September 25, 2012 | By: Laurie Campbell

The frugal gift giver. Buy it with heart.

There is the matter of the handsome, silver-haired Canadian couple who received a houseful of gifts for their 50th wedding anniversary. Children, grandchildren and relatives from far and wide all joined to celebrate the couple’s golden moment with gifts ranging from fine apparel to one of those adjustable beds that props up backs and knees at the push of a button. Also among the gifts were two pieces of art: one an ornate, painted plaster sculpture perhaps 60 centimetres high of two European chefs at work at a table; the other, a soapstone carving of an odd-looking little bird – no taller than six centimetres – with a tiny fossil embedded on its speckled back.

The chefs’ sculpture came from cousins somewhat far removed from the couple geographically (and emotionally). The sculpture was well crafted, and for some of certain tastes it would likely have held a lot of charm. Apparently, though, the couple was not among people with such tastes. The two later relegated the sculpture to a dark corner of their basement rumpus room. Meanwhile, the soapstone bird came from one of the couple’s grandchildren – a 14-year-old girl – whose company the couple often enjoyed. Grandpa and grandma were clearly enthralled with the little stone creature, which ended up taking a prominent spot on their upstairs’ fireplace mantle. Adjustable ceiling lights above the mantle even seemed to highlight the bird, as if it were a celebrated museum piece.

Given that the sculpture of the European chefs was probably purchased at a curio shop for several hundred dollars- while the soapstone bird was purchased at a lawn sale for just two dollars - one has to wonder how the elderly couple came to their home decorating decisions.

The answer is simple: the couple felt no emotional connection to the European chefs, but they were moved by the little bird; it captured their hearts. You see, the observant granddaughter was aware that her grandparents loved birds, read books about them, and even did a little bird-watching with binoculars in tow. Not only that, but she knew grandpa and grandma had been keenly interested in archeology all their lives. Thus, the stone bird with its fossil perfectly encapsulated the couple’s dual interests, and charmed them no end.

And here we learn an important lesson about gift giving.

What matters most is not the amount of money that goes into a gift, but the amount of heart that goes into it. That ought to be good news for cash-strapped families and individuals everywhere who stew over the fact that they lack the financial resources to make others happy when the time comes to give gifts or to share in the giving. Many of us all too frequently forget that in life there is also something called generosity of spirit, which has little to do with material matters, and everything to do with the human heart. Anyone can be frugal and at the same time give a gift that is deeply appreciated and even cherished. It’s just a matter of being observant about the simple, everyday things that bring pleasure to others, and that spark their imaginations. Of course, the frugal gift giver also must exercise his or her own imagination in arriving an idea for appropriate gifts.

Let me give you another example of what I mean.

I know a mother with a very limited income who is raising a son. Recently she expressed worry about what to give him for his twelfth birthday. Then, after thinking about her son’s interest in collecting X-men comics, the idea came to her to find an affordable, collectible X-men item that he might love. She discovered something online in the form of a hardbound collection of X-men comics called The X-men Omnibus, which retails new for about $70. But she was able to locate online a “used but like new’ edition of the item for just $25. So she ordered it. For a special touch, she spent another three dollars on a blue, plastic see-through folder to house the collectible, then took care to gift wrap the package beautifully before presenting it to her son. When he opened the gift, he was overcome with joy, and I’m told that today the item forms the centrepiece of a sort of shine atop the dresser of his bedroom.

You can’t put a price on that.


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