24 Amazing Gift Ideas That Don't Cost a Thing

These budget-friendly gifts are just as thoughtful (if not more so) than a big-time splurge—and you don’t have to be a crafting whiz to make them.

A glass gar full of granola and ribbon on a cutting board
Photo: Sarah Crowley

The best gifts aren't always the most expensive. In fact, free (or almost free) presents usually require a bit more thought, care, and creativity than a "saw this at the mall and thought of you" gift. Giving of yourself and your time and energy will definitely be appreciated by the recipient. If you're trying to save money or budget better, it's a win-win.

Here are 24 free gift ideas to consider for holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, or any other gift-giving occasion. Even if you aren't particularly crafty, you can pull off something special and meaningful without spending very much.

Heartfelt Free Gift Ideas

These touching gift ideas will definitely be beloved by the people who love you the best.

Write down some wonderful moments with them

Remember that time? Make sure that they do, too. Write all of your favorite memories with the recipient on small slips of paper, and place them in a pretty jar with a label like "Jar of Awesome." Include some blank slips of paper so they can continue the tradition with new memories as you make them.

Write them some "just in case" letters

Write a series of heartfelt letters to suit different occasions, and label them—"Read this when you're feeling blue," or "Read this when you have something to celebrate." You'll be there to send just the right message at just the right moment.

Create a video tribute

Celebrate your recipient by compiling photos and asking other family members and friends to share their favorite memories and feelings about them. Edit it together (we love Tribute for the ease of collaborating and editing), and you'll have an invaluable (and free) gift for your loved one.

Send a message to the future

Put together a time capsule and time stamp when it'll be ready to open. This makes an especially nice (and free!) gift for the under-18 crowd. You can capture all of their current interests and passions, so the tween in your life will be able to look back at their K-POP obsession in a decade or so.

Share some mementos

Put together a little book or box with priceless artifacts—old ticket stubs, brochures, playbills, and other items from times you've spent together. For bonus points, include a short sentence or two about what you remember from every adventure.

(Almost) Free Gift Ideas

You may have the raw materials already around your house—but if not, these handmade gifts will be low cost, but highly prized.

Cook them something tasty

Sure, you'll have to spring for the ingredients, but who can turn down cookies, cake, a killer homemade granola, or another special treat?

Make your own mix in a jar

Upcycle old pasta sauce jars and layer in all the dry ingredients for oatmeal cookies, hot chocolate, or another favorite treat.

Create a 21st-century mixtape

Craft a customized playlist to share with them. You can include songs that remind you of special memories, add inside jokes, or share new music you think they'll love. If they're old-school, you can still burn a CD, put it on a cassette, or simply share it with them via Spotify or another streaming service.

Grow them something

A pretty plant always makes a lovely gift. Just remember: You'll need to start early if you're growing from seed or bulbs.

DIY some art supplies

You can make play dough, slime, or even finger paints with common ingredients you probably have at home right now.

Give them some inspiration

If you have a pretty blank notebook at home, you can jazz up the cover and turn it into a gratitude journal. Use your best handwriting and adorn the pages with inspirational messages. Try a few famous positive quotes to get started.

Giving Your Time as a Gift

No one has enough time these days—and these gifts will take a few hours of your time, but earn you plenty of appreciation.

Do something nice in their name

Spend some time volunteering for a charity or organization that is especially meaningful to them. You can take a day to clean up trash in a park or on a beach, donate blood, or sign up for a shift serving others at a soup kitchen. It's a totally free gift that will make you both feel great.

Be their sitter

Coupons good for free house-sitting, pet-sitting, or babysitting would likely be welcomed by any gift recipient.

Plan a day of (free) fun

Give a homemade gift card entitling the recipient to a fully planned day of fun. Whether you take your nephew on a tour of the best local playgrounds or treat a parent to their favorite art museum (on free admission day), there are plenty of things to do together that won't break the bank.

Share your talents

Draw a portrait of their dog, learn to sing or play their favorite song, knit a scarf, or find another way to show how much you care.

Creative Free Gift Ideas

Whether you're personalizing a gift you know they'll love or creating a fun activity for a whole group, you'll definitely win creativity points with these presents.

Showcase the family tree

Become the family genealogist and start Googling for details from the past. You can draw it out on paper and frame it for your history buff loved one.

Set up a scavenger hunt

For a great (and fun) group gift, you can send your recipients around the house, around the block, or around town with a list of tasks to complete or list of items to look for. Bonus points if you use a theme, especially if it's objects or places that are special to you—e.g., "Take a selfie in front of our first apartment building".

Hand down your family's secret recipes

Does everyone want to know the secret to your chocolate chip cookies? Maybe Grandma has a killer pasta sauce recipe you know your friend would love. Write out your very best dishes on recipe cards or compile them into a booklet for the perfect gift for cooks.

DIY a family (or friend group) trivia game

Can everyone remember the name of your little brother's imaginary friend, or which college roommate had the peach-and-mint color scheme? Write up the Qs and As and have a fun game night to see who wins bragging rights. If you're feeling really creative, make a full-on game with a board and playing pieces, or a digital Jeopardy-style game.

Fast and Easy Free Gift Ideas

You don't need to put in a lot of time and energy to craft these free gift ideas (but they're still well-loved).

Give them flowers

If you have access to a garden, you can DIY a bouquet of lovely blooms. Tie them with a ribbon or a piece of twine, and you're good to go.

Give them a pet rock

No need to splurge for a "real" pet rock when there's probably one waiting outside your front door. All you need is a box and a link to one of the tongue-in-cheek care manuals online, and you're in business.

Regift wisely

Shop from home, literally. You probably have something in your house that your friend or family member will love—whether it's that vase your friend has always complimented, or a book you've finished that you know your sister will adore. Share generously.

Set a date

We've all learned just how important it is to spend time with the people you really love. So make your gift a commitment to spend time with them, whether it's a monthly date for tea and conversation or a special weekend away with far-flung friends.

Print a favorite photo of them

Whether you make a copy of that pic of you and your BFF in full '90s grunge mode or a recent shot of a family vacation, the photo will likely find a place of honor in their home. (And odds are, you have an extra frame or two at home you can use for it.)

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