Questions. As a blogger, there’s always people asking questions about our story. Most of the time the questions are simply people doubting our story is real. Others simply jump to conclusions based upon what they see (or don’t see) in our monthly expense reports.
One question I’ve encountered multiple times is around the culture of gift giving:
“Hey Mr. Tako, Why do I never see you listing gift expenses in your monthly expense reports? Don’t you give gifts? It seems like every weekend I’m taking my kid to another kid’s birthday party. It’s normal to bring a gift. Combine those gifts with Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other holidays, and it feels like my monthly budget for gift-giving is $200 every month. How do you avoid it?
Indeed, we don’t often have gift expenses cluttering up our expense reports. The answer to this is quite simple really…
A Recent Birthday Gift
To be clear, the Tako family lives in the same “gifting culture” that the rest of North American and many European countries do. We also have relatives that live in Japan — where it’s a cultural norm to bring a gift every time you visit someone’s home or meet-up with a friend.
So, we’re very well versed on the cultural norms around gift-giving.
Most people simply buy gifts. It’s quick and easy, but also a little impersonal. The cost can add-up quickly if you have an active social life however.
What’s our solution? We try to make gifts instead. Maybe this is a little old fashioned, but I actually prefer it over buying gifts. (More on this later)
Here’s a recent example:
Last week a friend invited us to a birthday dinner party. She was going to be covering the cost of the dinner party, so it would be culturally appropriate for us to bring a gift.
Rather than succumb to the sirens call to spend, I set my brain to work on the problem.
This friend is a sophisticated foodie that loves to throw dinner parties and serves really delicious food. (A good kind of friend to have) Usually other adults just cop-out and buy a fancy bottle of wine or pickup a gift card for her on occasions like this.
Not me. In this case, I thought a dirty old piece of firewood would be an appropriate…
OK, OK. I’m mostly kidding! I did manage to clean things up and turn that firewood into this nice cheese board/serving platter.
This friend has passion for throwing fancy parties, so I thought something like this might make a great gift. It feeds right into her passions for food and parties.
(The party hasn’t happened yet, but I’ll find out later this week if she likes it.)
I wasn’t joking about the piece of firewood — It really did come from a firewood pile, which made this gift completely free. The dimensions are 12 inches by 19 inches, making it fairly large piece.
You might also have noticed wood has a very unusual gain — it’s a spalted maple with a fiddleback grain (that’s those fancy tiger stripes). This is not something you can find at Home Depot.
Not to brag, but if you were to buy a fancy board like this off Amazon or Etsy, the prices range from $50 on the low-end to over $123 on the high-end.
It cost me nothing more than a few hours in the garage.
OK, I know what your going to say next — “That’s great Mr. Tako, but who has that kind of free time? I certainly don’t! You only have free time because you don’t have a job.”
Well, I reject that pathetic excuse.
Honestly, I don’t have more time to create gifts than anyone else does. I have two kids to take care of, a blog to run, I cook meals, clean the house, and do most of the grocery shopping for our household. I’m a busy stay at home dad that also tries to exercise regularily and get a reasonable amount of sleep.
My time is limited just like everyone else’s! I simply choose to spend it productively instead of wasting it. But feel free to spend your time watching Netflix or playing video games, and then cry about “not having enough time” in the comments below. I don’t mind.
In total, I put around 6 hours into this gift — It was a quick project that took a couple hours every night over the span of three evenings.
You see, spare time is just an illusion — I make time to create gifts because I enjoy the process of making things. I plan ahead and slowly whittle away at a project until it’s done. A couple hours a day is all I have. Simpler gifts (like the one featured here) might take a couple of days, but larger projects could take weeks.
For big gift-giving events like Christmas, I actually start months in advance to get them all done. (Yes, I already have this year’s Christmas gifts prototyped and planned.)
Tools & Materials
The next bit of whining I usually hear is along the lines of “You’re lying to yourself Mr. Tako — you aren’t accounting for the cost of tools and materials. Tools aren’t cheap. If you account for those things, your cost of creating gifts is actually quite high.”
Well, that might be true if I actually had any expenses for tools or materials. Do you see any of those items in my expense reports?
Nope! And there’s a reason for it. You see, I have this philosophy around hobbies — they either need to be extremely low cost OR actually produce cash. Not the other way around.
I actually source all of my materials from free sources. In the case of wood, I even wrote a post about how to find free wood. It’s not hard, there’s free wood practially everywhere.
Sometimes it’s as simple as seeing a fancy piece of wood in a firewood pile. A treasure in someone else’s trash.
As far as tools go — well, I’ve written about that too. Most of my tools were either free (hand-me-downs from my father, gifts, or freecycled). In a couple of cases, I’ve purchased used tools at extremely discounted prices off Craigslist.
Finding free tools and materials doesn’t happen overnight. It’s taken me nearly 10 years to amass the tools that I do have. Most of them were entirely free.
The Triple Win
Over the years, making my own gifts certainly has had an incredible “pay-off”, but not in the way you might think…
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always made things. It was a activity that brought me continual happiness. I started out with paper, playdough and popsicle sticks and eventually moved onto more advanced things when I got older.
I did this primarily because I enjoyed it, not because I wanted to save money.
After awhile, I began to realize that making things for other people also made them happy. It was a double win. Saving a little money and being able to give a higher quality gift is just one more bonus.
Let’s call that a triple win.
So in a way, making your own gifts actually “pays off” at 3x. Once when you make it, again when you give it, and one more time when you save some money.
When was the last time you could say that about a gift from the store?
[Image Credit: Flickr]