The First Annual Absolutely Free and Almost-Free Gift Challenge

The holidays are approaching quicker than ever, at least that’s how it seems. Thanksgiving is next week, and after that the gift-buying frenzy will be in full swing.

I love spending time with my friends and family, and I enjoy gift giving – even more than I enjoy gift receiving. I have a pretty strict budget for gift-giving this year, thanks to large outlays we’ll be making for our property taxes, and to replace my husband’s aging MAC ($4000 right there, thankyouverymuch).

This year, more than others, it seems money is tight for a lot of people. For the past few years we’ve gone to a kids-only policy amongst my siblings and their spouses, and I hate it. It’s not that I want another spice rack, it’s that it’s fun to watch people open gifts, and open them yourself. I want to give something to my sisters and brothers, and their spouses. I want to give to my friends. I don’t want anyone’s finances, though, to suffer under the weight of it all. It is, after all, the thought that counts.
So I starting thinking about gifts we could give that come from the heart, and cost little or no money at all. It’s not that I won’t still buy some gifts – I will. But some people don’t need or want more things, so there are alternatives.

So, my friends and fellow readers, I am issuing you a challenge. Write a post or leave a comment listing at least 5 ideas you have for Absolutely Free Gifts, and 5 ideas for Almost-Free Gifts.

Absolutely Free Gifts are gifts that cost no money, though you can use items you already have around the house, and gasoline (to do or gather the components for the gift) is exempt.

Almost Free Gifts are gifts that cost almost no money to make – less than $10 – less than $5 would be better.

We can really help ourselves, and lots of other people, with these ideas.

If you like, I’m happy to link to your post. Just drop me an e-mail, or trackback.

To get us started, here’s my list:

Absolutely Free Gifts

  1. Night Out of-the-Month A certificate for one night of babysitting per month for a year. This is perfect for anyone with children, or pets they think are children. I’ll be giving this to a special someone who reads my blog, as she often laments that she and her husband don’t get enough time for dates.
  2. The Great Christmas PutawayA certificate good for taking down the Christmas Tree and putting away all holiday decorations. This one was actually requested by my mother-in-law, who is leaving town for three weeks the day after Christmas.
  3. The Cherished Object Giveaway (with Decluttering Bonus)Give away something that you have and love to someone else who covets it – and you get to help your decluttering efforts at the same time. I had a beautiful antique hammered aluminum tray with a flower engraving that my best friend loves. Every time she was at my house she’d joke about hiding it in her purse, or making sure I left it to her in my will. Last year when contemplating her gift I thought, “Why wait? I love it, and I love her. Why not?” She was so very pleased and touched, and so was I. And, it’s one thing in my house. Note: Please do no give someone your leftover paint, or your 1970 polyester suit (unless they are into ugly vintage).
  4. Share Your Expertise Give the gift of your knowledge and assistance to someone who could really, really use it. My in-laws just bought a new-to-them home in the mountains. As his gift to them, my husband is going to go up and help drywall their currently unfinished basement. I’m counting this as not costing us money because we had planned a vacation up there anyway, so the gift isn’t costing us any additional money. If you’re good with computers, a great organizer or a whiz in the gym, share it!
  5. The Re-Giftpassing along to someone else something that was given to you but you cannot or will not use. I know that this one can certainly be a Hot Topic, but if I don’t like or need it and I think someone else will, then where’s the harm? If you are going to do it, though, please follow these Rules for Re-Gifting:
  • Make sure it is in new, unused condition. You don’t want the recipient opening the gift and finding a stray piece of lettuce to remind you that you did try the Salad Spinner before putting it back into the box.
  • Don’t ever re-gift something if you don’t remember who gave it to you. Really, you don’t want to remember at the exact moment the original giver is opening the gift they gave you last year. Exception: gag gifts can absolutely go back to the original giver. We had the World’s Ugliest Handbag bouncing from person to person in our family for years, and much hilarity ensued when that year’s sucker opened it.
  • Try not to re-gift to someone close to the original gifter, for the same reason listed above.
  • ALWAYS remove the card from the person who gave it to you. In fact, check twice. Spring for a new card.
  • Make sure it is something you genuinely think the recipient will like. Please don’t give a pogo stick to wheelchair bound Aunt Gert, okay?

