A budget-conscious gift

In Junior High School, our daughter and her friends began a tradition of exchanging gifts at Christmas. While my husband and I were delighted to nurture her spirit of generosity, we were concerned that such "thoughtfulness" would wreak havoc with her allowance to say nothing of the family budget!

To suggest she make her gifts seemed an easy answer but considering the kinds of gifts her friends were likely to give her (cassette tapes, jewelry, and articles of clothing), it was important that any homemade gift be welcomed and appreciated by the recipient.

As my daughter and I discussed this challenge, we came up with a feasible idea: framed photos. Throughout each year, I (and later our daughter) would take candid 4- by 6-inch photos of her friends, especially in small group shots during special school functions or during extracurricular activities. (My challenge was making sure we had several good photos of each of her friends so no one would be left out.)

Planning well in advance, we made a small investment in acrylic frames (about $2 to $5 each, watch for sales) and also bought a set of acrylic "puff pens."

After carefully selecting a photo for a particular friend and placing it in a plain acrylic frame, our daughter would use the puff pens to decorate the frame's edges. Simple swirls, stars and often the friend's name or the words, "Merry Christmas" with that year's date, created attractive, personalized, simple but well-received gifts.

As our daughter gained experience in decorating frames, her creativity soared. After a few years, she decided to use inexpensive wooden frames and bought a small glue gun. One year, she used my stash of left-over orphaned buttons, gluing them around the front of frames. The result was adorable. Other years glued-on dried flowers adorned the frames. Ribbon, sequins, bottle caps, whatever seemed appropriate and available became part of that year's Christmas framing project.

Not only did this idea of giving candid photos of her friends in hand-decorated picture frames solve the gift-giving budget crunch of a teenager, but it also encouraged her creativity, her sense of generosity, and her recognition that a gift need not be expensive but should be of quality and of value to the recipient.

Moreover, the years of taking pictures of her friends has developed a positively critical eye for photo composition and an interest in photography. Now graduated from college, our daughter still makes gifts for her friends.

Parents: To submit a first-person essay on your own parenting solutions, send an e-mail to, or write to Parenting, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115.

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