Ask Em: gift-giving on a budget & “have it all” recipients

[This is a part of a new series I’m launching called “Ask Em”, where I will answer any questions you send me (and also throw them out to our smart readers for their input). If you’ve got a question for the B&B community, send me an email at em [at] blondeandbalanced [dot] com and I (we) will do our best to answer it! (You can remain anonymous if you prefer.)]


Hello Em!

Now that we are getting into the holiday season, I am wrestling with how to approach gift-giving this year. As newlyweds and new home owners, my husband and I don’t have a ton of extra money to spend, but we still have a long list of family to buy presents for. Even if we do small gifts, $10 here and $15 adds up SO quickly!!

To compound the problem, many of the people who are hardest to shop for are also the ones who care the most about presents and would be hurt if we didn’t do anything or tried to “cheap out.” We don’t live close to most of my family, so we can’t do the “experience” gift/time together thing, and dietary restrictions mean that chocolates or homemade treats wouldn’t fly, either. We are not crafty or you can bet I would be at Michael’s every day for the next month and a half!

So, I don’t know what the holidays are like for you and your family, but I would love to see your thoughts on frugal (but nice!) gift-giving. I am especially interested in gifts for people who “have it all.”

Thank you! :-)

~Perplexed Gift-Giver

Dear Perplexed:

What an excellent question! (And one I’m sure plenty of readers can relate to.)

You’ve raised a couple great questions, so let’s address them in order:

1. Buying for a large family

We have a very large extended family, so many years back, my aunts and uncles decided to start a white elephant gift exchange for our big gathering on Christmas Eve. We each bring an item up to $20, wrapped up with no name on it, and then all of the adults and grownup cousins spend a good hour or two stealing gifts, swapping gifts, and generally having a ton of fun. Some of the gifts are nice, generic things lots of people might like (booze and car kits are popular with our fam), and some are gag gifts like whatever the latest As-Seen-on-TV item is. (The Shake Weight was surprisingly popular a couple years ago!) It’s always a hilarious time.

The Hubby and I still buy gifts for our immediate families (parents and siblings), but this is a great way to avoid shelling out tons of money—and to have a great time at a family party that could otherwise get kind of boring after the 10th story of Uncle Marvin’s hip surgery!  :)

If your family doesn’t go for this, consider monitoring daily deals sites throughout the year to stock up on presents you know different people will like. If you buy things over the course of the year, it’s not nearly so tough as getting hit all at once at the holidays. We also like to visit the stores right after Christmas (not Black Friday, but the week after) to snag plenty of generic deep-discount things we store in our “gift closet” until Christmas.

2. “Hard to buy for” people

First of all, anyone who takes offense to getting a “cheap out” present doesn’t deserve too much of your time and energy. These people are grownups, right? And they know you’re newlyweds on a budget? If they’re going to get miffed over a “cheap out” gift (which they probably will no matter what you get them), then let them. Give them something you know is thoughtful and caring, and let them be petty if they want.

(Sorry if that sounds harsh, but I have no patience for Grinches!)

I like that you mention doing DIYing gifts if you could. You may not be crafty, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still give people one-of-a-kind handmade items! Check out sites like etsy, local boutiques, and even crafty friends for fun gift ideas. Think outside the box: themed cufflinks for business types with favorite hobbies, framed inspirational quotes, funky wine stoppers for wine lovers. Some etsy sellers and boutique items can be pricey, but you can also find some really great deals if you search a little—and you can guarantee it won’t be something the recipient “already has.” Or, if you have a friend who’s really crafty, maybe they could knit you some scarves/make you some candles/or whatever else they do in exchange for something you can provide. (Babysitting services? Home-cooked meals? Get creative!)

And whatever you give them, don’t worry about putting too much time and thought into it. Give it your best, but don’t be put out by anyone immature enough to hold a present against you.

Turning it over to you guys: Have you dealt with either of the issues that “Perplexed” brings up? How have you handled them? What advice would you give her?



photo credit:  Vincent_AF


Beautify your Bathroom on a Budget

[This is a guest post by Rachel MacDonald. Think you've got what it takes to be a guest poster? Contact Em at em [at] blondeandbalanced [dot] com to learn more about becoming a guest poster yourself!]

If you love spending time at the spa, you can work on creating your own spa-like sanctuary at home. The bathroom is one of the areas where we spend the most time in our homes, yet its design potential is often overlooked.

Luckily, because it’s small in area, you don’t have to spend too much money to give it a complete overhaul, particularly if the major items like sink, toilet, and shower are in working order. For inspiration, you can look at decorating blogs, Pinterest, or photographs on listings sites like HomeSales in Australia.

The following are just a few ideas to give your bathroom a simple makeover that’s easy on the wallet:

Choose Brightly Colored Accessories

One of the most cost-effective ways to give your bathroom a makeover is to choose one or two colorful accent pieces. Shower curtains and area rugs are low in cost but provide a powerful focal point for the room. Although crisp white towels are a classic choice for bathrooms, you could also enliven your selection with colorful washcloths, hand towels, or loofas. Pops of color are desirable, but you don’t want to overdo it or your bathroom will feel more like a carnival than a calming spa.

