Whether times are good or bad, Christmas can be hard on any budget. Between the tree, ornaments, other decorations, parties and, of course, the gifts, holiday costs can add up: the average U.S. consumer spent $866 on Christmas presents in 2007, according to Statista.com.
When tough times hit in 2008, that figure dropped dramatically to $616, and it has since increased to an average of more than $700 per year. Ouch!
If rent or other expenses have to take priority this year, you might need to cut back on your gift expenditures. If you don’t want to adopt my extreme solution — skipping the holiday altogether (go ahead, call me Scrooge) — try some of these ideas for Christmas gifts that cost very little, or nothing at all.
1. Free Christmas Cards
Perhaps the easiest way to find free Christmas cards is to dig through your holiday supplies to see if you have any left over from last year.
If you’re handy with Photoshop and have card-stock paper for your printer, you can make your own cards. A card-making tutorial will get you started. To keep it really cheap, save on postage by hand-delivering the cards as you visit friends and family in the weeks leading up to Christmas. You can also find free printable Christmas cards online.
You could also make your own cards out of paper and magazine cut-outs; simply cut out seasonal images or ones that resonate with each recipient and glue them onto construction paper. If you have kids, recruit them to help — there’s nothing like a hand-made, hand-drawn card from a child.
Sending free e-cards is another option. Some of these cards are thoughtful, others funny, and many of them have animated action. While they’re not quite the same as a physical card, your loved ones may appreciate the sentiment.
2. Recycled Gifts
Is it okay to “re-gift” items you received on prior holidays or birthdays? According to the Emily Post Institute, it’s acceptable if the gift meets certain criteria:
- The recipient will truly enjoy the gift
- It’s new and in the original packaging
- It’s not especially meaningful to the original giver
- It won’t create awkward moments between the original giver and the new recipient
- Nobody’s feelings will be hurt
In other words, put some thought into the present. Emily Post says, “…if you’re still in doubt, don’t do it.”
3. Sweater Mittens
You might think it’s difficult to make mittens. But for sweater mittens, all you need is an old sweater and the following items:
Chances are, you already have all these things, in which case it will cost you nothing to make this unique Christmas gift. (If you need an old sweater, head to a local thrift store to find one for a low price.)
Here’s an online tutorial outlining how to make sweater mittens in about 15 minutes.
4. Gifts Purchased With Gift Cards
If you have a few gift cards in your wallet that still have credit, use them to buy Christmas gifts for others. This is a form of re-gifting, but one in which you’ll never have the embarrassment of the original giver recognizing the gift in another person’s home.
But what if you have cards for stores that aren’t nearby or good fits for the recipients on your list? In that case, sell your gift cards online and use the money to buy gifts.
5. Black Friday Freebies
Many stores offer customers gifts on Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving). For example, giveaways include snow globes, rifles and $100 gift certificates, according to a list of Black Friday freebies on About.com. These gifts are usually for the first 100 customers, so get to your store of choice early!
You can either re-gift the items you get, or use any gift certificates you receive to buy Christmas gifts. Either way, you spend time in line instead of spending money.
6. Free Labor Gift Certificate
Consider giving the gift of your time and skills by offering a gift certificate for your services. For example, make a card or certificate that is redeemable for four hours of yard work, a full-house cleaning or pet-sitting for an upcoming vacation.
Family and friends will appreciate these gifts if you choose services you know they’d love. In fact, your friends with kids might like a few “date night” babysitting certificates more than any gift you could have bought them!
7. Amazon Trade-In Store
Got things you don’t need? The Amazon Trade-In Program lets you trade your stuff for Amazon gift cards. They say there are “over a million eligible items including DVDs, CDs, video games, electronics, and books.”
Send your items using a free mailer provided by Amazon, and if they’re accepted, you get credit on a gift card. That, of course, is what you’ll use to buy those Christmas gifts.
8. Scrabble Bracelet
Got an old Scrabble game? Use the lettered tiles to make awesome bracelets.
If you don’t already have an old Scrabble game, buy a used one for a couple dollars at a thrift store. Spend a few dollars more in craft supplies and you’re ready to follow simple online instructions on how to make a Scrabble Bracelet. Personalize it with the recipient’s name or spell out something else with the wooden tiles.
It’s an inexpensive gift, but only because you made it yourself. These things sell for up to $22 on Etsy and other online stores.
9. Homemade Ornaments
You can make nice Christmas tree ornaments from pine cones by following online tutorials. Here’s how to do it:
1. Collect 100 pine cones from your yard or a local park (free).
2. Screw a tiny eye bolt into the bottom of each (approximately $6 for a box).
3. Attach a wire ornament hook to each eye bolt (approximately $4 for a box).
4. Buy silver, gold, red and green spray paint (approximately $2 per can).
5. Hang the pine cones on a clothesline and spray paint them.
You’ll wind up with 25 sets of four beautiful ornaments, with a gold, silver, red and green ornament in each set. Put the ornaments in zippered plastic bags or find something fancier, like a box or basket, before wrapping them. In total, you’ll have spent about $18 and a couple of hours on the project.
10. Unique Cheapies
If you have a little bit to spend, numerous gifts under $10 are unique enough to be appreciated by the receiver, especially if he or she likes geeky stuff. For example, a Transformer USB flash memory drive looks cool and will cost you less than $7 with shipping. To make it really special, you could pre-load it with a digital album of photos of the two of you.
Tech site Hongkiat recommends other interesting tech gifts that cost less than $10, including:
- Cable Monkey Cable Organizer
- USB Mug Warmer
- Ctrl-Alt-Delete Cup Set
- Black Wristband USB Flash Memory Drive
- LED Kitchen Sink Faucet Sprayer Nozzle
- Digital Coin Counting Bank
Your Turn: What’s the best free or cheap Christmas gift you’ve ever given or received?