You are faced with a dilemma — you have a week left to find a last-minute gift for a loved one who seemingly has everything. You are budget conscious, but don’t want to buy them a cheap gift. You want to give them something extra special this time around, something to show them you truly appreciate them being in your life, something they’ll remember. But what?
In addition, with COVID and our current shaky economy, you might be particularly weary of receiving a larger-than-planned credit card bill come January, like the last few Januaries.
You might also be increasingly conscious about the environment, and that most things we buy in the holiday rush tend to not be all that useful for its recipients. Indeed, data shows that the US-alone spends ~$15 billion on unwanted presents each year, with ~4% of them being immediately thrown away. That’s a lot of clothes and household items ending up in landfills… or worse, in the oceans.
If you find yourself nodding repeatedly as you’ve been reading, consider this — what is free and incredibly valuable at the same time?
Indeed, well-executed, it is tough to outmatch the gift of a thoughtfully executed gesture of service for your loved one.
Here’s a list of free, or almost free gift ideas that will be sure to be remembered and deeply appreciated by your loved ones.
For additional ideas that don’t involve gifting physical objects, check out my suggestions for experiental gifts.
A home-cooked feast
Our moms and grandmas love to host us for dinner. Yet, we all know how exhausting it is for them to plan, organize, and execute a proper family dinner. A simple but greatly appreciated inexpensive gift could be to offer to come over and cook a meal for them and the entire family in their own home. That way, they get to host and see their kids and grand-kids while avoiding the hassle and stress involved of being in the kitchen for hours on end. Come prepared with your groceries, pour them a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon, turn on your best jazz playlist, and be the chef for the evening. For extra credit, enforce two key rules with this present: they can’t help out, and the menu will be a surprise.
Babysitting for the day is the best free gift
One gift that is free-of-charge and which any mother in your close family circle would appreciate is being able to take a proper day off. It can be exhausting to get ready for the busy holiday season, and moms need all the rest that they can get! Offer to come over and spend the day with the little ones, as your holiday gift to her. Moreover, kids get physical presents from most of their relatives all the time, but quality time spent one-on-one with them is often less common. Come prepared with an activity such as baking and decorating cookies, or a fun arts-and-crafts project, and your time with them will be much more memorable an additional toy in their arsenal.
A free gift for the entire family that pays it forward
Holidays should be as much about giving back than gift-giving. Volunteering is something most of us want to do, but often don’t get around to it because of how busy we are. A great way to spend quality time with a close one is to organize a volunteer day together. It’s free, and yet so rewarding. This can be with your local church or religious organization, at a soup kitchen, or you can even look for a great variety of volunteering opportunities through services like VolunteerMatch. Signing up as first-time volunteer is easy and seamless in most places. Take it onto yourself to plan and schedule this day, and together treasure the feeling of giving back to a charitable cause with your loved one.
Best free gift for your non-tech savvy grandparents
I vividly remember the days in the late 90’s when I would burn a CD for my older sister and give it to her as a gift. On it would be the latest tracks from Ricky Martin, Destiny’s Child, and Shaggy. To this day, I help my mom get easy access to her favorite music. She is old school when it comes to technology, and I would periodically update the music collection on her her old iPod Nano (yes… they still exist) with a new playlist of her favorite Greek singers.
Try doing this for someone in your family that is similarly technologically-challenged and is not familiar with the modern music streaming services like Spotify or Apple Music. It costs nothing but time to build a playlist of their favorite music genre, and teach them how to access it. A huge plus is that they will likely have warm thoughts for you every time they turn on the playlist.
Plan a memories night
Remember those dozens of hours of videos that were taped at various family events and vacations? When was the last time you have watched them together as a family and reminisced? Schedule an evening with your family, dig up the old VCRs from the basement, and be the MC for the evening. Watching clips from weddings, previous Christmas dinners, and family gatherings are sure to put a smile on everyone’s face. If your family still can’t gather because of COVID, you can organize a Zoom night and stream the content virtually to everyone.
Write a handwritten letter and mail it by post
This one last gift idea is one of my favorite and probably dates me quite a bit. When I was a kid, before the wide use of email, I would send my grandmother in Russia handwritten letters and patiently wait for her reply. Those letters are still something I hold onto, many years after she has passed away. In the modern day and age where it takes minutes to write and send someone an email, we tend to not put in as much effort into them as we used to with letters.
This holiday season, take the nostalgia lane and go back to the old-school days of handwriting warm messages to your loved ones. Buy some fancy paper, pick your favorite gel or fountain pen, and write up a few pages for someone special in your life. Receiving a letter by post is the last thing they will expect this holiday season! It is essentially free, or close to it, and yet is something memorable that your relative or friend will keep in their sounvenir box for years to come.
We are always too busy for our children; we never give them the time or interest they deserve. We lavish gifts upon them; but the most precious gift, our personal association, which means so much to them, we give grudgingly.
— Mark Twain