An In-Training Gift Guide

ABy Amy Rakowczyk

Yay! The holidays are here! Time to cozy up and enjoy some wonderful seasonal traditions.

Except there’s one slight snag that might be holding you back from really partaking all the holiday merriment. That little snag? That fact that your medical spouse is in-training and you’re probably broke! We all want to be and feel generous during this time of year, but the financial toll of the holidays can leave us feeling stressed, embarrassed, and even a little grinchy.

If you’re living off of loans, a resident salary, or even if you’re supporting your partnership financially, you’re likely struggling to make ends meet and are feeling the weight of all the debt slowly piling up around you. You know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, but right now it’s hard to not have the cash to give in the ways you’d like to, especially during the holidays.

So what’s an in-training couple to do? Here’s your budget-friendly, yet thoughtful, holiday gift giving guide! First things first:

The Comparison Game

What’s one way to quickly ruin your holiday spirit? Compare yourself with others! If you look around at the gifts others are giving and feel your gifts couldn’t compare or measure up, you’re giving yourself a one-way ticket to Sadville. I get it. It’s hard to see friends your age who are already in their careers, or other medical friends who have some sort of mysterious cash flow coming in, give thoughtful and possibly expensive gifts while you have next to nothing.

Don’t get sucked into this. You don’t know if they’re using cash or credit, and you don’t know any situation other than your own. There are plenty of ways to give thoughtful and budget-friendly gifts. Nix the comparison game and refocus on giving from the heart. Onward!

Opt Out of Gift Giving

For some, it might feel like the right decision to be upfront with family and friends and announce that during training, you won’t be able to give gifts as you’d like to. However, you can offer something thoughtful in lieu of a gift. Here are some ideas:

  1. The gift of time. If you live nearby the gift receiver, offer the gift of your time. You could babysit children (always a great idea!!), walk their dog, take their car to the car wash, or run some errands. What can you help with?
  2. Handmade photo cards and heart-felt letters. This takes a bit of time and effort, but if you have a good picture with the gift receiver, put it on a card with a thoughtful note. Or you could write a gushy note highlighting what you love about that person and how thankful you are to have them in your life. Mail or hand deliver it with a small treat. This probably would be their favorite gift of the year and costs next to nothing!

Gifts That Won’t Break the Bank

If you want to continue with gift-giving traditions even during the slim years, here’s how to go out it:

Step 1: Narrow down your list to the essential gift receivers.

Step 2: Determine how much you can/should/want to spend per gift.

Step 3: Choose thoughtful gifts or experiences that the person would love. Focus on the gift’s worth in joy, not in price.

Gift Ideas:

  1. Movie Night at Home
  • Gift certificate for Redbox (or similar service)
  • Bag of popcorn (already popped or microwaveable)
  • Two small boxes of candy
  • Drink of your choice (2 cans of soda, 2 beers, 1 small box of wine)
  • Simple bucket from the dollar store to put it all in

2. Books, Kindle, Audible

There are so many books to choose from, and you can also listen to books easily through services like Audible. Books can feel expensive when you’re buying them for yourself, but exciting when given as a gift.

Books ideas to look for:

  • Self improvement books
  • Cookbooks
  • Spiritual books
  • Novels that are/will be movies

You can find many used books that are like-new through companies like Amazon and Thriftbooks.

3. Experiences in the $10-$15 range

What’s something fun they’d enjoy?

  • Mini golf
  • Movie theaters
  • Bowling
  • Ice/Roller skating
  • Painting
  • Museums, zoos, galleries, comedy clubs, etc.

Example: My medical husband has a large family, with 10 nieces and nephews, so we usually take all the kids out somewhere when everyone gets together for Christmas. This year it was the movies (we gave them each a set amount of money to cover the movie and snacks), last year it was a trampoline park. It’s an easy, affordable gift while also being a fun activity to do together as a family. If you aren’t able to go with the person, gift cards work just as well!

4. Subscriptions or magazines

What are they into? Movies, fashion, cooking, fitness, teaching, travel, wellness? Magazines are something people often don’t get for themselves. You can get them a subscription and gift them a copy of the magazine with it. There are also so many online subscriptions now such as yoga, home fitness, meal planning, entertainment – the list goes on and on. Gift them a month or two to try it out.

5. Gag Gifts

Thoughtful gifts can also be humorous! And couldn’t we all use little more fun and laughter in our lives? Here are some ideas to get the wheels turning:

  • Comedy, satire, or purely ridiculous books. Look online for “comedy books” or peruse your local book store.
  • Gag gifts. Just Google “gag gifts” and see what comes up. From “Batman Snuggies” to novelty socks, you might find just the right thing for someone for under $15!
  • Humorous calendars or daily jokes.

6. Sales and Re-Gifting

Yep, I said it. REGIFT. BUY ON SALE. It’s actually OK. If you have gift cards sitting around, use them to buy a gift for someone else. Or if you received a gift that’s not really your thing, you can pass it along to the right person. If this makes you feel too guilty, don’t do it. BUT, if you can see that the gift would be a good fit for someone else, go for it. For sales, no one knows how much you actually paid for something. Like I said at the beginning, measure the gift in the joy it will bring, not in the amount you paid for it.

7. Homemade Gifts

Do you have a talent that could create gifts people would love? Do you bake, paint, draw, write, sew, quilt, make pottery, candles, handicrafts, or Etsy-level products? Do you have the time to put a few personalized gifts together? These type of gifts are always well received!

For Neighbors and Strangers

For neighbors and others that you’d like to spread cheer to, do something small. Baked or homemade goods are a great option. My neighbors have gifted me homemade jellies, candles, and cinnamon rolls. Yum! Even if I’m not a fan of the item itself, the thoughtfulness really gives me the warm fuzzies. With my kids, we make little “snacks” to hand out to neighborhood friends, workers we see in the community, and teachers. We usually choose two large bins of snacks from a store like Sam’s or Costco (such as cookies and gum/mints) and tie them together with a pretty ribbon along with a note that says “Thank you for all you do!” It always brings a bit of joy and light to someone’s day! And isn’t that what this season is really all about?

Hope this list gives you some hope, cheer, and ideas for your holiday shopping. Happy Holidays to you and yours!

About the Author

Amy Rakowczyk is a medical spouse, mother, writer, singer, and former voice instructor. She currently resides in Galveston, TX with her husband and two young daughters. She enjoys helping other spouses navigate the world of medicine and actively participates in support groups and activities. Her husband is a Family Medicine resident at UTMB Galveston and did his medical training at The Ohio State University.

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