I don’t know about your household, but in mine, dad definitely gets the short end of the stick as far as presents are concerned.
Mom’s easy. I pretty much just have to find something I’d like — a pretty new candle or a great poolside read — and she’s set for Mother’s Day.
But Father’s Day shopping has always been a challenge.
It’s partially because my dad’s the kind of guy who, when he wants something, just goes out and buys it himself.
But it’s also because the stuff he does want… is expensive.
Electronics. Guitar gear. Cheesy football memorabilia… some dads have expensive taste.
And even if yours would be thrilled with yet another tie or set of golf balls, it turns out some of the best gifts in life are absolutely free.
19 Totally Free Father’s Day Ideas That Don’t Feel Cheap
These Father’s Day gifts may be free, but they’re anything but cheap. They’re more meaningful and last longer than any watch, razor or fancy scotch decanter.
And all you need to give them is time, effort and creativity.
Here are 19 ways to wow your dad this Father’s Day — completely free of charge.
1. Shoot Some Hoops
You paid good money for that basketball hoop in the driveway, so don’t just let it rust. Get dribbling!
(Come on, this one’s a total classic dad activity. You’ve seen “Father of the Bride,” right?)
If dad’s not a basketball guy, try kicking around a soccer ball or batting a round or three. Just go out and play!
2. Play a Board Game
Whether your dad likes D&D or chess, bonding over board games is a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon — or six, if your Monopoly games are anything like ours.
3. Make His Favorite Meal
OK, you might have to spend a little bit of money on this one if you don’t have the ingredients already.
But whipping together dad’s favorite dinner is way cheaper (and probably healthier) than heading to a fancy restaurant. And it’s infinitely more thoughtful.
4. De-Mystify Technology
Don’t let your dad become one of those people who thinks Twitter is a search engine.
Unlock the mysteries of the Internet, download some new books onto his Kindle, or just spend some time clearing his cache so his laptop runs faster.
5. Screen His Favorite Movie
This Father’s Day, you’ll find me watching “Ice Castles” with my dad for the 8 billionth time — even though I think it’s pretty cheesy.
(And yes, my dad’s a little weird.)
6. Watch the Game
Even if hockey (or football, or golf) isn’t your thing, it’ll mean the world to dad if you take the time to sit down and watch his favorite sport with him.
Throw in some popcorn — or better yet, hot wings and beer — as a bonus. These snacks work just as well for Father’s Day as they do for the Super Bowl.
7. Fire Up the Barbecue
No matter what’s in your fridge, it’s gonna be awesome when you grill it.
Make dad even happier by letting him play grillmaster — just set up everything for him ahead of time. He might complain about how hard he’s working, but you know deep down he loves the chance to play with fire.
8. Mow the Lawn
Want to save some green?
Try cutting it — mowing won’t cost you anything but your time, and it takes a huge load off dad’s shoulders.
9. Do Some Yardwork
Do the hedges need to be trimmed? Is that woodpile getting damp and moldy?
Get ahead of mom’s (third) gentle reminder and do the work so dad won’t have to.
10. Organize His Toolbox
Proceed with caution: If your dad’s a handyman, there might be some method to his current tool organization madness… even if it appears utterly chaotic to the untrained eye.
But if dad’s recently become too busy to keep his once-tidy toolbox in good array, now would be a great time to go in and fix the problem.
Heck, why not shine ‘em up, too? A craftsman’s only as good as his tools, after all.
11. Clean the Garage
Want to really do some organizational heavy lifting?
Extend your efforts from the toolbox to the whole garage. Then, watch dad’s jaw drop as the door slowly lifts.
12. Have a Jam Sesh
Is your dad a rock star, ex- or current?
OK, does he at least have a guitar or something?
If you play, too — or even if you don’t — sit down and jam with him. You can always just sing along, keep beat or nod your head. He’ll love the chance to share his music with you.
13. Get Outside
Camping, fishing, hunting, hiking, paddling, running… there’s lots to do outdoors that’s free and fun.
14. Do Something Else He Loves With Him
Even if it’s not your favorite.
“I took my grandpa for a drive and we wound up exploring an old mine site and looking for cool rocks and fossils,” says TPH editor Heather van der Hoop.
“He’s a huge rock nerd, and he loved it.”
15. Write Down Something Awesome He’s Taught You
What’s one lesson your father taught you that you’ll never forget?
You probably have several. Write them into a beautiful card or letter to create a gift from the heart dad — and you — will always treasure.
16. Have a “Remember When”
Sit down and do some old-fashioned reminiscing — yes, even if all the stories he wants to bring up are the embarrassing ones from when you were nine.
Old family photos are optional… but game-changing.
17. Get Artsy
Got any artistic talent?
Write your dad a poem or song, draw his portrait or consider crafting something. The last one may require a little money for supplies, depending on what you have — but there are some really awesome (and useful!) Father’s Day crafting ideas out there.
Check out this easy luggage handle cover, which will both extend the life of his luggage (penny hoarding!) and make it easier to identify on the baggage carousel. Win-win.
Or if dad’s work doesn’t take him on many travels, make his at-home or in-office workspace more efficient with these desk organizers. Too cute, right?
18. Take the Kids
Husbands are dads, too. Tell your spouse you’ll take care of the kids today, so he can watch the game or play a round of golf in complete peace.
It’ll be all the sweeter when he comes home from a relaxing day to the excited greetings of his children.
19. Owe Him One
If dad’s not free to join you immediately for any of the awesome activities suggested so far, consider writing him up a coupon — or five — good for hangout sessions or yard work sometime in the future.
Other great IOUs: a fresh batch of cookies, a homemade meal, a trip to the beach or park, a weekend-long visit…
Or maybe just two whole hours of being left alone to watch the game.
Happy Father’s Day!
Your Turn: What free Father’s Day gift ideas did we miss? Let us know in the comments!
Jamie Cattanach (@jamiecattanach) is a contributing writer at The Penny Hoarder. Her creative writing has been featured in DMQ Review, Sweet: A Literary Confection and elsewhere.