100 Affordable Gifts Your Friends and Family Will Actually Want
The holidays get expensive fast. Checking off everyone on your list can be daunting, especially when you consider the impact on your bank account. The average American plans to spend $976 on holiday gifts in 2019, according to the American Research Group.
But we’ve got an early holiday gift for you: a list of 100 free gift ideas.
You’ll probably see at least four or five items you can easily give someone you know and love — which means four or five gifts you don’t have to buy.
Ready to get started? Gifts are divided into categories, so you can easily scroll to find the type of gift you need. Or, read the whole list and find inspiration for a frugal, fun and FREE holiday season!
Food and Drink
If your kitchen isn’t well stocked, you’re going to have to buy ingredients like flour and sugar. But if you already have the supplies, you can make a lot of free gifts from what’s in your pantry.
Bake a delicious loaf of bread (think banana, zucchini and chocolate chip breads), wrap it up in some colorful plastic wrap, and you’re good to go.
Many people wait all year to make their favorite holiday cookies, and many families have traditional holiday recipes. Why not share your favorites with your friends?
3. Cookie Mix in a Jar
You can bake cookies, or you can give people the gift of being able to bake cookies whenever they want.
Put dry ingredients (flour, chocolate chips, etc.) into a glass jar, tape the recipe to the outside of the jar and tie on a festive ribbon.
Don’t turn up your nose at the humble casserole. Anything that gives people an excuse to eat Fritos chips smothered with cheese is a hit, in our opinion.
Give it fresh out of the oven, or prepare a frozen casserole for your recipients to heat up on one of those “no-time-to-cook” days.
5. Breakfast Burritos
While we’re on the subject of “no time to cook,” a bulk supply of handmade, frozen breakfast burritos would be very welcome in a lot of our homes!
You do the work, and your recipients will think of you every morning as they eat a healthy, delicious and fast breakfast.
If breakfast burritos sound like too much work, make muesli instead.
Just fill a glass jar 3/4 full of dry, raw oats, then add nuts and dried fruit. Put a lid on the jar and shake it a few times until the muesli is well mixed. Add a festive ribbon!
7. Other Holiday Treats
We know you’re already thinking of at least one other holiday treat you could make for your friends, from sugarplums to rugelach. You don’t need our permission to make it!
8. Recipe Book
If you love baking, but don’t have enough cash for the ingredients, give people a recipe book.
Write your favorite recipes on index cards, or print your recipes out and tie the pages together with a ribbon. Want to go completely free? Make a PDF version and email it.
9. Regifted Sweets
Even if you aren’t naturally skilled in the kitchen, you can still give people a delicious holiday gift.
Take some of your holiday sweets — like the box of Ghirardelli Peppermint Bark you got at your office holiday party — and pass them along to someone else.
Want the easiest possible holiday gift? Put a bow on the unopened bottle of wine you have sitting in the cupboard.
From My Home to Yours
One of the easiest ways to give someone a free gift is to pass along something you already own — whether it’s the package of scented soap from your aunt or the favorite book that’s been on your shelf for a decade.
11. Regift Old Gifts
Take that thing you got last year that’s still in its box, and give it to someone else.
12. Regift This Year’s Gift
Take something you got this year and give it to someone else. We suggest scented soaps or candles.
13. Gift Card
Did your office give employees gift cards this year? Have an old gift card sitting around you haven’t spent? Pass ‘em along.
But check expiration dates and balances first. Gift cards are one present that should never arrive used.
Give an old favorite, or wrap up the book you bought a year ago and didn’t read.
15. CD Coasters
Old CDs make great coasters, and you probably have a whole binder full of old ones collecting dust somewhere.
Group them into sets (the Weird Al collection?), add a card explaining the gift and pass the CDs along to a friend who appreciates music and upcycling old technology.
16. CD Art
If you and a friend bonded over a band or album several years ago, dig up the CD and frame the jacket art.
If you have adult children or grandchildren, giving them treasured ornaments off your Christmas tree will make them feel special.
Plus, they’ll think of you every time they place the ornament on a branch.