Re-Paint Cabinets

Save on the cost of replacing bathroom installations like cabinets by giving them a fresh coat of paint. You won’t need too much time or money to accomplish this, but to get the best results you will need to clean and sand them before painting. If you have paint left over from other areas of the home, using it in the bathroom is a good way to tie your overall decorating scheme together.

Install Vintage Tiles

Cheap flooring options such as linoleum can give a clean and modern look. However, another option that injects a dose of quirky personality is to choose vintage tiles. Art deco, kitschy ’50s pastels, and polka dot patterns are all the rage with interior designers, and they don’t have to cost a fortune. Vintage tiles can be used for flooring or even for an accent wall in the bathroom if you have a bit more cash to spend. Cool vintage wallpaper would also achieve the same effect.

Freshen Things Up With Flowers

Create a spa-like ambience in your bathroom with fresh plant life. Hanging plants in the window or a small bouquet of flowers on the countertop can instantly bring the room to life. And if you choose plant life from your own garden, you won’t have to spend a penny.

Find Smart Storage Solutions

Nothing cuts a bathroom’s perceived size more than clutter. If you’re a beauty product junkie, you’ll want to find a place to store your moisturisers, scented lotions, bath bombs, and hair styling products. This could be a good excuse to go through and toss old makeup and beauty products that are long past their expiration date. Organize cabinets to make your items easy to find and free up the countertops.

By giving your bathroom a little TLC, you can make every moment you spend in it more pleasurable. So get ready to drift away with a hot bath and scented candles in your new, personalized spa.

Rachel MacDonald is a freelance writer specializing in travel, food, and design. She also works with HomeSales, one of Australia’s top real estate listings sites.

Photo credit [Flickr]:  ooh_food

Blog Roundup (11-23-12)

I always love sharing my favorite blogs with people, so each week I’ll be giving you guys a roundup of the posts I’ve really enjoyed reading.

If you like them, make sure to subscribe and follow these great bloggers on Twitter and Facebook to share the love!


  • If you’re an eco-friendly person, have you considered extending that to your finances? My Pennies, My Thoughts explores the interesting idea of green investing.
  • This would be an example of the Categorically Frugal attitude: When Life Gives You Lemons, Add Vodka’s excellent post on Why Spending Money Isn’t Bad.

Are there any great posts you came across recently? Share them with us in the comments!

I dare you to be merry.

Ahhh, Thanksgiving week.

A short work week…Meaning rushing around to get all your work projects done early so your smartphone won’t be haunting you during dinner with the fam.

A day with family…Meaning prep work, decorating work, cleanup and stress and dealing with Crazy Uncle Dean.

The beginning of the holiday season…Meaning “what do I buy for everyone?” panic and loud, screaming sales and more decorating and more prep work and things to stress over…


The holidays are a lovely thing…remember?

I’m a worrywart by nature. So I’m just as susceptible as everyone else to the crazy hectic stress that holidays turn into when you’re a grownup.

But you know what? This year, I’m doing things differently.

I decided this Monday night at work, when I was forced to stay late to get some projects finished and the boss warned us it was probably going to be the norm the rest of the week.

I decided this Tuesday morning, when I wondered how I was going to get my hair cut (to look nice for the fam I see once a year) and get Little Dog groomed (so he’ll look nice for the family he sees once a year) and make my part of the Thanksgiving potluck in time for tomorrow.

I decided this today, when I realized that all the pretty, shiny, exciting, charitable things the holidays used to mean now just mean planning and stress and anxiety to me. I used to love Christmas. Now I miss loving Christmas, and instead just kind of plow through it desperately.

And I don’t like that. So this year, I think I’m going to do things differently.

I dare you to join me.

I’ve cancelled my hair appointment. I will wear my hair up so no one sees the split ends, and focus instead on enjoying the company of the family I only get to see once a year. I don’t think they really care about my hair.

I’ve cancelled Little Dog’s grooming appointment. He’s a terrier, so he looks cuter scruffy, anyway. (And if I throw a holiday sweater on him, it won’t matter because he’ll be so freaking adorable everyone will be focused on wanting to eat him up. Yes, I dress Little Dog in sweaters. I am that kind of dog person.)

I’ve decided that Thanksgiving will be about what it should be about: relaxing, eating way too much, trying not to fall asleep on the couch at 6:00, pretending for one day a year that I care about football, (avoiding Crazy Uncle Dean), and not (not NOT) worrying about getting the tree up the next day and getting everyone’s wish lists and scheduling all the events that are going to come tumbling down on us in December.

I am going to turn off my phone. I am going to turn off my computer. And when I wake up the day after Thanksgiving, I am going to put on some carols and try to have a holly, jolly Christmas season full of magic and joy like I used to when I was a little kid.

Who wants in?



photo credit:  ImaginaryGirl