The holiday season has become a commercial bonanza in which billions of dollars are spent on gifts and billions are added to our credit card debt tab. But that’s not what it’s really all about, and there’s no reason to feel pressured into spending more than you can afford. That’s especially true this year, when so many families are reeling from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and so many people’s holiday budgets have been slashed as a result.
Fortunately for those of us whose holiday budgets aren’t as big as we’d like, there are plenty of presents we can give that cost absolutely nothing or close to it. Below, you can find 14 low-cost or free holiday gift ideas that are sure to spread cheer without giving your wallet anything to fear. Happy holidays!
- Make Something Yourself: From a high-tech, heart-wrenching video to a knit hat, we’re all capable of making a perfectly good homemade present if we put our minds to it. After all, 53 million people already know how to knit or crochet, according to the Craft Yarn Council, and a pair of needles and some yarn would save you a bundle compared to garments bought at retail. Or a picture – whether painted, drawn or taken – could tell a thousand words while also saving you a nice chunk of change.
The key is to consider what you’re good and what you’d have fun doing. Then channel that into a meaningful gift for someone you care about. Anything that shows you really care will do the trick!
- Think Sentimental: Try to remember what your friends and family talk about most as well as some of your favorite memories with them. Then brainstorm memorabilia, mementos and other symbolic items that represent those areas of interest or shared history. Your goal is to swap sentimental value for actual monetary worth, and relatively obscure items that don’t mean much to most people can often be had on the cheap.
For example, you could try to find an original ticket stub from the movie your parents saw on their first date and then frame it, along with a touching quote from the film. If you’re lucky, the frame could prove to be your biggest expense. Even a heartfelt letter to your recipient explaining what he or she means to you could make the perfect present in the right situation.
- Give Your Time: Sometimes, all those closest to us really want is to see us more. So, for example, you could make a standing date for a video call with your grandmother once a week or plan to take a day off from work to spend some quality time with your child. This will give you something to “give” over the holidays without actually spending any money right now.
The “being there” approach works for charitable giving, too. If you can’t afford a donation this holiday season, you could always volunteer with a worthy organization. You can double-check whether this makes sense in your situation with our Time vs. Money Charity Calculator.
- Adopt A Pet: Pet care can be expensive in the long term, and adoption should never be on a whim. But if your family is ready for the responsibility, a new pet doesn’t have to cost much up front. Most animal shelters have an adoption fee of about $250, according to WalletHub research.
If you want to see the kind of unadulterated joy a puppy present can bring, for example, just search “new puppy Christmas” on YouTube.
- Donate Blood: If you can’t afford to give money to charity this year and are too busy to volunteer, consider swapping greenbacks and sweat for some life-saving red. There’s always a need, especially if you have a rare blood type, and it only takes about an hour.
You can easily find a blood drive near you on the American Red Cross website.
- Do Household Chores: The little things really can go a long way, especially when they’re chores that you don’t usually do. Taking the likes of snow shoveling, cooking, cleaning and laundry off someone’s plate gives that person a chance to relax, which can be invaluable.
- Re-Gift Something: Maybe you have an unopened, unwanted gift lying around somewhere. A lot of people also have gift cards they haven’t used. Either of those things could get another life with someone else. And with some new wrapping, the recipient will be none the wiser. Most stores will even let you trade in their old gift cards for the season’s newest design.
- Bestow Some Knowledge: Newspaper subscriptions are quite cheap. For example, a year of online access to the New York Times costs $1 a week right now. Magazines are pretty cheap, too. You can get 52 issues of Time for $40 or 12 issues of National Geographic for $19, for example. The prices are even cheaper if you go through a site such as Magazines.com.
You can also get an audiobook a month from Audible for $14.95 a month. So if you have a reader (or someone you’d like to read more) on your gift list, consider this option.
- Gift A Subscription Service: Subscription boxes are all the rage right now, and they have the added benefit of allowing you to spread the cost of your gift over time without incurring interest. Plus, there’s enough variety to satisfy anyone on your list, from Birchbox ($13-$15/mo.) for fans of cosmetics to BarkBox ($23+/mo.) for dog lovers.
- Give Tickets To A Far-Off Event: If you know someone who really wants to attend a concert, sporting event, play, etc., in the future, you could simply give him or her a picture depicting the event along with a nice note. This could also work with a future vacation. But be careful, though, because this approach only buys you time. That means it will only work if you expect to have more cash available by the time tickets go on sale.
- Turn Possessions Into Heirlooms: If you’re a parent or grandparent, anything that’s yours can have a lot of significance to younger family members. So consider parting with something you already have and can live without that someone else might cherish. This could be something fancy like a piece of vintage jewelry or a worn baseball glove. It all depends on your relationship with the recipient.
- Scour Secondhand Sales: From flea markets and thrift shops to antique shops and estate sales, there are plenty of places to find old items that you can give new life as a holiday gift. And if you have a good eye, some amazing deals can be had.
- Redeem Credit Card Rewards: If your credit card offers rewards and you haven’t cashed in your earnings for a while, you could have enough value saved up for a holiday gift or two. Most credit cards let you redeem for gift cards, merchandise and/or cash back. You just need to make sure that you don’t sacrifice value by redeeming for the wrong type of item. Points and miles often are worth more when redeemed for travel, for example.
- Enroll The Recipient In A Class: Whether yoga, karate, ballet or painting, there are fun activities for people of all ages for which you can register recipients now and pay over time.
Hopefully, this list of low-cost holiday gift ideas will help you have the happiest of holiday seasons! And if you have some inexpensive-present suggestions that you’d like to add, be sure to share them in the comments section below.