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.
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
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