100 Holiday Gift Ideas That Won’t Cost You a Penny
The holidays get expensive fast. Checking off everyone on your list can be daunting, especially when you consider the impact on your bank account and this year’s rising inflation rate.
Although a 2022 National Retail Federation survey shows 43% of consumers say they don’t earn enough to cover holiday gifts, they’re choosing to supplement their income rather than cut back on holding spending. As many as 40% of those surveyed said they will dip into savings while 32% plan to take on credit card debt to spread a little Christmas cheer.
The good news is that finding amazing gifts doesn’t have to cost you a penny. And we’ve got an early holiday gift for you: a list of 100 free gift ideas.
Ready to get started? Free gifts are divided into categories, so you can easily scroll to find the type of gift you need. Or read the whole list and find inspiration 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.
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. This free gift idea does double duty because bread also makes delicious housewarming gifts.
Many people wait all year to make their favorite holiday cookies or share traditional holiday recipes. Maybe yours even includes your own “secret” blend of holiday spices. Pop cookies into a box or tin and enclose the recipe on a card.
3. Cookie Mix in a Jar
You can bake cookies, or you can let people bake their own cookies whenever they want. Put dry ingredients (flour, chocolate chips, etc.) into a glass jar, tape the recipe to the outside and tie on a festive ribbon. Here’s an adorable M&M cookie jar recipe from Celebrating Sweets.
4. Frozen Homemade Meals
Big into meal prep? Then you probably already make your meals in bulk, storing them in the fridge or freezer until you’re ready to heat and dine. While you’re at it, make an additional meal for your giftee. You won’t just be giving them a delicious meal, but also the gift of time.
If meal prep sounds like too much work, make muesli instead. Fill a glass jar 3/4 full of raw oats, then add nuts and dried fruit. You can find detailed recipes on Fountain Avenue Kitchen. Put a lid on the jar and shake it a few times and add a festive ribbon!
6. Recipe Book
For those who love baking, but don’t have enough cash for ingredients, give a personalized gift like a recipe book.
Sites like Family Cookbook Project and Bookemon provide free online software to create your cookbook, complete with photos. Share your recipe book online or print it out as a PDF for a truly free gif
7. Regifted Sweets
Even if you aren’t naturally skilled in the kitchen, you can still give a delicious free gift. Take some holiday sweets — like the box of Ghirardelli Peppermint Bark you got at your office holiday party — and pass them along to someone else.
Want the easiest possible free gift? Put a bow on the unopened bottles of wine you have sitting in the cupboard.
From My Home to Yours
One of the easiest ways to give a free gift is to pass along something you already own — whether it’s the package of scented soap from your aunt or the book that’s been on your shelf for a decade.
9. Regift Old Gifts
Take that thing you got last year that’s still in its box, and give it to someone else. Scented soaps or candles make a great free gift or that pair of earrings or scarf you’ll never wear
10. 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 free gift that should never arrive used.
If you don’t regift your unused gift cards, don’t just let them languish. You can sell those gift cards for cash.
Give an old favorite or wrap up the book you bought a year ago and didn’t read as a free gift. See ideas at Hooked to Books for how to wrap a book in a way that makes it the most beautiful of personalized gifts.
12. CD Coasters
Old CDs make great coasters, and you probably have some collecting dust somewhere. Grab felt, fabric and glue and follow these directions from Crafts by Amanda. Add a card explaining the free gift and pass it along to someone who appreciates upcycling old technology.
13. 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 as a free gift. The very best personalized gifts are ones that are thoughtful and meaningful.
If you have adult children or grandchildren, giving them treasured ornaments off your Christmas tree will make them feel special. Plus, they’ll think of you every time they place the ornament on a branch.
People rarely do the same puzzle twice, so make sure your used puzzle has all the right pieces, and wrap it up before you pass it along as a free gift.
To get away with this free 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.
17. 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!
18. Costume Jewelry
If you inherited a pile of costume jewelry from an older relative, share the wealth as a free gift to the younger generation.
19. Family Heirloom
This is a more serious gift. Pass along the necklace or china set that’s been coveted for generations. Make sure you give this free gift to someone who will appreciate both its history and value.
20. Childhood Stuffed Animal
Pass along a beloved stuffed animal as a free gift to make a special memory with a child or grandchild.
21. Funky Mug
If you’re one of the people who loves collecting novelty mugs, it’s time to start distributing your collection as a free gift. Just wash ‘em really well first — no one wants the free personalization of coffee rings or lipstick stains.
