100 Affordable Gifts Your Friends and Family Will Actually Want

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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 $837 on holiday gifts in 2021, according to Gallup. That’s not much more than people spent in 2020, and continues to be down from pre-pandemic norms. A lot of us are still hurting economically.

But we’ve got an early holiday gift for you: a list of 100 free gift ideas.

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!

Contents
  1. Food and Drink
  2. From My Home to Yours
  3. The Gift of Memories
  4. The Thought That Counts
  5. Something for Nothing
  6. Creative Work
  7. The Gift of Labor
  8. Holiday Crafts

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.

1. Bread

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.

2. Cookies

Many people wait all year to make their favorite holiday cookies, and many families have traditional holiday recipes. Maybe yours even includes your own ‘secret’ blend of holiday spices. Why not share your favorites with your friends?

If you’re planning on doing a lot of baking this season for your family or for gifts, beat the high cost of spices with our useful tips. 

3. Cookie Mix in a Jar

You can bake cookies, or you can give people the gift of being able to bake their own 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. Here’s an adorable M&M cookie jar recipe from Celebrating Sweets.

4. Frozen Homemade Meals

If you’re big into meal prep, you probably already make your meals in bulk, storing them in the fridge or freezer until you’re ready to heat and dine.

While you’re at it, you can make an additional meal for your giftee. You won’t just be giving them a delicious meal, but also the gift of time.

5. Muesli

If meal prep sounds 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. You can find detailed recipes on Fountain Avenue Kitchen. Put a lid on the jar and shake it a few times until the muesli is well mixed. Add a festive ribbon!

6. Recipe Book

If you love baking, but don’t have enough cash for the ingredients, give people a recipe book.

Sites like Family Cookbook Project and Bookemon provide you with free online software to create your cookbook, complete with photos. You can then share your recipe book online or print it out as a PDF for free. There are options to order a professionally bound book, but those will set you back anywhere from a few bucks to $20.

7. 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.

8. Wine

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 book that’s been on your shelf for a decade.

9. Regift Old Gifts

Take that thing you got last year that’s still in its box, and give it to someone else. We suggest scented soaps or candles.

10. 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.

11. Books

Give an old favorite, or wrap up the book you bought a year ago and didn’t read.

12. CD Coasters

Old CDs make great coasters, and you probably have a whole binder full of old ones collecting dust somewhere.

Grab some felt, fabric and glue following these directions from Crafts by Amanda.  Add a card explaining the gift and pass the CDs along to a friend who appreciates upcycling old technology.

13. 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.

14. Ornaments

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.

15. Puzzles

People rarely do the same puzzle twice, so make sure your used puzzle has all the right pieces, and wrap it up.

16. Clothes

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.

17. 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!

18. Costume Jewelry

If you inherited a pile of costume jewelry from an older relative, share the wealth with the younger generation.

19. 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.

20. Childhood Stuffed Animal

Pass along a beloved stuffed animal to make a special memory with a child or grandchild.

21. 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.

22. Collectibles

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.

23. 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 Memories

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.

24. Old Photographs

Pass along old photographs of grandparents or great-grandparents to the younger generation.

25. Create a Digital Album

Because so much of what we do is online, another great gift is digitizing old family photos. Scan your photos into a shareable album via a service like Google Photos or Shutterfly, and send it to all the family members.

This is also a great gift because photos fade over time. By scanning them today, you’re preserving them for future generations, as well.

26. Photographs From Childhood

If you’ve known a friend since childhood, slip an old photo of the two of you into a frame. Even better if you also write a note reflecting on all your memories together.

27. Old Home Video

Send everyone in the family a copy of old home video footage of children or other relatives.

28. New Home Video

Why not make a new home video this year? Use your smartphone to make the video and you can send it directly to them.

Some ideas: video 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. Maybe even set up the phone on a stand and record yourself making a favorite family recipe.

29. Family Tree

If your family doesn’t have an updated family tree, put one together and send it to everyone in its branches.

30. Family History

Interview family members about their history and favorite memories.

Then put the interviews together into a book — or video!

31. Share Your DNA Results

Have you ever gotten an Ancestry or 23andMe DNA test? Odds are, you have family members who would be very interested in the results, but are too shy to send in a swab of their own spit.

Ancestry in particular gives you some historical background on the region your family was from; print this history out with a map of your results for a unique, meaningful gift that won’t cost you a cent.

32. 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!

33. Guess Who? Family Edition

Have an old Guess Who? game lying around?

Replace the pictures of Anne and Max and everyone else with pictures of your own extended family members or people in your friend group. These printouts don’t have to be photo quality. Just make sure you crop and cut them to be the right size to fit in the game board. You can get a full tutorial from Heather’s Homemade Life.

