Christmas gift in kraft paper wrapping

Gifts That Don’t Cost a Dime

Long on Christmas lists but short on cash this year? You need tips, tricks to help you save money, right? “Save money?!” you cry. “What if I don’t have any money?” That, my friend, is a reliable signal that it’s time to get creative. Often the most meaningful gifts and the most difficult ones to give are those that cost no money.

A gift from the heart is a gift of time and talent. It’s going to require some (all?) of your free time over the next week or so, but it sure beats going into debt to buy a bunch of gifts for others—or missing out altogether because you refuse to show up empty-handed.

No one was more creative than my mother-in-law one Christmas years ago. I’d always admired her beautiful crystal, a wedding gift from her parents in 1942. Imagine how stunned I was when she gave it—all of it—to me.

gift of crystal pitcher and cordials

My favorite pieces are the water pitcher and cordials. Her gift, which cost nothing in terms of money, was and continues to be priceless to me. Are you getting the picture? Consider these idea starters that won’t require spending any cash at all.

Pass along an heirloom

If a relative or friend admires something of yours and you can part with it—give it to them! You already know they will like it, so pass it along now while you have years ahead to enjoy the recipient enjoying said item. You’ll reduce clutter in your house at the same time.

CAUTION: This is tricky, so do not violate this important rule of heirloom transfer: Your intended recipient MUST have indicated a strong desire for said item at some time in the past.

Give what you do well

What do you do well? Cook, clean, garden, sew, drive, shop? Whatever it is, create a unique Gift Certificate and make what you do the gift that you give: A weekend of babysitting, a day of housecleaning, six hours of errand running—you get the idea. More on this below.

HINT: Follow up within just a few days to set the exact time your certificate will be redeemed. Your recipient may be too embarrassed to remind you to make good on the gift.

Teach what you do best

Give lessons to what you do best—knitting, gardening, driving, computer, smartphone, Instagram, Pinterest. Get it? Now find a unique way to wrap this up as a gift. Be specific. Don’t say, “I will teach you how to use your phone, Grandma.” Instead, say “My gift to you is five One-Hour Lessons for How to Use Your Smartphone Like a Rockstar!” Then set up the time and place, indicating how these lessons can be redeemed in the New Year. Above all, carry through!

Make a calendar

The idea here is to create a unique calendar for your giftee—the entire 12 months of 2022. Now highlight special days—family members’ birthdays, anniversaries, and other high points in the coming year. Make it awesome!

Record an audiobook 

A more personalized gift for audiophiles, grandchildren, or your long-distance relationship, is an audiobook created by yours truly (not me, you!). Read some original poems or chapters from their favorite books for this tribute.

Offer to sit

Whether they’re dealing with a new puppy or have kiddos, offer your sitting services by gifting them a night out on the town or a weekend away without having to book a sitter. Come up with a creative presentation for Housesitting, Puppysitting, and/or Babysitting.

Personal cleaning services

Who wouldn’t love the gift of a clean house, sparkling clean windows or a total car wash and detail? Make sure you know what you’re offering here and be sure to follow through within days—not weeks or months—setting up the mutually acceptable day and time your cleaning services will be redeemed. Don’t leave your giftee hanging.

Make a mixtape, I mean playlist

Okay, so it doesn’t have to be an actual mixtape (who even has a cassette player anymore?), but creating a custom playlist is a sweet gesture, especially when you choose meaningful, relevant songs enjoyed by your giftee.

Burn the playlist to a CD—yes, an actual CD—and decorate the case rather than just file-sharing the music. It’s nice to have something physical to unwrap.

This is a perfect gift for seniors and grandparents who long for the music of years gone by. Every major media program and provider will allow you to create lists of  favorite songs or videos. You can organize by genre, artist, mood, or how you like. Follow this guide to learn how.

Food, obviously

Yes, buying groceries costs money, but you probably already have the ingredients. Plus, cooking costs nowhere near as much money as dinner at a stuffy, expensive restaurant. Cook a romantic dinner or give baked goodies to all your friends. It’s a gift everyone will appreciate.

