Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or any other holiday, gift giving can be expensive! There is so much pressure to spend and spend and spend around the holidays. When finances are tight, that pressure can lead to guilt—but thoughtful giving doesn’t need to cost a lot of money! It might be cliché to say “it’s the thought that counts,” but it’s true. When a gift comes from the heart, it doesn’t need to cost an arm and a leg. Here are ten gifts for the holidays that don’t cost money (or at least, very little):
A Homemade Treat
If cookies and milk are good enough for the big man in red, they’re good enough for anyone. It doesn’t have to be cookies, either. Think of a recipe you know and love, and consider making a double batch to share. Growing up, my mom always made homemade bread and brought a loaf to each of our neighbors around the holidays. I swear, they looked forward to that fresh bread all year long.
If, like me, you are not blessed with my mother’s baking skill, never fear! There are plenty of easy, foolproof treats that everyone on your gift list will love—and they don’t even need to be baked. You can gift homemade salsa, candied pecans, or even something more unique like pepper jelly (I recommend the recipe from Skinny Southern Baking).
More than anything, they’ll appreciate the time you took to make it for them in the first place. With food, always be sure to consider any allergies or sensitivities, as well as the giftee’s comfort level with accepting homemade goodies.
A Favorite Recipe
Maybe even more valuable than the treat itself, a tried-and-true recipe is a fantastic gift. With a million different food blogs at your fingertips, the internet is saturated with different recipes and methods. While it is easy to find a recipe for anything, it is extremely difficult to find a great recipe that actually works. This gift won’t cost you any money, but having a loved one vouch for a recipe is priceless.
Type it up in a festive font and print out copies, or just use your nicest handwriting on recipe cards for all the people on your gift list. You can always gift a family recipe or one from your favorite cookbooks, like the Cherry Tres Leches Cake from ¡Viva Desserts!. Bonus points if you include the tasty food along with the recipe, or even just an invite to dinner at your place the next time you make it.
Children thrive with regular one-on-one time. It builds their confidence, lowers their stress, and fills their attention bucket. And that need doesn’t go away as we get older; one-on-one time strengthens relationships, romantic and platonic. But with busy schedules and multiple people in the house, it requires planning to make these little “dates” happen.
As a gift, consider setting aside a specific amount of time each week for one-on-one time doing whatever the giftee wants to do (that doesn’t cost any money). For children, that might mean thirty minutes of LEGO building or video games with you once a week or a walk to the park without little sister tagging along. For your partner, that might mean dinner after the kids are in bed once a week so you can eat and talk in peace. Whatever that looks like, make a commitment and make it a priority. That’s the kind of gift that keeps on giving.
For the people on your list with children, babysitting is the most thoughtful, valuable gift you can give. Whether you step in for your partner, your friend, your sibling, or another person you love, giving them the gift of a night off won’t cost you any money (time, sure, but not your hard-earned cash).
On the other hand, an evening away can be absolutely invaluable to the receiver. As a mom of three, my favorite things are being with my kids and being away from my kids, so I would definitely appreciate a thoughtful gift like a night to myself. (Here’s hoping my husband reads this.)
A Book You Already Read and Loved
When I finish a great book, the first thing I want to do is talk to someone about it. Take that desire a step further and gift your copy of the book to a friend or family member. Wrap it up with a pretty bow and include a note explaining what you loved about the book and why you think the giftee will love it too.
Sharing a book works not only for major holidays, but also for other events like graduation, a new baby, or a new job. Whether you decide to start a book club or not, books will always make the best gifts.
A Good Old-Fashioned Coupon Book
There’s a reason the coupon book will never go out of style as a gift for the holidays. It worked in elementary school, and it still works now. Get creative with coupons for acts of service that don’t cost any money. You can always offer the classic hand massage or foot rub.
Maybe there’s a coupon for riding shotgun in your car or full control of the music on a road trip. If you are up for it, think outside the box with a coupon for twenty minutes of uninterrupted venting or a coupon for one live performance of their favorite song in the public place of their choosing. The possibilities are endless!
Spa Day Essentials
A gift card to a spa can cost a pretty penny, but what if you could gift the experience of a spa without spending any money? You can make your own bath salts, sugar scrubs, or hard lotions with ingredients you probably already have at home. Reuse a jar and fill it with your fragrant self-care concoctions. Wrap a ribbon around it and you’ve got a beautiful gift for all your friends with skin.
A Handwritten Note
Never underestimate the power of a handwritten letter as a gift for the holidays. I’m a big fan of texting, email, and other electronic communication, but there is something really special about receiving a note sealed in an envelope.
Share memories, inside jokes, favorite stories, gratitude for their friendship, or just encouragement for the year ahead. If you have a favorite picture of the two of you, print it out and put it in the envelope too. It’s a good day when “you’ve got mail!”
A Personalized Playlist
I’m pretty sure giving someone a mixtape is the undisputed universal sign of love. While most people don’t have a way to play an actual tape these days, you can create a custom playlist for anyone on your list. Include songs that are tied to memories you share or from the year they graduated high school or just pick-me-up songs for a future bad day. You can always go old school and burn a CD, or keep it simple and send them the link to a playlist through any music streaming app.
A Compiled Tribute
Everyone loves hearing nice things about themselves, but it doesn’t all have to come from you. This gift takes a bit of prior planning, but it won’t cost any money! Secretly reach out to friends and family of the recipient.
Ask them to write a list of their favorite things about that person or record a video sharing their favorite memory with that person. Put it all together, share it with the giftee, and wait for the waterworks. But in all seriousness, compiling a tribute is a meaningful gift that person will treasure for years to come.
It’s the Thought That Counts
When it comes down to it, we give gifts to show our love and appreciation for the people we care about. When you receive a gift, you probably don’t think about how much it cost; instead, you feel grateful and loved and appreciative.
Gifts that don’t cost any money often require more effort and time and thought, but that’s exactly where the value of these gifts really lies. Regardless of how much money you can afford to spend on them, the friends and family on your list will surely feel your love for them when you give them a gift from the heart. And isn’t that the goal of gift giving in the first place?
Brooke Jorden earned a BA in English and editing from Brigham Young University. The author of If It Fits, I Sits: The Ultimate Cat Quotebook, I Dig Bathtime, and the Lit for Little Hands series, Brooke is also the managing editor at Familius. Brooke, her husband, their three children, and their cat live in Cedar Hills, Utah.