34. 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 to purchase something new, think about gifts that are more about time than money. And often more thoughtful, too.

35. Monthly Letter

Write a friend or relative a dozen thoughtful letters.

Put them in envelopes with instructions about when to open.

36. How Do I Love Thee

Begin with the famous Elizabeth Barrett Browning poem How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43)  and then, like the poet, count the ways. Check out more poems on poets.org and you may find others that profess your love even more perfectly.

37. Kid Mad Libs

Here’s a cool aunt or uncle gift:Write up a few Mad Libs. Here are some examples from The Inquisitive Mom.

Don’t worry too much about the story — the kids will fill all the blanks in with “boogers” and “farts” anyway.

38. Mixtape

The classic mixtape never gets old — especially if it’s on an actual cassette you have lying around.

But if you don’t have a tape, you can make and share a Spotify playlist instead.

39. Memory Jar

Fill a jar with strips of paper containing shared memories. Check out this extensive list from Bestow for some inspiration. The idea is to pull out the papers either alone or when you’re together and be reminded of a special time.

40. Inspiration Jar

As you might guess, an inspiration jar is similar to a memory jar, except it’s filled with inspirational quotes or thoughts. If you need some ideas for quotes, check out this downloadable list from American Lifestyle.

41. Hopes and Dreams Jar

This one will require a little work from your giftee, but it’s a fun exercise. 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. You can get a little inspiration from Little Miss Celebration.

42. DIY Piggy Bank

Check out these cool DIY piggy bank ideas from Cool Crafts for the child in your life. You might inspire them to become a future Penny Hoarder!

43. 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.

You can make this gift more giftable by creating a coupon book, which the giftee can use to redeem their time with you.

44. Binge Watch a Series

Tell your significant other (or teenager) that yes, you’ll binge watch Stranger Things, Only Murders in the Building or Ted Lasso.

You know the one. It’s all the more meaningful if it’s one you haven’t been a fan of in the past. Just try not to ruin the gift with snide comments during viewing.

45. Visit the Museum

Many museums have free days, and September is often the month when citywide free museum days are held.  Find out when they are and take someone special.

Also, if you happen to have a museum membership, you may be entitled to free entry for other museums through the North American Reciprocal Association, most commonly called NARM. Hundreds of museums across the country take part in this program.

Something for Nothing

There are many ways to get new or nearly-new items for free. Check out this list for inspiration.

46. 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!

47. Freecycle

Freecycle is another online group where members give away items for free. Check it out and see if there’s anything you might want.

48. Facebook Marketplace

Facebook Marketplace has a free section. Search locally for gently used items to use as holiday gifts.

49. Craigslist

Search Craigslist for people giving away free clothes, toys, furniture or household items. As always, watch out for scams!

50. Kijiji

If you’re in Canada, check Kijiji for free listings. A recent check found someone in Winnipeg giving away a free piano and someone else trying to unload luggage. (Keep in mind that you’ll have to pay to have the piano moved!)

51. Ebay Classified Ads

Ebay Classified Ads might also have free items you can claim — it never hurts to check!

52. Reddit

Look at Reddit’s Barter, Recycle and Gift Card Exchange communities for free gifts.

53. Freebie Sites

Use our list of 18 online freebies for gift inspiration.

You could go with just one or bundle a bunch of useful stuff together for someone who’s strapped for cash.

54. Free Baby Products

If someone on your gift list is a new or expecting parent, here’s how to get free baby products.

55. 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!

You might also be able to score freebies this way if you have a birthday around the corner.

56. Amazon Trade-In

Amazon Trade-In allows you to trade in mostly used electronics for gift cards. Get a gift card or two and your loved one can buy whatever they’d like.

57. A Furry Friend

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.

Think your gift of a pet all the way through and provide information on free spay and neutering services. Check out ways to get this service for free.

Creative Work

Are you skilled with a pen, guitar or paintbrush? Here’s how to turn free holiday gifting into a work of art.

58. Original Art

Draw it, paint it, sculpt it, gift it.

59. Kid Art

If you have kids, ask them to draw or paint special pictures for their grandparents and other relatives.

60. Original Music

Record yourself performing an original song you wrote for someone you love.

61. Cover Album

Are you more of a musician than a songwriter?

Make a mixtape (or MP3) of you playing covers of the recipient’s favorite tunes. Or gather the whole family to sing holiday favorites.

62. Poetry

The original classic (and free) gift.

63. Audio Poetry

Record yourself reading original poetry or old favorites. Poems by Mary Oliver or Kwame Alexander might be just what you are looking for. Poetry.org will have inspiration too.

64. Audiobook

Read a short story or classic text aloud.

For example, you can read Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in just a couple of hours.