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.
23. 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 free gift.
The Gift of Memories
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 items you probably already have in storage — which makes them an ideal free gift.
24. Old Photographs
Pass along old photographs of grandparents or great-grandparents to the younger generation. A good free gifts app for photos is Free Prints, which sends you one free gift photo book a month. Use one month’s free gift and send it to someone else.
25. Create a Digital Album
Another great gift is digitizing old photos. Scan your photos into a shareable album in Google Photos or Shutterfly, and send it to the whole clan. By scanning photos today, you’re preserving them from aging and fading for future generations.
26. Photographs From Childhood
If you’ve known a friend since childhood, one of the best personalized gifts is to slip an old photo of the two of you into a frame. Even better if you also write a note reflecting on all your memories together.
27. Old Home Video
Guarantee everyone will be impressed by sending a copy of old home video footage. Just double check your contacts are up to date before sending personalized gifts in an email message.
28. New Home Video
Why not make a new home video this year? Use your smartphone to make the video and you can send it directly to them. Video 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.
29. Family Tree
If your family doesn’t have an updated ancestral tree, put one together and send it to everyone in its branches. This is a perfect gift that carries a lot of meaning.
30. Family History
Interview relatives about their history and favorite memories. Then put the interviews together into a book or video for a free gift that stands the test of time.
31. Share Your DNA Results
Have you ever gotten an Ancestry or 23andMe DNA test? Odds are, you have relatives who would be very interested in the results, but are too shy to send in a swab of their own.
Ancestry gives you historical background on the region your ancestors are from. Print this history out with a map of your results for one of the most unique free gifts.
32. Family Trivia Game
The clan that plays together stays together. Make a trivia game featuring details about your relatives and play it over the holidays. It can be as simple as questions and answers on index cards.
33. Guess Who? Family Edition
Have an old Guess Who? game lying around? Replace the pictures of Anne and Max and everyone else with your own relatives or people in your friend group. Just make sure you crop and cut the photos to be the right size to fit in the game board. You can get a full tutorial from Heather’s Homemade Life.
34. Book of Shared Memories
Give your closest friend a book of memories. Write down as many stories and shared experiences as you can remember. Include doodles, photos and anything else you’d like to add. The history of your friendship is a present to truly cherish.
The Thought That Counts
When you don’t have enough cash to purchase something new, think about gifting time instead of money. You’ll earn bonus points for these free gifts because they’re more thoughtful, too.
35. Monthly Letter
Write a friend or relative a dozen thoughtful letters as free gifts. Put them in envelopes with instructions about when to open.
36. How Do I Love Thee
Begin with the famous Elizabeth Barrett Browning poem How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43) and then, like the poet, count the ways. Check out more poems on poets.org to find others that profess your love even more perfectly.
37. Kid Mad Libs
Here’s a cool aunt or uncle gift: Write up a few Mad Libs like these from The Inquisitive Mom. Don’t worry too much about the story — the kids will fill all the blanks in with “boogers” and “farts” anyway.
The classic mixtape never gets old — especially if it’s on an actual cassette you have lying around. But if you don’t have a tape, you can make and share a Spotify playlist instead.
39. Memory Jar
Fill a jar with strips of paper containing shared memories. Check out this extensive list from Bestow for some inspiration. The idea is to pull out the papers either alone or when you’re together and be reminded of a special time.
40. Inspiration Jar
As you might guess, an inspiration jar is similar to a memory jar, except it’s filled with inspirational quotes or thoughts. If you need some ideas for quotes, check out this downloadable list from American Lifestyle.
41. Hopes and Dreams Jar
This one will require a little work from your giftee, but it’s a fun exercise. 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. You can get a little inspiration from Little Miss Celebration.
42. DIY Piggy Bank
Make bank and get paid with these cool DIY piggy bank ideas from Cool Crafts for the child in your life. You might inspire them to become a future Penny Hoarder!
43. Time Together
Whether it’s an afternoon spent exploring a park or an evening spent knitting and chatting, sometimes time spent together is what really matters. Make it more giftable by creating a coupon book, which the giftee can use to redeem their time with you.
44. Binge Watch a Series
Tell your significant other (or teenager) that yes, you’ll binge watch “Stranger Things,” “Only Murders in the Building” or “Ted Lasso” as a free gift. You know the one. It’s all the more meaningful if it’s one you haven’t been a fan of in the past. Just try not to ruin the gift with snide comments during viewing.
