10 Cheap but Meaningful Gift Ideas People Swear ByFinancial stress, where?
Gifts are great! But if your finances are fa-la-la-la-fucked right now, you might be losing sleep over how to actually show your love this holiday season without going in the red. Financial therapist Aja Evans, LMHC, says that her clients often feel pressured to buy expensive stuff instead of cheap gifts because they think spending big bucks shows people they care—even though the two aren’t correlated, she notes. “You can be a good person and love your family no matter how much or little you spend,” she says.
And hey, maybe buying pricey things is, in fact, your love language. That’s cool! But in case you needed reminding, dropping money you might not have for the sake of showing love is…not worth it. “It’s very stressful because the added pressure to spend during the [holiday] season can push people further into a financially precarious place. They do it because they love their people and don’t want them to feel slighted even though they can’t afford it,” Evans says.
It’s also just not great for your mental health. For one, it can make you feel guilty and—maybe without realizing it—make you resent the people you’re shopping for, says therapist and accredited financial counselor LaQueshia Clemons, LCSW. It can also add to the anxiety or depression you might already experience thanks to your money situation, she notes.
If you can relate, both therapists say you don’t need to spend a ton to enjoy this time of year and you can set boundaries to get through the pains of gift-gifting. They suggest making—and sticking to—a budget and, if you’re comfortable, just being honest with people in your life that you’re not in the best place to get them pricey presents they might’ve asked for (or are expecting).
So, in the spirit of soothing the pressure to spend a lot on presents, here are cheap gifts people gave or received that were still super meaningful. (We’re talking under $20 or even free.) Whatever you celebrate, use these ideas as inspo for your own shopping adventures. Good luck to you and your bank accounts!
1. Write letters for every occasion.
“I’ve made ‘open when’ letters for boyfriends and a friend in the past. They’ve been, without a doubt, the best gifts I’ve ever given and received. Basically, you write notes for someone to open when they’re sad or mad or bored, when they miss you, etc. All you need is access to a printer and maybe some scissors, notecards, and envelopes.
I go all out and add extra things like jewelry and tea [which costs money], but you don’t need to. You can always cut out some memes or inspiring quotes that make you think of them instead. Or, you can even print coloring pages or word searches for them to do. I actually had a friend make me some of these once, and she didn’t spend any money—she just wrote the letters and included quotes and songs I could listen to that corresponded with each mood.” —Chrysta G., 25
2. You can never go wrong with photos.
“My boyfriend's parents are really tough to buy for, but I know they wish they got to see him more often. So, this year I enlarged and framed a beautiful photo my boyfriend took of the three of them in their favorite state park. Even though it cost very little, I know it’ll have a bigger impact than anything money can buy. It was a bit more than $20 because I had it framed by Framebridge, but I've done it before for cheaper. You can enlarge a photo at a Staples or similar printing store for a few dollars and buy a cheaper frame for, like, $10.” —Jessica S., 32
3. Family recipes are meaningful too.
“We didn't grow up with a ton of money, and I remember one year my mom bought three small notebooks—one for each of us (like this)—and wrote down all our favorite family recipes. She'd been working on it all year, slowly compiling everything, and it's still the most meaningful gift I've ever gotten. I use it all the time!” —Marilyn L., 29
4. Give someone something to feel connected to you.
“I'm a writer, but, in the age of technology, all of my work is published online. My grandma doesn't own a computer, and every time I saw her, she would tell me she wanted to read my work. So, for Christmas last year, I printed out a bunch of my articles and put them in a binder for her, and she was so excited. She said it was her favorite present she got that year.
It cost very little to do. I don't remember the exact cost of everything, but I used the same type of binder you can find on Target's website for around $12. Plastic refills from Hobby Lobby are under $4, and wrapping paper from the dollar store is usually $1 or $1.25. I have a printer at home that already had paper in it, so printing didn't cost me anything.” —Gina W., 26
5. Lean into nostalgia.
“The most meaningful gift I gave my husband was pictures of his parents who passed away when he was a baby, before he could really remember them. I was able to get old pictures from a relative, and I got them framed. It cost me a few dollars at Walgreens to print the pictures, and the frame was maybe $15. My husband cried and said it was the best gift he’d ever received.” —LaQueshia Clemons, LCSW, therapist and accredited financial counselor
6. Get your friend something they can use to make their own memories.
“I bought a pocket-sized Lonely Planet travel guide to Vienna for my friend who’s been learning German. I think it was about 9 pounds [about $11]. I got my undergraduate degree there, so I filled the guide with notes about my favorite places in the city. It was a meaningful gift because my friend really wanted to go to Austria but had no idea where to start, so I thought: What better way to motivate them than giving them a travel guide of the capital with my own personal faves in it? I included notes like, ‘This place in the university building is a must-see,' and ‘These cafes will give you a real, authentic Viennese experience.’
Since my friend has been learning Standard German mostly spoken in Germany, I also included little facts about Austrian German and specific words you would hear only in Vienna. They really appreciated my notes and said they were excited to check out all the places I mentioned, so I'd say it was a successful gift!” —Alessa D., 25
7. You can try stuff that’s homemade.
“I like to give little things that are handmade or can be eaten because I feel like it shows more effort. I’ve given my friends and their families homemade granola in IKEA jars that they loved so much they’ve asked for more.
This year, I’ll be making scrunchies for friends with scrap fabric I have on hand. They won’t cost me anything to make because I have an old sewing machine from my mom and I already have elastic. You could thrift the fabric and repurpose it from clothes, but Joann’s also sells some precut fabric and elastic for cheap. [In case you were wondering,] this is the tutorial I’ve used before, and this is one I’d use if I didn’t have a sewing machine.” —Isela L., 32
8. Getting creative with their favorite things goes a long way.
“Last Christmas, my little sister got me a letter from Chris Evans himself! (She wrote it, but it was the thought that counted!) My uncle also gave me my favorite soft drink with a picture of my fave band, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, wrapped around the bottle—he pretended that it was a limited edition drink. Both of these gifts were funny and thoughtful because people were paying attention to me and what I like. They didn’t cost much at all, but they’re worth billions to me.” —Sabína K., 24
9. Make memories into keepsakes.
“A gift that I felt so great giving was when I turned a friend’s hospital bracelets from having their baby into an ornament. It cost maybe $10 total for the glass ornament and colored ribbon from Michaels. I was so excited to give it to them, and it’s an amazing keepsake of a special moment.” —Aja Evans, LMHC, financial therapist
10. Do them a favor.
“I usually spend the holidays visiting my sisters in another state, and while we’ve made a pact to skip gift-giving with each other in favor of just spending time together, I also try to volunteer for childcare duties when I’m there. It saves them money on babysitters and gives them each an excuse to have a date night, take a day for themselves, or get a bunch of work done uninterrupted. Plus, I get to spend time with my cute nieces and nephews—and dominate in board games.” —Casey G., 34
Wondermind does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Any information published on this website or by this brand is not intended as a replacement for medical advice. Always consult a qualified health or mental health professional with any questions or concerns about your mental health.