People rarely do the same puzzle twice, so make sure your used puzzle has all the right pieces, and wrap it up.
To get away with this type of gift, you’ll need to be a mother giving a favorite sweater to a daughter, an older sister giving a favorite T-shirt to a younger sister or a best friend passing along a treasured jacket.
20. Vintage Wear
You might know a teenager or young adult who’d love to wear the outfit you’ve been hanging onto since the early 90s.
Vintage is always in style!
21. Costume Jewelry
If you inherited a pile of costume jewelry from an older relative, share the wealth with the younger generation.
22. Family Heirloom
This is a more serious gift. Pass along the necklace or china set that’s been in the family for generations.
Make sure you give it to someone who will appreciate both its history and value.
23. Childhood Stuffed Animal
Pass along a beloved stuffed animal to make a special memory with a child or grandchild.
24. Pet Rock
Make a very special memory with a niece or nephew — pass along a beloved pet rock.
Only the coolest aunt or uncle would give out pet rocks.
25. Funky Mug
If you’re one of the people who loves collecting novelty mugs, it’s time to start distributing your collection.
Wash ‘em really well first — we don’t want to see any coffee rings or lipstick stains.
While we’re on the subject of collectibles — if you know someone who collects owls, trains or snow globes, pass along a respective item from your home.
We all have at least one snow globe in a drawer somewhere, right?
27. Storage Unit Surprise
If you have a storage unit, there’s probably at least one thing in it that you aren’t using and would make an excellent gift.
The Gift of Memory
Now that so many of our photos and videos are stored online, there’s something very special about receiving an actual photograph or home video.
Plus, these are items you probably already have in your closet — which makes them ideal free holiday gifts.
28. Old Photographs
Pass along old photographs of grandparents or great-grandparents to the younger generation.
29. Photographs From Childhood
If you’ve known a friend since childhood, slip an old photo of the two of you into a frame.
30. Old Home Video
Send everyone in the family a copy of old home video footage of children or other relatives.
31. New Home Video
Why not make a new home video this year?
Take video of your children playing the piano or singing holiday songs. Or get in front of the camera and tell the people you love how much you care about them.
32. Family Tree
If your family doesn’t have an updated family tree, put one together and send it to everyone in its branches.
33. Family History
Interview family members about their history and favorite memories.
Then put the interviews together into a book — or video!
34. Family Trivia Game
The family that plays together stays together.
Make a trivia game featuring details about your family members and play it over the holidays. It can be as simple as questions and answers on index cards or as complicated as your craft skills allow!
35. Book of Shared Memories
Give your closest friend a book of memories.
Write down as many stories and shared experiences as you can remember. Include doodles, photos and anything else you’d like to add.
You’ll give your friend a history of your friendship and a gift to truly cherish.
The Thought That Counts
When you don’t have enough cash for a real gift, give something equally thoughtful and memorable.
36. Heartfelt Letter
Tell a friend or relative how much they mean to you in a thoughtful letter.
37. Monthly Letter
Write a friend or relative a dozen thoughtful letters.
Put them in envelopes with instructions about when to open.
38. How Do I Love Thee
Begin with the famous Elizabeth Barrett Browning poem “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” Then count them.
39. Friendship Mad Libs
Remember the time when we went to [PLACE] but we ran out of [ITEM] and we had to [VERB] our way back home?
Give a friend a book of Mad Libs based on shared experiences — see if it sparks any memories!
40. Kid Mad Libs
Here’s another cool aunt or uncle gift.
Write up a few Mad Libs. Don’t worry too much about the story — the kids will fill all the blanks in with “boogers” and “farts” anyway.
The classic mixtape never gets old — especially if it’s on an actual cassette you have lying around.
42. Spotify Playlist
Don’t have a tape? Make and share a Spotify playlist instead.
43. Memory Jar
Fill a jar with strips of paper containing shared memories.
44. Inspiration Jar
Fill a jar with strips of paper containing inspirational quotes or thoughts.
45. Hopes and Dreams Jar
Give an empty jar with a bunch of blank strips of paper and tell your friend to put their hopes and dreams into the jar.
