How to buy gifts on a budget : Life Kit Human connection can seem out of reach this year, but there are still ways to show your loved ones that you care. Harper's Bazaar editor Tiffany Dodson joins Julia Furlan to talk about how to give better, more thoughtful gifts — while spending less.

This holiday, spend less on gifts but make them more thoughtful

This holiday, spend less on gifts but make them more thoughtful

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Francesco Carta /Getty Images
Woman hand balancing present box on index finger
Francesco Carta /Getty Images

No matter who you are or what your situation is right now, the pandemic is likely making you feel more isolated than usual. With the newest variant hanging over our heads, our extended period of pandemic limbo may be making the idea of togetherness feel just out of reach this season — again.

When you can't physically hug a friend that you haven't seen in two years, and another video call with your newborn niece isn't really feeling like enough, sending a (real! physical!) token of love can feel like giving a warm hug, even if it's no more than a package of cookies.

But you don't have to take my word for it! I spoke with Tiffany Dodson, associate beauty commerce editor at Over the years, she has put together gift round-ups for the wine aficionado in your life and another for your friend who's obsessed with Co-Star. What I'm saying is, if you're looking to up your gift-giving game, she's the one you call.

Here's what she shared with me:

Before you start shopping, consider your budget. Keep it in mind and stick to it

Look, maybe I'm wrong and you're some kind of mega billionaire (and if you are, I really hope you're taking GREAT care of your employees) but money is tight right now for a lot of folks.

"I think it all goes back to budget," Dodson says. "That's like number one." Think of it as a "constraint breeds creativity" kind of vibe — and that way, you don't end up going WAY over budget without meaning to.

Homemade gifts can be extremely meaningful. And, you know, they're much less expensive

This is related to our first recommendation: being creative about what kind of gift you give can really, y'know, help the bottom line. "You can knit someone a throw for their favorite chair or paint them a picture or bake them something delicious," Dodson says.

An additional idea: I have two friends who make a big batch of granola and give it out for the holidays in festively-decorated mason jars. No joke, many of our friends wait all year for that perfectly sweet and salty breakfast deliciousness.

Consider how you can do good with your gifts

There are so many ways to put your money where your values are. "I think perhaps donating money to charity on behalf of someone would be a great option, whether that's five dollars, $10 or $100," Dodson says. She also recommends shopping at Black-owned businesses and keeping purchases as local as possible. "You could also get a gift card to their favorite restaurant in their community," she says.

While we're on the topic of doing good: Gift wrapping doesn't have to be wasteful

Consider using recycled materials, like old newspaper or brown grocery sacks and dressing them up with something you already have laying around. If you're feeling fancy, you can use fabric to wrap gifts like this great Instagram account shows.

Don't be afraid to get creative

I don't want to invoke your great-great-granny about this, but the saying is true: it is the thought that counts. And making sure that your thought is the thing that really comes across with your gift is a simple, wonderful goal. Dodson recommends "considering who the person is at their core and what interest they might have, or something they might want to get into."

You can make a video with a person's friends leaving messages, you could perform a song they love or write out a beloved poem in an artistic way — tapping into the part of you that is willing to get a little vulnerable and creative can mean a lot.

For more ideas about good gifts, follow Dodson's work at Rachel W. Miller, a regular Life Kit contributor, can also help you find gifts for the young folks you have no idea what to buy for, your coziest friend or your super foodie loved one.

The podcast portion of this story was produced by Audrey Nguyen. We'd love to hear from you. Leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823, or email us at

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