using info from your electric bill, you can estimate how much those appliances are costing you to operate.

Programmable Thermostat.  Our utilities were out of control before switching to a programmable thermostat.  We managed to shave nearly 20% off our utility expenses by allowing the night temperature to float up in the summer, and drop lower in the winter.  Just before the alarm clocks go off each morning, the thermostat returns the inside temperature to a comfortable for the morning routine.  A 5-1-1 or 5-2 model even allows you to set a different schedule for sleeping in a bit on the weekend (unless you have small kids).  With utility costs continuing to rise, it won’t take long for this one to pay for itself.

The Total Money Makeover. This one remains in my top two favorite personal finance books.  Oddly enough, I heard the audio book first while commuting after accepting a new job in a new town.  I was hooked, or “gazelle intense,” as author Dave Ramsey likes to say!  I credit Dave, and this book, with helping turn around our financial lives.

The book is not overly complicated, is inspirational, and is written in a tone you’d expect from Dave Ramsey. It would make a great gift, and I recommend a copy for yourself if you have never read it.

Your Money or Your Life. I already mentioned The Total Money Makeover, but this book is my other favorite money book. It is the book that got me interested in the idea of personal finance to begin with, and it introduced the concept of financial independence.  Written in the 1990s, the information is timeless and thought-provoking.  When I read this book I finally made the connection between work, earnings, and life energy.  I realized that trading my precious life energy to pay for additional stuff was simply not worth it–that I could enjoy a more simple way of like and work less for it.

TiVo Series2 80-Hour Dual Tuner DVR. We’ve had our TiVo for a couple years now, and I have to tell you it is one of the best purchases we have ever made (this was a present to ourselves).  For a while we were renting a DVR from our cable company, and the digital service that went along with it. Then, I discovered TiVo.

I like the TiVo interface much more than the one that came with the cable box, and I like the fact that I own the machine outright. If I move, I can take it with me. If I want another one for the living room, I can buy one. No extra rental fees from the cable provider.

We have really cut back on television viewing, but enjoy the efficiency of watching a program on TiVo.  Fast forwarding through commercials cuts way down on television viewing time.  I also like the ability to log into my TiVo box from work, or on the road, and select a program to record via a web interface.

Programmable 5.5 qt. Crock Pot.  We stay pretty busy around the frugal household these days.  A couple times a week we have after school activities and sports practices on the same night!  Not much time for meal preparation on those days.  And that is where our crock pot comes in handy.

Our favorite meal is a large pork roast rubbed with garlic salt and cooked slow all day in a crock pot and about a 1/2 cup – 1 cup of water.  We have enough meat to slice for homemade barbecue sandwiches for days–delicious!

Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine Subscription. For one dollar a month (assuming a $12 annual subscription) you can get some of the best reporting on investments, taxes, insurance, paying for college, planning for retirement, home ownership, major purchases such as cars and computers and other personal finance topics. Over the years I have also subscribed to Money, Smart Money, and a host of other finance magazines, but Kiplinger’s remains my favorite.

Money Jar Bank.  Think of this as a new-age piggy bank.  It is essentially a sturdy, plastic jar with a special lid that contains an LCD display and keeps a running tally of your savings as coins are added.  A word of warning, the jar contains small parts that may present a choking hazard for younger children. However, if you have an older child, and are interested in fostering their savings habit, this is a great gift idea.

Presto 22-inch Jumbo Electric Griddle.  I mentioned that we stay busy and have little time cooking most weeknights. To further complicate matters, we are experiencing more cold, rainy weather than we are used to.  This makes grilling outdoors tough. Our solution? An indoor griddle.

The griddle was given with the idea we could use it to make pancakes and breakfast foods, but we found it to be excellent for cooking slices of chicken, pork, and thin steaks indoors. As fattier meats cook the grease runs down into a drip container making meats a little healthier.  Cleanup is a snap thanks to a non-stick surface.

