Ways to Save Money

100 Free Gifts Your Friends and Family Will Actually Want to Receive

December 9, 2015
by Nicole Dieker
Contributor

The holidays get expensive fast. Checking off everyone on your list can be daunting, especially for your bank account. The average American plans to spend $882 on holiday gifts in 2015, 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 get inspired 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.

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. 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.

4. Casseroles

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 breakfast.

6. Muesli

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.

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

11. Regift

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.

14. Books

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 them along to a friend that 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.

17. Ornaments

If you have adult children or grandchildren, giving them treasured ornaments off your Christmas tree will make them feel very special.

Plus, they’ll think of you every time they place the ornament on a branch.

18. Puzzle

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

19. 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.

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 on 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.

26. Collectible

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 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’ll fill all the blanks in with “boogers” and “farts” anyway.

41. Mixtape

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 him 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!

51. Freecycle

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

52. Craigslist

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

53. Kijiji

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!

55. Reddit

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

56. Freebie Sites

Use our list of 101 great freebie sites for gift inspiration.

Some of the items are more experiences than gifts — think of them as something you and the recipient can do together.

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!

61. Pet

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.

Creative Work

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

62. 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.

66. Poetry

The original classic (and free) gift.

67. Audio Poetry

Record yourself reading original poetry or old favorites. (“How do I love thee…”)

68. 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.

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, a marker and create a coloring book for a friend.

Draw pictures of items you both enjoy (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.

75. Handywork

Offer a friend or relative a weekend of your time to do all of their little house projects.

76. Housecleaning

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.

78. Massage

This free gift is classic for a reason. It’s best reserved for significant others and spouses, though.

79. Babysitting

Do you know how much a night of babysitting costs these days? This free gift is actually really, really valuable.

80. Petsitting

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.

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!

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. Playdough

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 their list).

85. Sidewalk Chalk

If you have plaster of Paris and tempera paint, you can easily make sidewalk chalk. Martha Stewart will show you how.

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. Running on Happiness has the tutorial.

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. Sugar Scrub

Make a simple sugar scrub out of ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen.

I Heart Naptime’s lemon sugar scrub recipe only requires sugar, coconut or almond oil and a lemon.

100. Handmade Card

Lastly, anyone can make a handmade card with a heartfelt message inside. Use cardstock and fancy materials, or printer paper and crayons.

All that matters is letting the recipient know how much you care about them, and wishing them the happiest of holidays.

Need More Free or Low-Cost Gift Ideas?

Although many of the items on this list are gifts I’ve either given or received myself, I also used the following posts to find great free options:

Your Turn: What’s your favorite free holiday gift? Will you be using any of these ideas?

Disclosure: We have a serious Taco Bell addiction around here. The affiliate links in this post help us order off the dollar menu. Thanks for your support!

Nicole Dieker is a freelance writer focusing on personal finance and personal stories. Her work has appeared in The Billfold, The Toast, The Write Life and Boing Boing.

by Nicole Dieker
Contributor for The Penny Hoarder

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