It's supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year. But when you are watching your spending, it can quickly become the most financially challenging time of the year. Giving free or close to free Christmas gifts can make all the difference.
The struggle is real: How do you get a gift for everyone on your list and not break the bank? And if you have children, the problem only gets more significant every year. There's not just family and friends to buy for, but also bus drivers, teachers, school aides, secret Santa exchanges in the classroom–the list goes on and on.
There is hope for you to get through the season financially unscathed, and it's in the form of the list below. This guide to free (or almost free) gifts for the holidays shows you how to use buy nothing groups on Facebook, how to re-gift properly, and various DIY gifts that will save both your wallet and your sanity.
Utilize “Buy Nothing” Groups On Facebook
Facebook isn't just for hysterical memes and cute pictures. It can also be a great way to get free gifts for Christmas.
“Buy Nothing” groups are being formed on the site for locations everywhere. Accessing the groups does require having a Facebook account. Once you set that up, search for buy nothing groups in your area and request to join a local one.
You'll soon see all kinds of things posted that people no longer need. These items are usually in good shape (unless otherwise noted by the poster) and are given away on a first-requested, first-served basis.
TIP: You don't just have to sit back and wait for someone to post the item you want. You can post requests in the group too. I recently put out a big wish for a Wii for my son and got one plus a ton of accessories and games. That one wish saved me hundreds of dollars. Don't have a “Buy Nothing” group in your area? Start one!
If you don't want to be on Facebook but still want access to free items, Freecycle is for you. It predates social media but does basically the same things like a “Buy Nothing” group. You create an account for yourself, search for your local area, and when you see something you like, respond to the post and claim the item. You can ask for items that you want as well as search the items already listed.
TIP: The geographical areas listed on Freecycle seem to be larger than Facebook “Buy Nothing” groups, so be prepared to potentially travel a longer distance to claim your item.
Re-Gift A Present
We've all done it. We've all taken a gift that we've received that we don't want or like, and gifted it to someone else, passing it off as something we purchased just for them. There's even a whole episode of Seinfeld dedicated to re-gifting. As long as you do it right, there's nothing wrong with it. So here's how to do it right.
When you get an item you don't want to keep, write the name of the person who gave it to you on a sticky note and attach that to the gift. Stash it away somewhere, and when you need a gift over the holidays, you can pull it out, wrap it up, and give it away. Writing the person's name on it ensures that you don't accidentally give it back to the same person who gave it to you–a major faux pas.
TIP: Keep a plastic tub at the bottom of a closet in your house where you can put all of the items you want to re-gift. That way they're easier to find and go through when you need a present.
Go Shopping In Your Own House
Everybody has items in their homes that are new or almost new that they could easily give as a gift. Grab one of those items, wrap it up, and you're set. Here are some ideas:
- Platter or other dishware
- Candle (unlit)
- Christmas Ornament
- Bottle of wine you haven't opened yet
- Puzzle (confirm all the pieces are there!)
- Gift Cards (make sure they have the full amount)
TIP: Go through your house at the beginning of November specifically looking for items like this. Wrap them up and mark what they are with a sticky note. Now you're ready to quickly grab a gift, even if it's last minute.
Make Your Own Christmas Ornaments
Part of the fun of putting up the tree each year is seeing all of the ornaments you've collected over the years. It's so easy–and remarkably inexpensive–to make ornaments to give away as gifts to friends and family. It just takes a little time and a little patience to create something that will be a memory for years to come for the person who receives it. Here are some easy-to-make ornament ideas.
- Scrabble letter ornament (If you don't have an old Scrabble game from which to cultivate the tiles you need, you can always find them at yard sales or on sale in stores during the holidays.)
- Dough ornaments (great for kids' fingerprints or even animal pawprints!)
- Citrus ornaments
- Home state ornaments
- Mini Mason Jar ornaments
- Marbled ornaments
- Scrap Ribbon Christmas Tree ornaments
TIP: Pick one or two from the list that you want to make, gather your supplies, and set aside an hour or two to create a bunch of ornaments at the same time. Then you don't have to keep dragging out the supplies each time you realize you need a gift.
Bake A Present
Sure, you have to buy the ingredients, but you might already have most of them in your cupboard, and if you're planning on baking for yourself this holiday season, you can just pick up some extra supplies. Cookies, cakes, breads, cupcakes, pies, muffins–each one makes a tasty gift. Do you have a baked good that you're famous for making? That's the perfect item to give away!
TIP: Make something that freezes well so you can make several batches of your gift at one time. Buy holiday-themed gift bags and plastic wrap from a dollar store to have on hand to quickly and festively wrap your baked good.
Make Nut And Chocolate Mixes
This has to be one of the easiest gifts on our list. Take whatever nuts and chocolate you have in your pantry, mix them together, and voila! You have a tasty snack mix to give as a gift. Buy some Mason jars at a dollar store, fill them with your mixture, and decorate each one with a holiday bow.
TIP: This is the perfect time to use the leftover Halloween candy you haven't eaten yet. If you don't have M&Ms or small pieces of chocolate left, chop up your bigger pieces of candy into smaller ones and you're all set.
Create A Family Recipe Book
A book like this is sure to be treasured for years to come. Gather the best family recipes you have, the ones you love to share during all of your family get-togethers. Type or write them up so they all have the same format, and then bind them together in a book to give as a gift.
You can choose an online service to put it together (sites like Shutterfly and Snapfish almost always run sales around the holidays) and, if you have time to make some of the recipes, take pictures of what you make and include those in the book.
You can also do the book yourself. Just print the recipes out on your computer, slide them into sheet covers, and put them in a three-ring binder. Because the binder opens flat, it makes it really easy to use while you're cooking. And you can easily wipe off the sheet protectors if you splash anything on the recipe pages while you're cooking.