Almost-Free Gifts

  1. Homemade Holiday Treat OverloadBake your favorite cookies or cakes and share them with your family, friends, child’s teacher, co-worker – who doesn’t like treats? This tried and true frugal perennial has no downside. I so enjoy making holiday cookies, and now that my son is a little older I’m sure he’ll help in the kitchen this year. Even if you hate baking, you can make a very nice gift by putting all of the dry ingredients in a plastic bag with the recipe for your favorite cookie or cake tied with a pretty ribbon. This can be done for as little as about $2 a gift.
  2. Share Someone Else’s Expertise a variation of the share your expertise listed above, this involves engaging an expert in an area that you don’t have expertise to help someone you know. A few years a go my husband’s cousin and his wife had just started a new business, and really needed the assistance of an accountant. I asked my brother to give them a consultation (normally $250), and he only charged me dinner. They got a certificate to open on Christmas Day, and a few weeks later we all got together for dinner. I believe we had pasta (their portions cost only about $3) and after dinner my brother sat with them and helped them out. The cousin and his wife were thrilled, and my brother felt good, too, for helping someone who really needed help.
  3. Create a Family and Friends Recipe Book – ask your family and friends to share their favorite recipes, add pictures and compile them into a booklet that will be treasured. My sister-in-law did this about ten years ago, including tried and true family favorites, and even a secret recipe or two. My husband wrote a six page dissertation on The Proper Way to Make a Root Bear Float that had everyone hysterical. You can add funny or poignant stories, pictures and whatever else tickles your fancy. We still refer it for some of our favorite family recipes. My sister-in-law paid about $2-3 apiece to get them printed and bound, but you can print them at home and not get them bound. A variation would be to search the internet for fantastic recipes and put together a recipe book geared towards a certain person’s situation or preference – for example people in your life who may be vegan, diabetic, dairy-free, etc.
  4. The Mob Takeover do a makeover for someone who needs some extra help. Gather your entire family, or a group of friends, neighbors, fellow students or parishioners and landscape someone’s garden, clean out their attic, repaint their house. A few years before we were married, a friend and I descended on my husband’s yard and trimmed bushes, moved plants and planted a flower bed. We planted free lariope (they were cuttings from my friend’s yard) to make a decorative border, and we used the six leaf bags of pine straw that my husband had spent the day before raking up to line the beds (really, if you could have seen the look on his face!). I added a few plants from Home Depot and his whole yard was reborn, for less than $10.
  5. The Not- So-Accidental Kidnapping – spend time with someone who misses you. This is perfect for your parents, your grandparents, or that good friend you’ve been promising to get together with for the past six months. Our lives are so busy these days, and we often don’t take the time to “just be” with the people who love us. This year my husband will give his mother a gift certificate for four Mother-Son lunches. As much as she loves his family, her son is her baby. She is going to feel so special that he (okay, I) thought to give her the gift of time spent together, just the two of them. It doesn’t matter if the lunch is at our house, at her house, or a picnic in a park. Granted, this could cost more than the $10 limit, but really the gift is the time, and the food is incidental. Besides, it’s my list, so there!

So, folks, there it is. Have at it!

Thanks to everyone who’s contributing! Here’s what some others have come up with:

I’ve Paid For This Twice Already: My Evolution From the “New” to “Used”…Car, That Is

The Good Life On A Budget: Absolutely Free and Almost Free Gifts

See the Stretch Your Dollar Page for other money-saving ideas.