Get crafty

Let your inner Martha Stewart out to create thoughtful art or flex your crafting muscles with all those craft supplies you’ve been harboring. Your friend might love a pillow with a quippy quote from her favorite movie, hand-painted Mason jars to hold her kitchen utensils, or a pair of hand-made earrings. Browse Pinterest and Etsy for inspiration!

Give the gift of compassion

Do you want your gift to say how much you care? Then find a way to show you care about what matters most to that person.

Is he or she passionate about medical research? Become a bone marrow donor. An animal lover? Volunteer at a local shelter. Environmentalist? Plant a tree in his/her name. Do something that this person will find meaningful and then do it in their honor. Write a description of your experience and gift it to your recipient.

Scrapbook anyone?

Create a good old-fashioned photo album of times together and memories your share.  If you hold onto things like ticket stubs and mementos from times together, include them scrapbook-style.

Make a movie 

Make your friends or relatives a movie they’ll watch for years. Record all your mutual friends talking about why they love that friend. Ask their parents for adorable, vintage footage from their childhood years to include. Finish it off with your own personal message.

Write it down 

Grab some nice stationery, sit down, and get to writing. It can be a sincere letter or a funny tribute to your relationship. Handwritten letters are quickly vanishing from our culture. Do your part to keep this kind of communication alive and well. Tell your giftee what he or she means to you, why, and mean it. This is something your recipient will treasure forever.

Find a free event

Create a Save the Date card for a no-cost cultural event you will attend together in the New Year. Every city has something. Do your research on local gatherings you and your friend will attend—a concert, museum, festival, street market, lecture, or gallery.

  • HINT: Most museums, even zoos, have a free day each month. Check websites for specifics.


“All the Money in the World” fun

Go shopping and “buy” for your person what you would if you had all the money in the world. Think private jet, beachfront mansion, jewelry, clothes, etc.

Next, find a picture(s), photo, or other visual representation of the object(s) to create your gift. Print it, frame it, posterize it—whatever you can think of to make this wild and crazy fun! Write a message about your gift. Get creative. Properly wrap your gift. Get ready because this is going to be so much fun!



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7 replies
  1. Gloria says:

    Thank you so very much for such a unique and helpful website. Discovered this and your writings by accident, and what a happy accident it was! One request – I cannot seem to download the substitute mixes booklet. It looks wonderful. Is it still available? Thank you again.

    From a new, devoted fan,


  2. Ellen Rottschafer says:

    Thank you, Mary, for your generosity to us in so many ways! Helping us save money, live simply & honestly, and share the gifts God has given us, with others! And now your book!! Looking forward to reading it! Christmas blessings to you & your family!

  3. Gail says:

    I have given gifts in the past to my now adult son that did not cost a dime. Some years ago we decided not to give gifts to each other. He is hard to buy for and he would have no idea what to give me. Going through a closet one year I came across an old toy of his that I had packed away and forgotten about and wrapped that up. He was so surprised to see it again. An old, treasured toy which now sits on his dresser. This year going through old pictures I came across a picture his second-grade teacher had taken of him by a WW ll memorial on the school’s front lawn. She also listed some of the things he enjoyed such as, he likes dinosaurs and the Civil War. He has published a book titled Snoopy Goes Shopping. That is now wrapped up and in a frame. Since he is a history buff the picture was very special to him. He will get a laugh out of the things she wrote.

  4. cheryl says:

    What i did one year was go around and ask the elder cooks in the family for 3 recipes, some got the 1 app, 1 main, 1 dessert request, others got the 1 punch/drink, side dish, dessert request, plus they could give more than 3 if they wanted…..once all recipes were received from those that cared to share, I bundled them into their various categories, made copies w/ plastic 3 ring binders w/ pockets from dollar tree, to give them a chance to expand the cookbook, and gave them to other younger cousins as the Robinson/Lineberry family cookbook!! Big Hit, and some older relatives wanted the binders too.


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