No reason to give the same boring gifts this year. Our holiday gift guide offers creative and inexpensive gift ideas that your friends and family will love.
Christmas is right around the corner. Do you have all of your gift shopping done yet?
If you’re anything like me, the answer is no. This isn’t because I’m a procrastinator, though. It’s because I would prefer to give a gift that’s unique and has meaning instead of some stereotypical consumer item that will probably wind up in the Goodwill pile at some point.
That’s why I’ve put together this list of ideas, so that you can change the way you give gifts this holiday season. Some will save you money, and some will be incredibly useful. Others will give you (and your recipient) a warm fuzzy feeling inside, which rivals that of any mug of hot cocoa.
Get out your gift-giving lists, and let’s get started!
There are some wonderful opportunities to do good while also giving to your friends and loved ones. Regardless of your budget, you can make charitable causes part of your family’s holiday season.
You can donate to one of your favorite causes, or one which aligns with the interests of the recipient. No matter which you choose, there are simple ways to make a doubly-impactful gift this holiday season.
Buy holiday cards that support your charity of choice
If you’re going to buy cards this year anyway, why not see if your favorite charity has anything to offer? Not only do you show your support, but you may find interesting, unique cards that stand out.
- Children’s Art Project (from MD Anderson) offers various items, including holiday cards, that feature their young patients’ art. This gives kids a way to showcase their designs. And net proceeds from sales help to fund the hospital’s pediatric programs.
- Holiday Card Center has a stunning array of cards in various designs. They partner up with a number of non-profit organizations, such as the American Humane Society. About 10% of the cost of each box goes to the charity.
- The Make-A-Wish Foundation will actually personalize and mail cards out for you, if you wish to make a gift on someone else’s behalf. You can also order blank cards and send them yourself. Or send an e-card to let someone know you made a donation in their name.
- The American Diabetes Association lets you personalize cards regardless of whether you are making a gift donation as well.
Buy gifts that provide a percentage to charity
- Know someone who loves the water? Oceana has some really cool t-shirts and apparel. As much as 25% of the proceeds benefit their charity.
- Sierra Club offers two gorgeous gift-boxed calendars, note card sets, and even books for the nature/scenery lover in your life.
- The Make-A-Wish Foundation has a great offering of apparel, office accessories, and even water bottles that benefit the foundation. Between 35-50% of the purchase price goes to the cause.
- UNICEF has a store full of interesting, international gifts, including candles, journals, and books.
- A cancer survivor or supporter might enjoy jewelry, clothing, or a tote bag from the American Cancer Society Gift Shop.
Donate to charity as a gift
- Oceana offers a holiday adopt-a-creature program. For $30, you can adopt a sea turtle, seal, or one of 16 other sea creatures. You’ll receive a cookie cutter in the shape of that creature and a special sugar cookie recipe. Spend a little more, and you’ll receive a cute plush of that animal, too. It’s a nice way to donate while still having a fun gift for the recipient to open and enjoy.
- Oxfam America offers you the unique opportunity to present your friends and family with the donation of a sheep, goat, or even a toilet. Wait, what? With Oxfam, your funds help provide necessities to growing, impoverished communities worldwide. Then, choose from a number of humorous, fun cards to give to your recipient, telling them about the gift made in their honor. How else could you possibly gift wrap a camel?
- Heifer International also donates livestock to countries in need. You can choose from a variety of animals, including a water buffalo for $250.
- American Forests lets you plant trees in the name of a loved one for $1 a tree.
- Alternative Gifts International offers truly impactful gifts of food, shelter, trees, gardens, and medicines to those in need around the world.
Not sure what charity would be most fitting? JustGive.org sells gift certificates recipients can redeem for any of 1,000,000 charities and nonprofit organizations.
Another unique holiday gift option if you want to avoid waste is to buy clutter-free gifts. These can be in the form of experiences or consumables. I usually opt to do both. In fact, in my family, we’ve opted to buy “experiences, not things” for our primary gifts to one another. Then we buy useful (consumable) items for stocking stuffers.
While experiences are great gifts that bring memories for years, consumables give you something to open and enjoy Christmas morning.
Eat, Drink, Be Merry
Unclutterer.com has some nice suggestions for theme-based consumable gift collections, such as bulbs and seeds for a gardener, spice collections for someone who enjoys cooking, and the always-popular bath sundries collection for anyone who enjoys self-pampering. There’s even a very utilitarian garage-themed collection idea with motor oil, work gloves, etc.
My tastes run a bit more colorful. I believe the holidays provide a great chance to give premium consumables, little luxuries life might not otherwise afford us.
My favorite food and drink gifts include:
- Aged Balsamic Vinegar – It’s a surprisingly flexible gift, suitable for everything from salad dressings and bread dips (include some fresh loaves of bread for an irresistible gift basket), to marinades and even as a topping for ice cream. There are a range of prices and qualities available. You could even print out some relevant recipes and include them, too!
- Wine–It’s even better when paired with a gift certificate to a BYOB restaurant and maybe a cute tote. But there’s so much you can do with wine gifts. Give a nice bottle you’ve tried and enjoyed, different vintages of the same wine, or a selection of bottles from a region with accompanying reading material on that region’s wines. These can all make a memorable gift. You can find nice, well-rated wines for less than $20 a bottle. Wine Club memberships are wonderful, too, if you have the budget.