45. Visit the Museum
Many museums have free days, and September is when many citywide free museum days are held. Find out when they are and take someone special as a free gift. Also, if you happen to have a museum membership, you may be entitled to free entry for other museums through the North American Reciprocal Association.
Something for Nothing
There are many ways to get new or nearly new items for free, either off a free gifts app or the classifieds. Check out this list for inspiration.
46. Buy Nothing Group
The Buy Nothing Project connects those 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.
Freecycle is another online app where members give away items for free and it could feature amazing gifts. Check it out and see if there’s anything you might want.
48. Facebook Marketplace
Facebook Marketplace has a free section. Search locally for gently used items to use as a free gift. Or something you could spruce up with a little time and effort.
If you’re on the prowl for free stuff online, download the Freebie Alerts app. You’ll get a notification when people in your community post free items on popular online marketplaces.
Search Craigslist for people giving away free clothes, toys, furniture or household items. As always, watch out for scams! Unlike an online store, there are no reviews to warn you about a sketchy seller so buyer beware.
If you’re in Canada, check Kijiji for free listings. A recent check found someone in Winnipeg giving away a free piano and someone else trying to unload luggage. (Keep in mind that you’ll have to pay to have the piano moved!)
51. Local Classified Ads
Your local classified ads or online app might also have free items you can claim — it never hurts to check! And since the stuff is local, you’ll also get to avoid shipping costs.
Look at Reddit’s Barter, Recycle and Gift Card Exchange communities for free gifts.
53. Freebie Sites
Use our list of 17 online freebies for gift inspiration that doesn’t come from the store. You could go with just one or bundle a bunch of useful stuff together for someone who’s strapped for cash.
54. Free Baby Products
If someone on your gift list is a new or expecting parent, here’s how to get free baby products. Check with parents first though to make sure your free gift will be well-received. Giving baby formula to an exclusively breastfed baby is always awkward.
55. 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. You might also be able to score freebies this way if you have a birthday around the corner.
56. Amazon Trade-In
Amazon Trade-In allows you to trade in mostly used electronics for gift cards. Purchase a gift card or two to pass along and you can keep the 25% discount on a qualifying Amazon device for yourself.
57. A Furry Friend
Don’t purchase pets. You can almost always find someone giving away free kittens or puppies. Just make sure it’s a gift the recipient wants and the recipient is ready to handle the responsibility and expense of caring for a pet.
Are you skilled with a pen, guitar or paintbrush? Here’s how to turn your art into free holiday gifting
58. Original Art
Draw it, paint it, sculpt it, gift it.
59. Kid Art
If you have kids, ask them to draw or paint special pictures for their grandparents and other relatives. You (or the kids) can DIY a display or frame to go along with the art.
60. Original Music
Record yourself performing an original song you wrote for someone you love.
61. Cover Album
Are you more of a musician than a songwriter?
Make a mixtape (or MP3) of you playing covers of the recipient’s favorite tunes. Or gather the whole family to sing holiday favorites.
The original classic (and free) gift.
63. Audio Poetry
Record yourself reading original poetry or old favorites. Poems by Mary Oliver or Kwame Alexander might be just what you are looking for. Poetry.org will have inspiration too.
Read a short story or classic text aloud. For example, you can read Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” in just a couple of hours. There are always free books at the library, in online stores or other book apps that make good fodder for audiobooks.
65. Audio Goodnight
Far away from grandchildren? Make them an audio message using an app like TELL or the free StoryCorps App. TELL has a subscription, but there are free ways to record certain stories. Send messages of love and hope to those you hold dear.
66. Coloring Book
Get blank paper and a marker and create a coloring book for a friend. Draw pictures of items you both enjoy (e.g. pizza, Netflix) or memories you share. Not an artist? These free coloring book apps of various types should help.
67. Hand-Drawn Paper Dolls
You can find plenty of free templates online, including this one from KidsActivities.com or you can draw your own paper dolls. It just requires a steady hand and some tracing paper.
68. Comic Strip
Draw four panels, then add yourself and your friends enjoying a comic scenario.
You can also create a comic strip for free online using an app like Canva.
69. Crossword Puzzle
Create a crossword puzzle where the majority of the clues are about the recipient.
If you don’t want to hand draw that mess, you can use an online tool to generate a printable crossword, like this one from Variety Games.
70. Word Search
If a crossword puzzle sounds too complicated, make a word search! You can either do this by hand or once again use a free tool like the one offered by Variety Games.
