Anyone who has had to downsize on any significant scale has learned that you either have to think outside the box or hyperventilate within it. You can nip here and tuck there, tighten your belt and let down your hem, eat rice and beans and then eat beans and rice, but eventually there's nothing obvious left to cut back. Then you have to have some sort of paradigm shift. And one of the shifts that can be made is to start thinking in terms of what it means to give a gift.
My philosophy is that the ideal present shouldn't (in and of itself) cost much, but should be something the recipient would never buy for himself. Consider the following under-$15 gifts:
- For preschoolers: A couple of sheets of REAL stamps from the U.S. Post office (the two-cent variety work fine for pretend mail);
- For a young boy: A personal supply of tape (regular, masking, electrical or duct), or his very own flashlight;
- For most kids under age 10: two or three bottles of bubble bath, different scents;
- For a child who desperately loved the gourmet jar of ________ that someone gave you: a jar of his own;
- For a teenage girl: her very own box of Godiva chocolates.
Think through all the everyday things you've said no to for your kids because it's not in your regular budget. That cute $1.59 box of animal crackers may be expensive as a snack, but as a gift -- wow! How much better does it get?