TIP: If you have recipes that are handwritten by family members, you could scan those into your computer and print them out instead of retyping it. Seeing someone's handwriting when you're preparing their recipe is a sweet memory.
Make A Drink Recipe Book for Friends
Do your friends love to share a drink every time you get together? Do you have new ones that you try, lots of old favorites, or ones you think they'd love? Create a drink recipe book to give to each of them. Use the same tips as the family recipe book in deciding what format you want the book to have.
TIP: Do you have pictures of your friends enjoying the drinks whose recipes are in the book? Include those pictures as part of your finished product!
Pass Down A Family Heirloom
The holidays are the perfect time to pass down treasures through the family tree. If you have something that you've inherited that's meaningful to your family and you're ready to part with it, consider who in the family might sincerely love to have it. Wrap it up and give it to that person.
TIP: Take the time to write a note about the gift and why it's special. Include its history in the family and who has had possession of it in the past, if you know. That way, you're gifting the history along with the item.
Make A Picture Book
You know you have a gazillion pictures on your phone that just sit there. Take a few minutes and go through them, selecting your best of the year. Then put them together into a “Year in the Life of Our Family” photo book.
You can also do it from the perspective of a pet or a child or just showcase one big event, like a family vacation. Once you have it completed, it can be a gift that you give to different family members. That saves you time and potentially money since you can often get a deeper discount based on the number of like items you order.
TIP: Do you have old school work, art projects, and report cards that you've saved from your kids? Take pictures of each piece and compile them into books based on the school year. It's a much nicer way to store their memories–and takes up much less space. This is a great gift for your adult children so they can relive their childhood.
Use Pictures In Other Ways
If taking the time to create a whole book isn't your jam, go a simpler route and use your pictures to create other things. You can put a picture on just about anything these days–ornaments, mugs, blankets, calendars, towels, phone cases–so choose the item that you think the recipient would like most.
Again, your best bet is to do this early to capitalize on good deals online photo companies are running. They often have deep discounts later in the season too, but at that point, you'll likely have to pay for expedited shipping, which can negate the discount.
TIP: You can always get just a few prints made of your favorite pic, choose a frame from a dollar store, and frame the pic as a gift. Check your house for a picture frame that you're not using that would work before you buy a new one as frames can be expensive. If you don't have any, check the dollar stores first. They always have a selection of frames. You can even spray paint the frame if you want it to match a color in the picture or the recipient's living space.
Get Creative For Your Kids' Gifts
There are so many easy things to make for kids that require a minimum amount of skill, materials, or cost, but that they will love to get.
- Homemade playdough in different colors
- Bubbles (also has a link on how to make your own bubble wands)
- Bean bags (if you're good with wood, you can also make a cornhole set)
- Fleece pillows
TIP: Capitalize on the well-known theory that kids just want to play with the box. Save a big box (think appliance sized), give them a new box of markers or paints, and tell them it's a make-your-own-fort kit. For basically no cost, they can spend hours creating their dream fort and then playing inside of it.
Give Your Time
It doesn't cost anything you anything financially to give of your time–and that might be the one thing a friend or family member would appreciate the most.
- Are you good with kids? Give a harried parent a break and offer to babysit once a month for a few hours so they have time to themselves.
- Do you love pets? Offer to petsit for someone the next time they go out of town.
- Do you pride yourself in your ability to clean? Help a person who is ill or struggling physically by cleaning their house for them once every couple of weeks for a few months.
- Are you handy? Offer to help someone who has small home projects that need completing.
TIP: Set the schedule, the times, and the end date (if you want one) as part of your gift. That way, there's no hard feelings or confusion from the recipient or you about when the gift is finished.
Make A Memory Jar
If you're looking for a sentimental gift, look no further. Think about all of the things that you've done with a person throughout the previous year. Write them down on slips of paper. Include the good times, the not-so-good times, and why that memory is special to you.
When you have a couple of dozen slips, find a Mason jar or a vase in your home that you no longer want and put the slips of paper in it. Decorate it with a bow. The recipient will be able to read your cherished, shared memories any time they want to walk down memory lane.
TIP: This gift also works well as a “thankful” gift. Think about all the reasons that you are thankful for that special person in your life, and then follow the same steps above for writing them down and presenting them. Any time that person is feeling down, they can look at the slips of paper and remember they are loved.
What To Do If You Truly Can't Afford Gifts
This guide is obviously geared towards people who have some money but are looking for creative ways to curb their holiday spending. If you truly cannot afford gifts, there are places you can turn for help. Try the Salvation Army, Toys for Tots, local assistance programs, and government assistance programs.
You can also call local churches in your area as many often offer extra help around the holidays. A simple Internet search should give you a list of churches near you.
TIP: Contact places as soon as you know you'll need assistance and be prepared with information for the organization. Do you need help with a bill? Have it in front of you. Are you asking for toys for your kids? Be prepared to give names, ages, and gift ideas. Looking for help with food? Be ready to list any food allergies.
Make this the year that you don't overspend for holiday gifts. The key to success in getting things for free or close to it this holiday season is early preparation. A lot of the items on our list require time to make, many require some research, and some require contacting other people and waiting on them to respond.
Start early and make a list of every person for whom you need a gift. Jot down a couple of ideas from the list above for each person as a starting point, and then get going with gifts. Your recipients will love you for their present, and you will love that you made people happy while also staying on the road to Financial Independence.
- How To Avoid Overspending This Holiday Season
- Birthday Freebies! Where To Get Free Stuff On Your Birthday
- How To Get Free And Discounted Gift Cards