The best gifts in life are free

Think about the special gifts you've received in your life. Chances are, Hamm writes, the ones you remember the most didn't cost a penny.

Mike Blake/Reuters/File
Little girls run through a field of giant tecolote ranunculus flowers at the Flower Fields in Carlsbad, Calif., in this April 2011 file photo. Hand-picked flowers make great, free gifts, Hamm writes.

Sarah and I have been a committed couple for roughly fifteen years, including our courtship and marriage. During that time, we’ve had the opportunity to give each other many gifts due to anniversaries and birthdays and Christmases and just special occasions.

When I look back on those gifts, the ones I remember the most clearly weren’t the most expensive ones or the ones that I wound up enjoying the most. The ones I remember were the ones where Sarah put thought into the gift and made a genuine effort to either make or find something unique and special that I would like.

It’s those special, sincere gifts that I remember most fondly.

One great example of this type of sincere gift was when Sarah made me several dozen handmade krumkake and wrapped them in a box. (Krumkake, for those unaware, is a very light Norwegian waffle cookie.)

The ingredients for these cookies didn’t cost much at all. What it took was a lot of thoughtfulness and a little bit of time. She had witnessed me enjoying the cookies at one of her family gatherings and conceived of the idea on her own.

Sarah doesn’t remember the times I purchased roses for her, but she does remember the time I went into a farmer’s field and picked a ton of wild flowers for her for a bouquet.

She doesn’t remember most of the gifts I’ve bought her, but she does remember the letters I wrote her when we were apart while we were first dating.

She doesn’t remember the first time we went out to eat together, but she remembers the first time I prepared a meal at home.

What’s the key thing here? In each case, the thing given to the other person was sincere and from the heart. It took time and love and care and thought to make it, something that rarely exists with purchased gifts or purchased meals.

If you want to build a lasting relationship, give gifts of sincerity. Don’t give nothing, and don’t give something that’s simple or obvious, either.

Watch the person you’re with. Think about what they really enjoy. Put in the homework and the effort on your own to find the right thing for that person or, even better, make the right thing for that person.

Rather than just fulfilling an obligation, you’ll build a connection and memories that will last a lifetime, and they’ll probably cost you far less as well.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere.

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About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

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The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

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