Money Mammals. We were lucky enough to receive a copy of Money Mammals from the creator, and my kids really enjoyed it.  In my review I posted here at Frugal Dad, I called Money Mammals the Little Einsteins for personal finance education for children.  It remains a unique product, and would make a great gift for little ones on your Christmas list.


  1. This is one of the best holiday lists I’ve seen! I love gifts that can help you save money.

    One tip: We’ve used a gadget called a Kill-a-Watt to monitor our electrical usage… and best of all, we were able to check it out from our public library for FREE! I’ve also heard some utility companies offer you the ability to check-out similar tools. You may want to check it out before you buy!

  2. Warning to frugal moms about the programmable thermostat: I am always cold. My husband likes to say he’s always “euthermic.” When we first lived together, he noticed the temperature on the thermostat was always higher when he got home after work (and yes, I wear sweaters, but as low as he had it, they just weren’t enough). My husband is a smart man, so rather than argue, he installed a fancy, new, totally-incomprehensible-to-the-double-X-chromosome thermostat. It took me months to figure out where the “override” button was. By then, he had brought home a newer, even more incomprehensible gadget.
    Thus began the Thermostat Wars which continue to this very day.

  3. @Doreen: Doh! The secret is out! It didn’t take long for my wife to figure out the override feature either. Now we battle back and forth before bedtime–permanent hold, use schedule, permanent hold, use schedule.

  4. A few of my favorites…

    $200 Samsung Blu-ray so you do not have to spend $50 an outing at the movies.

    Dave Ramseys Book $16

    Or How about giving (or getting for yourself) LED Christmas lights? They will help you be frugal by saving electricity and they last longer and look great!

  5. Me too. I ALWAYS cold. So I crank up the woodstove when I am home. I also wear cuddle duds constantly starting in October.

    Tivo– I can’t justify the expense for anything TV related. We don’t have cable or satellite and get only 3 channels (but more pop up every month with the new digital stuff coming out) So I watch most of the show stuff on Fancast. I do have a fiber DSL line because I work at home, so my connection is super fast. Any TV watching is done hooking up the laptop to the bigger TV. Works like a charm and it is free. I do have the basic Netflix package that lets me watch unlimited movies online too. We do that quite a bit, and their selection for online viewing is getting better.

  6. @ Doreen Orion, haha! Thermostat Wars, I love it. My wife and I are in an epic battle of thermostat supremacy, both at home and in the car. We don’t have a programmable thermostat, so she loves just cranking that dial up, and I have to turn it back down again constantly. In the car, it’s even worse. I swear it could be 95 degrees in there and it still wouldn’t be hot enough.

    I’m surprised more people don’t get divorced over the thermostat.

  7. Great list. We currently rent a DVR box from our cable company too. We have one of those cable/phone/internet packages and I’ve felt kinda stuck in it. I like my unlimited long distance on the phone, my high speed internet and my DVR, but I have way too big of a cable package. I think a TiVo could be the beginning of a way out 🙂 Thanks!

  8. the reason you are frugal is because u have a kid. a kid costs around $200,000 from 0 to 20 years, add 40k to that if you are sending ur kid to college. but dont take my word for it. check it out

    If you had invested that same money in good stocks at  for 20 years. You would have had a net worth of over half a million dollars, which would make you rich. You could buy a house with 200k and never have to pay rent or mortgage for the rest of your life.

  9. @FishMama: I see that has run out of stock on the Money Jars. If you will follow the link, and look below the item there is a list of related products you might find a substitute. We picked up the pink money jar for our daughter, and it is still available. There are also a couple other money jars listed under different brands.

    Update: I have updated the original Money Jar Bank link to a similar product that is currently in stock.

  10. May I suggest a great holiday gift idea: freshly baked My Grandma’s of New England coffee cake, shipped next day to your front door. The cakes are wonderful and sure to be a hit, and sell for under $30 delivered!