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16 Free (or Almost Free) Gift Ideas

Like any good gaggle of budgeters, the folks around YNAB are full of brilliance when it comes to free or almost free gift-giving. They’re big on heart and small on budget impact, because sometimes you gotta keep your eyes on the debt-free prize, and your friends and family totally get that.

1. A Hand-Written Letter

One particularly tight Christmas, I wrote letters to the people I loved telling them how much they meant to me, what made them special, how I was proud of them, etc. They were very well received and some people said they were the best gifts they got.

Erin, Teacher at YNAB

2. Every Thursday in January

This year, I already told Julie, my wife, what I would give her this year: Every Thursday in January, sunup to sun down. She just about cried. I’ve already blocked off the days and I’m ready to do whatever she wants to do (it’ll probably have to do with prepping for our impending baby arrival, in one way or another).

– Jesse, YNAB Founder and CEO

3. A Trip to Play with Puppies

I have a few dog/puppy obsessed nephews, so I gave one of my nephews a coupon for a trip to Petland to play with the puppies! I always get nervous that those kinds of stores won’t want people coming just for playtime and not for purchase, but they actually really value it for socializing the puppies and getting them out of their kennels.

My nephew LOVED it because he got to choose which puppies we played with (a husky, a pomsky, and a boston terrier) and we topped the day off with a $1 ice cream cone from McDonald’s! Might not be as effective on adults, but special one-on-one experiences make kids feel like rockstars, ESPECIALLY when their big brothers aren’t allowed to come along.

– Hannah, Video Content Producer

4. Learning Grammie’s Recipes

My grandmother once had my cousins and I come for a day of “learning Grammie’s recipes.” It was amazing. And priceless.

– Shannon F, Senior Support Specialist

5. Car Wash and Detail

Do this one yourself, also works great as a coupon.

-Adam, Full Stack Developer

6. Letters for Teachers or Coaches

Teacher gifts can really add up, especially over several kids. My husband is a teacher, and he keeps every letter and card he’s ever been given from a student. They mean a lot to him—he would far rather receive a little note from a student than anything else.

Kathryn, Product Designer

7. A Day of Help

A great free gift is personal coupons! We gave one last year to my mother-in-law: “This coupon is good for one day of help with any household project.”

Laura, Support Specialist

8. Socks

Darn Tough Socks. Are they inexpensive? Not exactly. But they come with a full lifetime warranty, and they’re so comfortable. I’ve been wearing their warmest pair of hiking socks at least twice a week for a year (I’ve got Raynaud’s Syndrome), and they’re still going strong.

I just need five more pairs of the Mountaineering socks and about seven “no shows” and I’ll never need to buy socks again.

-Seth, Support Specialist

9. DIY Ornaments

Each of my kids make ornaments for each member of the extended family. We end up saving a ton of money because we’re not buying presents for everyone “from” each of our kids.

– Sarah W, Support Specialist

10. Homemade Food

Last year I made homemade apple butter—it’s easy and cheap if you have a crockpot and an Aldi nearby. I gave everyone a cute towel to go along with the apple butter. It ended up being way cheaper than buying individual items for everyone!

Rachel W, Support Specialist

11. A Trip to the Bookstore

To include our girls in giving, we take them to the bookstore to pick a book for each other. They love choosing the perfect book for their sister, and the holiday shopping adventure is a nice family night out without emptying our wallets.

Kait, Support Specialist

12. Framed Photos

Our first Christmas being married, we were pretty broke. So for both my mom and my mother-in-law, we printed off a family photo from the wedding and bought a nice frame for it. It did cost money, but you can look for cheap frames or photo deals.

– Emma, Support Manager

13. Calendar of Inside Jokes

Last year I made calendars for my family with one of our inside jokes for each month (and jokes pertaining to particular family members for their birthday months).

For example, my mom loves the Ina Garten cookbooks and we always laugh about all of the rhetorical questions she asks in her recipes, so this was the November page:

-Emily C, Product Designer

14. Book Exchange

We’re doing a book exchange this year in my family—so instead of each buying six gifts for adults that don’t need more “stuff,” we drew a name and we’re giving that person a good book.

-Rachel E, Writer  

15. Just Stockings

My family stopped doing presents altogether about five years ago. Instead we just do a small stocking per person and it’s mostly just travel-sized toiletries for everyone. That way it’s one less thing to check off when we visit each other (and super practical for cross-country families)!

-Laura W, Support Specialist

16. A Day with the Cool Aunt

This year we’re taking our nieces and nephew for a day to hang out, and do some fun things. My sister-in-law is thrilled.  

Nicole J, Support Specialist

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to spread the holiday cheer and these memorable gifts are pretty fun to give and receive.

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