46. Change Jar
Give a kid a cute jar with some loose change inside. You might inspire them to become a future Penny Hoarder!
47. Time Together
Whether it’s an afternoon spent exploring a park or an evening spent knitting and chatting, sometimes the gift of time spent together is what really matters.
48. Binge Watch a Show
Tell your significant other (or teenager) that yes, you’ll binge watch a show with them.
You know the one. You’ll probably really like it.
49. Visit the Museum
Many museums have free days. Find out when they are and take someone special.
Something for Nothing
There are many ways to get new or nearly-new items for free. Check out this list for inspiration.
50. Buy Nothing Group
The Buy Nothing Project connects people who want to both give and receive gently used items for free.
See if there’s a Buy Nothing Group in your area, and take a look at what its members are offering. Maybe one of the free items will make a perfect gift!
Freecycle is another online group where members give away items for free. Check it out and see if there’s anything you might want.
Search Craigslist for people giving away free clothes, toys, furniture or household items. As always, watch out for scams!
If you’re in Canada, check Kijiji for free listings.
54. Ebay Classified Ads
Ebay Classified Ads might also have free items you can claim — it never hurts to check!
Look at Reddit’s Barter, Recycle and Gift Card Exchange communities for free gifts.
56. Freebie Sites
Use our list of 30 online freebies for gift inspiration.
Some of the items are just utilities, but plenty would make great gifts — or you could bundle a bunch of useful stuff together for someone who’s strapped for cash.
57. Free Baby Products
If someone on your gift list is a new or expecting parent, here’s how to get free baby products.
58. Retailers Offering Free Gifts
You know the free makeup bag that comes with your cosmetics purchase? Gift it to someone else.
Retailers often offer free gifts around the holidays as an incentive to get you in the door. Buy what you want, and pass the free gift to a friend!
59. Gifts Purchased With Gift Cards
We already mentioned regifting gift cards, but what if you kept the gift card and bought five gifts with it instead?
60. Amazon Trade-In
Amazon Trade-In allows you to trade in old items for new ones.
Turn your old stuff into new gifts!
You can almost always find someone giving away free kittens or puppies.
Note: Make sure it’s a gift the recipient wants and the recipient is ready to handle the responsibility of caring for a pet. The kitten may be free, but pets need time, money and love.
Are you skilled with a pen, guitar or paintbrush? Here’s how to turn free holiday gifting into a work of art.
Draw it, paint it, sculpt it, gift it.
63. Kid Art
If you have kids, ask them to draw or paint special pictures for their grandparents and other relatives.
64. Original Music
Record yourself performing an original song you wrote for someone you love.
65. Cover Album
Are you more of a musician than a songwriter?
Make a mixtape of you playing covers of the recipient’s favorite tunes. Or gather the whole family to sing holiday favorites.
The original classic (and free) gift.
67. Audio Poetry
Record yourself reading original poetry or old favorites. (“How do I love thee…”)
Read a short story or classic text aloud.
For example, you can read Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in just a couple of hours.
69. Audio Goodnight
Far away from grandchildren?
Make them an audio goodnight tape. Tell a story, sing a song, wish them goodnight and send your love.
70. Coloring Book
Get blank paper and a marker, and create a coloring book for a friend.
Draw pictures of items you both enjoy (e.g. pizza, Netflix) or memories you share.
71. Hand-Drawn Paper Dolls
Here’s how to draw a paper doll: Draw the body first. Then, put a sheet of paper over the body (so you can see the drawing underneath) and draw the clothes to fit.
Color the paper doll, or leave the outline for the recipient to fill in!
72. Comic Strip
Draw four panels, then add yourself and your friends enjoying a comic scenario.
73. Crossword Puzzle
Create a crossword puzzle where the majority of the clues are about the recipient.
74. Word Search
If a crossword puzzle sounds too complicated, make a word search!
The Gift of Labor
Trust us, some people will appreciate these gifts more than anything else they receive this year.
Offer a friend or relative a weekend of your time to do all of their little house projects.
Can you clean a house until it sparkles? Gift your talents.