The Gift of Labor
Trust us, some people will appreciate these free gifts more than anything else they receive or purchase this year.
Offer a weekend of your time to do house projects. For example, you could update ductwork or fix a leak to help save money on their utility bills.
Can you clean a house until it sparkles? Gift your talents. You can also create a coupon book for cleaning various rooms to make this idea more giftable.
73. 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. And if the kids balk, show them those fascinating car detailing YouTube videos. They’ll be hooked.
Yardwork is a chore and a half, and outsourcing it professionally costs a pretty penny. Offer your services for free. This includes lawn care, shoveling snow or just general landscaping.
75. Serve as Tech Guru
Over the holidays, relatives may be receiving gifts they are excited to use, but aren’t quite sure how to set up. You can offer your services as the holiday tech guru. Set up that new Roku or Fire TV stick, laptop or other device either on the day of the celebration or as an appointment at a later date.
76. Offer Remote Lessons
Maybe you can’t get together because of scheduling conflicts or simply live far away. Think of a special skill you have that your giftee might want to learn. Are you fluent in a second or third language? Able to play an instrument? Show off your skills and give remote lessons over Zoom.
This free gift is classic for a reason. Who doesn’t like a foot, shoulder or back rub that lasts more than a minute?
Do you know how much childcare costs these days? This free gift is actually really, really valuable and parents will be forever grateful.
79. Pet Sitting
Give your friends peace of mind by being their designated pet sitter for a long weekend — or for every vacation they take next year.
80. 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, and you provide the labor.
Let’s end this list with a collection of holiday crafts that can be free gifts.
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!
81. Pet Rock
Make a special memory with a niece or nephew by gifting them a pet rock kit, including all the materials listed at Super Simple. Get all the brownie points when you sit down and create your pet rocks together!
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. Play Dough or Slime
Flour, water, salt, oil and a bit of food coloring are all you need for this classic toy. PBS has the recipe. You can also lean into making batches of the ever trendy slime.
84. Bathtub Crayons
Use grated soap and food coloring to make crayons for bathtime fun. Get Rich Slowly has instructions (No. 94 on the list).
85. Sidewalk Chalk
If you have plaster of Paris and tempera paint, you can easily make sidewalk chalk. There is also a recipe for this via Get Rich Slowly. Check out No. 88 on the list.
86. Kinetic Sand
Kinetic sand is a fun toy that can keep kids entertained for ages. The Spruce Crafts hosts a slew of different recipes.
87. Framed Book Illustration
Cut out and frame a page of text or an illustration from a classic book. Nervous to cut up a prized book? Snag something out of a free library. For those looking for religious gifts, you can get free books and samples to frame on this site.
88. 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.
89. Book Into Purse
You can also turn a hardcover book into a purse or clutch. A Beautiful Mess has the s.
90. 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 a plain ol’ permanent marker. You can even use autumn leaves like Spark & Chemistry did!
91. Teacup Candle
To recycle your half-burnt candles, you will need some type of container like a mismatched teacup, shot glass or votive holder. You may also need a double boiler, but Femme Frugality has a workaround using a simple soup can.
92. 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. Duct Tape and Denim has instructions.
93. Scrabble Necklace
Or, turn your old Scrabble tiles into necklaces. Makes and Takes has the tutorial and diys.com has 25 other ideas for fun projects using Scrabble pieces.
94. 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.
95. Sweater Mittens
Turn an old sweater into new mittens! Check out Creme de la Craft to learn more.
96. Sweater Pillow
Used sweaters also transform into soft, fuzzy throw pillows. PopSugar has a no-sewing-required guide.
97. T-Shirt Pillow
Scour your drawers and pull out all the old T-shirts, especially those with fun patterns or pithy sayings. Now, turn them into throw pillows. Take a look at DIY Network’s guide and use the stuffing from a throw pillow you want to toss anyway.
98. Lip Scrub
Make a simple sugar scrub out of ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen.
Our lip scrub recipe only requires sugar and olive oil.
99. Bath Bombs
Whip up a batch of homemade bath bombs with ingredients you might already have around the house. (If not, you can whip up this batch for less than $10.)
Our video tutorial shows you how.
100. DIY Face Masks
These past couple years have been intense. Give the gift of relaxation with these DIY face masks.
This list of free gift ideas is curated by senior writer Kaz Weida with the help of other staff writers and contributors at The Penny Hoarder.