65. Audio Goodnight

Far away from grandchildren?

Make them an audio goodnight using an app like TELL. TELL has a subscription option, but there are also free ways to record certain stories. Tell a story, sing a song, wish them goodnight and send your love.

66. 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.

67. 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!

If you don’t fancy yourself an artist, you can find plenty of free templates online, including this one from KidsActivities.com.

68. Comic Strip

Draw four panels, then add yourself and your friends enjoying a comic scenario.

You can also create a comic strip for free online using an app like Canva.

69. Crossword Puzzle

Create a crossword puzzle where the majority of the clues are about the recipient.

If you don’t want to hand draw that mess, you can use an online tool to generate a printable crossword, like this one from Variety Games.

70. Word Search

If a crossword puzzle sounds too complicated, make a word search! You can either do this by hand or once again use a free tool like the one offered by Variety Games.

The Gift of Labor

Trust us, some people will appreciate these gifts more than anything else they receive this year.

71. Handywork

Offer a friend or relative a weekend of your time to do all of their little house projects.For example, you could update their ductwork or fix a leak to help them save money on their utility bills.

72. Housecleaning

Can you clean a house until it sparkles? Gift your talents.

73. 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.

74. Yardwork

Yardwork is a chore and a half, and outsourcing it professionally can cost a pretty penny. Make your friends’ or family’s lives easier by offering your services for free. Depending on your local climate, this may include lawn care, shoveling snow or just general landscaping.

75. Serve as Tech Guru

Over the holidays, your family members may be receiving gifts they are excited to use, but aren’t quite sure how to set up. You can offer your services as the holiday tech guru.

Offer to set up that new Roku or Fire Stick, laptop or other device either on the day of the celebration or as an appointment at a later date.

76. Offer Remote Lessons

Maybe you can’t get together because COVID transmission is still high in your area. Or simply because you live far away.

Either way, think of a special skill you have that your giftee might want to learn. Are you fluent in a second or third  language? Able to play an instrument? Proficient in a software program an older family member is struggling with?

Take your skills and give them as remote lessons over Zoom.

77. Massage

This free gift is classic for a reason. Who doesn’t like a foot, shoulder or back rub that lasts more than a minute?

78. Babysitting

Do you know how much childcare costs these days? This free gift is actually really, really valuable.

79. Pet Sitting

Give your friends peace of mind by being their designated pet sitter for a long weekend — or for every vacation they take next year.

80. 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.

Holiday Crafts

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!

81. Pet Rock

Make a special memory with a niece or nephew by gifting them a pet rock kit, including all the materials listed at Super Simple. Get all the brownie points when you sit down and create your pet rocks together!

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 (No. 94 on the list).

85. Sidewalk Chalk

If you have plaster of Paris and tempera paint, you can easily make sidewalk chalk. There is also a recipe for this via Get Rich Slowly. Check out No. 88 on the list.

86. Kinetic Sand

Kinetic sand is a fun toy that can keep kids entertained for ages. The Spruce Crafts hosts a slew of different recipes.

87. Framed Book Illustration

Cut out and frame a page of text or an illustration from a classic book.

88. 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.

89. Book Into Purse

You can also turn a hardcover book into a purse or clutch. A Beautiful Mess has the instructions.

90. 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 a plain ole’ permanent marker. You can even use autumn leaves like Spark & Chemistry did!

Put the tea light inside and you have a gift to light up anyone’s holiday.

91. Teacup Candle

Recycle your half-burnt candles into a beautiful new masterpiece. You will need some type of container for your upcycled candle, like a mismatched teacup, shot glass or votive holder.

You may also need a double boiler, but Femme Frugality has a workaround using a simple soup can.

92. 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.

Duct Tape and Denim has instructions.

93. Scrabble Necklace

Or, turn your old Scrabble tiles into necklaces. Makes and Takes has the tutorial and diys.com has 24 other ideas for fun projects using Scrabble pieces.

94. 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.

95. Sweater Mittens

Turn an old sweater into new mittens! Check out Creme de la Craft to learn more.

96. Sweater Pillow

Used sweaters also transform into soft, fuzzy throw pillows. PopSugar has a no-sewing-required guide.

97. T-Shirt Pillow

Scour your drawers and pull out all the old T-shirts, especially those with fun patterns or pithy sayings. Now, turn them into throw pillows. Take a look at DIY Network’s guide — and if you don’t have pillow batting at hand, use the stuffing from a throw pillow you want to toss anyway.

98. 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.

99. 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.

100. DIY Face Masks

These past couple years have been intense. Give the gift of relaxation with these DIY face masks

This list of free gift ideas is curated by staff writers and contributors at The Penny Hoarder.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.