- Say Cheese!–Last year, one of the best gifts I got was a stylish, reusable tote filled with a variety of fine imported cheeses, candied nuts, and crackers. Food gifts made for sharing are perfect for holiday entertaining. Plenty of places out there sell pre-assembled gift baskets. But I think the best approach is to find a local cheese shop or market and try things out yourself. Add fresh or dried fruit and nuts, and you can make your own extravagant gift for much less than you’d pay at Harry and David or Williams-Sonoma.
- Sweets–Who doesn’t love a little indulgence? Last year, I gave my father-in-law a set of dark chocolate bars made from cocoa beans from different countries, for a comparative tasting. Homemade cookies or cakes are always appreciated, and can provide a more economical gift alternative. I’m also partial to Dutch candy for a fun and inexpensive gift.
- Citrus Fruit–Sweeter than candy, the juice from Temple oranges is a rare treat in the cold winter months. I order them now for delivery January through March from Nokomis Groves. You could make a fabulous gift basket around a citrus gift (think breakfast kit), or let its sunny glory stand alone.
- Salumis, Seafood, and Special Meats–Salami, bacon, prosciutto, ham, smoked turkey, scallops, salmon… whether you spend a lot for a fine imported meat or seafood product or assemble your own basket from a local specialty shop, there’s much to choose from.
You may be seeking truffles from France or salumis from Italy. Either way, finding a great source is key. If you can’t find these imported items at a local market, you can find them at a markup at places like Dean & Deluca. You can also try your luck finding better deals and culinary rarities at sites like eFood Depot, Gustiamo (Italian), La Tienda (Spanish), and French Feast.
If food isn’t your ideal gift (or you’re unsure whether the recipient has dietary concerns), you can always opt to pamper them.
- Soap and Bath Products–Soaps make for a great gift basket but are easily used up, so they don’t contribute to clutter. One of my friends makes her own fantastic-smelling, all-natural olive oil soap and bath products. She had a home show this year where I bought soaps for just about everyone I know. I tried to select scents each individual will love. It should be fun to see how accurate I was predicting their fragrance preferences. And anything I don’t give away, I’ll just use up myself.
- Massages, Pedicures, and Spa Treatments–Beauty supplies are a clear winner when combined with gift certificates for massages, pedicures, facials, and other spa treatments. In my book, there’s no such thing as too many massages, and it’s nice to look forward to some luxury. Pick a local spa, or visit SpaWish.com for a gift certificate good at over 1,000 day spas across the nation.
- eSubscriptions, Media, and Content–With all the interesting videos, music, games, and books available via iTunes, it’s hard to imagine anyone not appreciating an iTunes Gift Card. I’ve heard great things about Audible.com, as well. Their electronic book and programming subscriptions start as low as $7.49 a month for the first three months with the AudibleListener program.
- The Gift of More Time–Take a page from Tim Ferriss’ book The Four Hour Workweek and help someone “outsource” time-consuming or unpleasant tasks. Whether you supply a bevy of homemade frozen meals or set up a running engagement with a personal chef, your gift will directly benefit the recipient’s quality of life. Maid service, child care, and gardening or landscaping services are gifts they’ll remember all year. Plus, they can be accomplished by hiring out or (more economically) by helping out and doing it yourself.
Make Something With Love
Homemade gifts can be so much more than the sum of their parts, which makes them a great frugal gift option. They are redolent of effort, of “I thought of you all year and worked on this for you.” This is a nice contrast to “I realized I needed a gift for you ten minutes ago and picked this up as I was driving here.”
MoneySavingMom has an extensive collection of frugal gift ideas. Some of my favorite homemade gifts from her list include:
- Homemade baking mixes
- Embroidered pillowcases
- Hand-stamped notecards
- Personalized CDs (with music, family photos, etc.)
- Custom-made photo calendars (every grandparent I know adores these)
- Homemade food, including freezer-ready quick meals and baked goods (I am seriously asking my mother-in-law for a giant vat of her famous tomato soup for the holidays this year)
- Canned vegetables, jam, pickles, etc.
- Scarves, sweaters, and other knitted/crocheted goodies
- Fleece throw blankets
- Homegrown organic dried herbs (in a charming little jar, what could be better?)
I’ve been blessed with some very creative friends, so in the past I’ve received amazing scarves, jewelry, gorgeous embroidered pillowcases, and even original artwork. This year, one of my good friends knitted me some very chic, pure-white cashmere gloves.
My own talents are more culinary than crafty. So this year, I’m giving out tins of several varieties of homemade cookies and a few premade freezer meals, like lasagna, for those in my life who don’t enjoy cooking as much as I do. If you’re not inclined to create gifts yourself, you can buy amazing and unique handmade gifts of all sorts at Etsy.com.
From the Heart
This ties in a bit with the last section. But the ultimate “handmade” gift may not be a thing at all but, instead, a service. I love the concept of lending your personal services to someone else, especially in this age of so little free time.
If you’re good at sewing, what about giving certificates for mending and tailoring clothing? Or giving proofreading or resume help to someone still in school? Know someone who travels a lot? A few certificates for rides to and from the airport could be just the thing. Or create a scrapbook or photo album for someone with lots of memories and no time to compile them. Babysitting, yard cleanup, etc. are all gifts that cost little except your time.
What are the best gifts you’ve ever received (or given) that weren’t “typical” or even store-bought? Can you think of any other unique holiday gift ideas? Share them below!
Updated December 15, 2017 and originally published December 8, 2017.