Don’t Cut Off Your Hair: Ask For What You Need

Don’t Cut Off Your Hair: Ask For What You Need

Remember the story about the young and poor married couple who wanted to surprise each other for Christmas? The man sold his treasured pocket watch so he could buy a fancy hair comb for his wife. She sold her long beautiful hair to buy a chain for his pocket watch.

That’s the problem with surprises. Yes, they’re terribly romantic, but sometimes they’re just terrible.

It took me a few years to convince my husband that we should save money by getting each other something we needed, instead of surprising each other with sometimes frivolous and under-used gifts.

My Best Man Present

If you’re really into keeping gifts secret, try to figure out what it is your spouse needs. My husband often complained about how our towels were always damp and cold, having no way to dry on their towel rack behind the door in our cramped bathroom. I came up with a behind-the-door towel warmer, which remains the most successful present for my husband ever.

Need? you may scoff. But really it was a towel dryer. The best part is that we both experience this gift every day with the sensation of absorbent, toasty towels. (Plus it only consumes the energy of a 60-watt bulb.)

(Unfortunately, Hinge-It doesn’t seem to be making this hinge-mounted, behind-the-door towel warmer anymore, but wall-mounted towel warmers or stands are plentiful.)

Another Good Present

One the best presents I get from my parents is a lump sum to spend on clothes when I come home to visit. OK, it’s a little mortifying that I’m now 41 and my parents are still clothing me, but maybe they figure that this is just about the only way to get me into a dressing room. I mean, what’s fun about shopping with a bunch of rowdy kids, or trying on 78 pairs of pants in an hour?

With the gift scenario instead, my parents watch the kids and, although I still have to try on 78 pairs of pants, at least I don’t have to worry about the bill. In fact it’s kind of like a game seeing how much I can get for $200, or whatever it is. I usually go somewhere like TJMaxx or a goobery department store that has great clearance racks.

It’s true there is nothing to open up and ooh and ahh over, but I come home afterwards, and just like when I was a teenager with a budget for a fall wardrobe, I model all the bargains I found. (The narrated fashion show is just as much about the price as the style.)

Invest in Something that Won’t Collect Dust

My husband wasn’t too thrilled when I first brought up this practical approach to Christmas presents.

“No, but you should just go out and buy a set of mixing bowls,” he argued. “That’s not a present.” He kept wanting to wow me with something unexpected and glittery.

Who doesn’t love sparkly? — and what a scrooge I am to discourage a romantic like him — but as a frugal mama, I was thinking: you could have wrapped up that garage door opener, and I would have been just as happy.

Here are some more ideas for gifts that feel special, but don’t fit on the knick-knack shelf.

  • A warm, fuzzy robe and slippers.
  • A coupon for a month (or season) of paid-for lawn care, snow shoveling, or garage organizing. The time saved can be spent with the family or hanging out with friends.
  • A new briefcase or purse/diaper bag. (For our ten-year wedding anniversary, I invested in one of these old-world Italian leather briefcases for my husband, which I found at 40% off at
  • A cozy throw blanket for cuddling on the couch.
  • Equipment for a loved sport.
  • A gift certificate to a beauty store like Sephora.
  • A bird feeder and a large bag of seed.
  • A wool sweater or a no-iron shirt (OK, maybe the person who does the ironing needs this more!)
  • A set of yoga classes (and childcare to make it possible).
  • A book, magazine subscription, online service or tools that feed a hobby or passion.
  • A labor-saving device like a food processor. Mark Bittman claims its the only kitchen appliance you need.

What things do you need that you wish your family would give you?

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