77. Car Wash
If you have kids or teenagers who need to come up with gift ideas for aunts or uncles, have them offer car washes.
This free gift is classic for a reason. It’s best reserved for significant others and spouses, though.
Do you know how much a night of babysitting costs these days? This free gift is actually really, really valuable.
Give your friends peace of mind by being their designated pet sitter for a long weekend — or for every vacation they take next year.
81. Other Skills
If you know how to alter clothes, upholster furniture or wallpaper rooms, there’s a free gift idea.
The recipient has to come up with the clothing, the furniture and the wallpaper, and you provide the labor.
Let’s end this list with a collection of holiday crafts.
As with the food and drink section, these gifts are only free if you already have the supplies — but we bet you’ll have enough to make at least one of these!
82. Soap Bubbles
Have a little dish soap and a cute container? You’re on your way to making a batch of soap bubbles.
Check out Apartment Therapy for a list of soap bubble recipes. Make circle and heart-shaped bubble wands out of pipe cleaners.
83. Play Dough
Flour, water, salt, oil and a bit of food coloring are all you need for this classic toy. PBS has the recipe.
84. Bathtub Crayons
Use grated soap and food coloring to make crayons for bathtime fun. Get Rich Slowly has instructions (#94 on the list).
85. Sidewalk Chalk
If you have plaster of Paris and tempera paint, you can easily make sidewalk chalk.. Follow these instructions from The Spruce Crafts.
86. Framed Book Illustration
Cut out and frame a page of text or an illustration from a classic book.
87. Secret Compartment Book
Cut a hole in the center pages of a book to form a secret compartment. The Art of Manliness has a how-to guide.
88. Book Into Purse
You can also turn a hardcover book into a purse or clutch. A Beautiful Mess has the instructions.
89. Mason Jar Tea Lights
If you have a mason jar and some tea lights, decorate the outside of the jar with glitter, lace, ribbons, decoupage or plain ole’ permanent marker.
Put the tea light inside and you have a gift to light up anyone’s holiday.
90. Teacup Candle
If you have a half-melted candle and a mismatched teacup, combine them into an attractive gift. Get Rich Slowly has the details (#31 on their list).
91. Scrabble Ornaments
Take your Scrabble game out of the closet and turn the tiles into handmade ornaments. Spell “peace,” “joy,” “love” or anything else you like.
I Heart Naptime has instructions.
92. Scrabble Necklace
Or, turn your old Scrabble tiles into necklaces. Jewels of Sayuri has the tutorial and diys.com has 24 other ideas for fun projects using Scrabble pieces.
93. Hand Warmers
Combine scraps of fabric and uncooked rice to make hand warmers. Just pop ‘em in the microwave, then take them out and warm up those hands!
Rae Ann Kelly has a how-to guide.
94. Sweater Mittens
Turn your old sweater into new mittens! Check out Creme de la Craft to learn more.
95. Sweater Pillow
Old sweaters also transform into soft, fuzzy throw pillows. PopSugar has a no-sewing-required guide.
96. T-Shirt Pillow
Turn old T-shirts into throw pillows.
Take a look at DIY Network’s guide — and if you don’t have pillow batting at hand, use an old throw pillow’s batting!
97. T-Shirt Quilt
If you have a bunch of old T-shirts and an old fleece blanket, stitch them together into a new T-shirt quilt.
Use Wellness Mama’s guide — unlike other T-shirt quilt guides, this one doesn’t require extra batting or material.
98. Sock Monkey
Got a sock, thread, embroidery floss and polyfill stuffing? Make a monkey.
Urban Threads has the instructions. This type of project can be easily adapted. If you don’t have buttons for eyes, stitch on colorful fabric scraps or make the eyes with embroidery floss.
99. Lip Scrub
Make a simple sugar scrub out of ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen.
Our lip scrub recipe only requires sugar and olive oil.
100. Bath Bombs
Whip up a batch of homemade bath bombs with ingredients you might already have around the house. (If not, you can whip up this batch for less than $10.)
Our video tutorial shows you how.
Nicole Dieker is a contributor to Codetic.