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.
The average American plans to spend $837 on holiday gifts in 2021, according to Gallup. That’s not much more than people spent in 2020, and continues to be down from pre-pandemic norms. A lot of us are still hurting economically.
But we’ve got an early holiday gift for you: a list of 100 free gift ideas.
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 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.
Many people wait all year to make their favorite holiday cookies, and many families have traditional holiday recipes. Maybe yours even includes your own ‘secret’ blend of holiday spices. 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 their own 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. Here’s an adorable M&M cookie jar recipe from Celebrating Sweets.
4. Frozen Homemade Meals
If you’re big into meal prep, 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, you can 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.
Just fill a glass jar 3/4 full of dry, 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 until the muesli is well mixed. Add a festive ribbon!
6. Recipe Book
If you love baking, but don’t have enough cash for the ingredients, give people a recipe book.
Sites like Family Cookbook Project and Bookemon provide you with free online software to create your cookbook, complete with photos. You can then share your recipe book online or print it out as a PDF for free. There are options to order a professionally bound book, but those will set you back anywhere from a few bucks to $20.
7. 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.
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 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. We suggest scented soaps or candles.
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 present that should never arrive used.
Give an old favorite, or wrap up the book you bought a year ago and didn’t read.
12. CD Coasters
Old CDs make great coasters, and you probably have a whole binder full of old ones collecting dust somewhere.
Grab some felt, fabric and glue following these directions from Crafts by Amanda. Add a card explaining the gift and pass the CDs along to a friend 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.
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.
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.
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 with the younger generation.
19. 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.
20. Childhood Stuffed Animal
Pass along a beloved stuffed animal 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.
Wash ‘em really well first — we don’t want to see any 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 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 are items you probably already have in your closet — which makes them ideal free holiday gifts.
24. Old Photographs
Pass along old photographs of grandparents or great-grandparents to the younger generation.
25. Create a Digital Album
Because so much of what we do is online, another great gift is digitizing old family photos. Scan your photos into a shareable album via a service like Google Photos or Shutterfly, and send it to all the family members.
This is also a great gift because photos fade over time. By scanning them today, you’re preserving them for future generations, as well.
26. Photographs From Childhood
If you’ve known a friend since childhood, 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
Send everyone in the family a copy of old home video footage of children or other relatives.
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.
Some ideas: 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. Maybe even set up the phone on a stand and record yourself making a favorite family recipe.
29. Family Tree
If your family doesn’t have an updated family tree, put one together and send it to everyone in its branches.
30. Family History
Interview family members about their history and favorite memories.
Then put the interviews together into a book — or video!
31. Share Your DNA Results
Have you ever gotten an Ancestry or 23andMe DNA test? Odds are, you have family members who would be very interested in the results, but are too shy to send in a swab of their own spit.
Ancestry in particular gives you some historical background on the region your family was from; print this history out with a map of your results for a unique, meaningful gift that won’t cost you a cent.
32. 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!
33. Guess Who? Family Edition
Have an old Guess Who? game lying around?
Replace the pictures of Anne and Max and everyone else with pictures of your own extended family members or people in your friend group. These printouts don’t have to be photo quality. Just make sure you crop and cut them 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.
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 to purchase something new, think about gifts that are more about time than money. And often more thoughtful, too.
35. Monthly Letter
Write a friend or relative a dozen thoughtful letters.
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 and you may 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. Here are some examples 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
Check out 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 the gift of time spent together is what really matters.
You can make this gift 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.
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 often the month when citywide free museum days are held. Find out when they are and take someone special.
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, most commonly called NARM. Hundreds of museums across the country take part in this program.
Something for Nothing
There are many ways to get new or nearly-new items for free. Check out this list for inspiration.
46. 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!
Freecycle is another online group where members give away items for free. 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 holiday gifts.
Search Craigslist for people giving away free clothes, toys, furniture or household items. As always, watch out for scams!
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. Ebay Classified Ads
Ebay Classified Ads might also have free items you can claim — it never hurts to check!
53. Freebie Sites
Use our list of 18 online freebies for gift inspiration.
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.
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. Buy what you want, and pass the free gift to a friend!
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. Get a gift card or two and your loved one can buy whatever they’d like.
57. A Furry Friend
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.
Are you skilled with a pen, guitar or paintbrush? Here’s how to turn free holiday gifting into a work of art.
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.
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
Read a short story or classic text aloud.
For example, you can read Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in just a couple of hours.
65. Audio Goodnight
Far away from grandchildren?
Make them an audio goodnight using an app like TELL. TELL has a subscription option, but there are also free ways to record certain stories. Tell a story, sing a song, wish them goodnight and send your love.
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.
67. 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!
If you don’t fancy yourself an artist, you can find plenty of free templates online, including this one from KidsActivities.com.
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 gifts more than anything else they receive this year.
Offer a friend or relative a weekend of your time to do all of their little house projects.For example, you could update their ductwork or fix a leak to help them save money on their utility bills.
Can you clean a house until it sparkles? Gift your talents.
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.
Yardwork is a chore and a half, and outsourcing it professionally can cost a pretty penny. Make your friends’ or family’s lives easier by offering your services for free. Depending on your local climate, this may include lawn care, shoveling snow or just general landscaping.
75. Serve as Tech Guru
Over the holidays, your family members 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.
Offer to set up that new Roku or Fire 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 COVID transmission is still high in your area. Or simply because you live far away.
Either way, 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? Proficient in a software program an older family member is struggling with?
Take your skills and give them as 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.
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.
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
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 (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.
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 instructions.
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 ole’ permanent marker. You can even use autumn leaves like Spark & Chemistry did!
Put the tea light inside and you have a gift to light up anyone’s holiday.
91. Teacup Candle
Recycle your half-burnt candles into a beautiful new masterpiece. You will need some type of container for your upcycled candle, 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
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 if you don’t have pillow batting at hand, 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 staff writers and contributors at The Penny Hoarder.