10 Responses to “The First Annual Absolutely Free and Almost-Free Gift Challenge”

  1. Grace Says:

    I am a knitting fanatic! With the Holidays fast approaching and my limited budget in mind, I am knitting up several small gifts for friends and family. Items such as mittens, wrist warmers, hats, and scarves take little yarn and time. A good blended yarn (neither entirely acrylic nor entirely luxury fibers) can cost from $4-$10. Careful consideration of the recipients taste & color preferences will hopefully be met with delight and appreciation.

    One friend has expressed admiration for my drawing/painting skills, so I have idea to make a small watercolor for him. I have all the supplies on hand, so I’ll simply put them to good use.

  2. Kate Says:

    Yeah, the knitting’s an easy and obvious one, though I’m selective in who I’ll knit for… if someone would be just as happy with a $5 Old Navy scarf, then I’ll buy it and save the time.

    Simple Christmas ornaments, often involving photos or handprints of the kids, can range in price from free to under $5 each, depending on what you already have in the house.

    A DVD of pictures set to music takes a ton of time, but then you can make a brazilian copies for about $0.30 each and mass-distribute.

    Personalized stationery, either via your printer or hand-done, stencilled, or otherwise decorated.

    Throw pillows for the living room – a simple craft, just the cost of fabric, stuffing and thread, with sizes ranging from small to floor pillows and patterns ranging from complementary to horrifying.

    A nicely drawn family tree.

    For children, for whom the giving and receiving of gifts is both simpler and more complicated, I often try to involve crafts or arts into the gift in some way – like buying a handful of the small unfinished wooden cars and trucks that you can get at MalWart or a dollar store and a package of markers, or buying a bunch of wooden beads and decorating them myself (or with my kids) and giving them to a young child with a shoelace to string ’em on.

    Wait, I was only supposed to do 5? Sorry, right. Christmas without money was the norm, growing up and actually until quite recently, so it’s a habit.

  3. Jennifer Says:

    Picture “brag books” are always nice. I just recently printed a bunch of pictures of my kids for my grandmother (12 cents ea at Walmart) and then bought her a cheap little photo album ($2.50 at the most I think). She carries it with her everywhere and shows it to all her friends at where she lives.

    Another inexpensive-but-I-wouldn’t-necessarily-call-cheap idea is to make a collage of pictures in a “collage-type” frame. You can also make your own if you have the right software.

    Another cheap idea is a family portrait at one of those places like Sears or Walmart where you get a six million copies of one pose for like $4.99. A cheap frame with one of those photos (or heck skip the frame) is often appreciated. (This isn’t something I’d do *every* year though.)

  4. paidtwice Says:

    I gave it a shot – my response will magically appear tomorrow morning when I am at swimming lessons with my daughter due to the magic of technology.

    I’m not the most creative of people though. lol

  5. 5 Absolutely Free Gifts, and 5 Almost Free Gifts | I've Paid For This Twice Already... Says:

    […] week, so I’m returning the favor to her and contributing to her writing challenge, which is to come up with 5 absolutely free gifts and 5 almost free gifts for this holiday season.  Your mileage may vary, because you can use whatever you have around the house, and around my […]

  6. Going2Oahu Says:

    I enjoyed this article and I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s all about QT. Kids are busy with soccer, basketball, baseball, music lessons, video games and camp, not to mention school. Parents are overburdened at work and equally busy on weekends trying to hold lives together. QT—quality time—with children seems to be catch-as-catch-can. And pretty soon months have rushed by without the family having fun together. Thanks for a great article.

  7. matt3644 Says:

    this is a really nice blog on gifting. Liked it!

  8. This is a thoughtful piece on free stuff for the holidays! « OfficeSalesMadeFun Says:

    […]… No Comments so far Leave a comment RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI Leave a comment Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong> […]

  9. JvW Says:

    I love your list! You and PaidTwice inspired me to make one of my own.

  10. You Bet Your Ass I’ll Return That « Are You Going To Be This Way The Rest of The Time I Know You? Says:

    […] it doesn’t end there. I’ve returned gifts I’ll never use, and even returned other people’s […]

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