30 Frugal Gift Ideas

There are times in life when you need to give someone a gift to show you appreciate them and the Starbucks gift card just won’t do.

Over at Zen Habits, Leo has made a list of 30 cheap but nice ways to say thank you to someone.

Here are a few:

Jams and jellies.
Good bread (home-made works great).
Books (my favorite).
A blank recipe book … write some of your favorite recipes on the first few pages.
A keepsake DVD with a video of special moments, edited (and captioned) by you. A slideshow presentation with music burned on a DVD works too.
Create your own art (and put it on nice stationary or in a frame). By “art”, I mean a sketch, painting, poem, short story, whatever.
Scented candles.

What sort of gifts do you whip up for these occasions? We tend to make chocolate chip cookies. Let’s fill the comments with ideas.

30 Frugal Gift Ideas to Show You Appreciate Someone [ZenHabits]


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  1. chickee510 says:

    offer to babysit, especially helpful for SAHM’s who need to get out…
    maybe a small basket with goodies from the local farmer’s market (help the farmer, help your friend)…or my fave, sew up something!

  2. DeeJayQueue says:

    I work in a print shop, so I can make all kinds of neat swag for friends. Luggage tags, posters, name plates, photo books, business cards/stationery, calendars, organizers, basically anything you can put on paper I can make it here. This provides me with a large assortment of gifts I can give on the cheap/free. I realize that not everyone has this kind of arrangement, but lots of these things are easy to do and come out pretty cheaply if you DIY.

    You can get the business card-sized magnets for cheap from staples and roll your own fridge magnets with a photo or a hand-made card or something.

  3. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    I’ve given more “gift basket” mugs than I can ever remember. Candy, pretzels, toys, flowers, recipes, valentines, handmade soap, candles, yarn and a crochet hook, colored pencils, whatever you want and can tailor to the recipient.

    I stopped giving bath stuff when I was 11. My two brothers (8 and 9) and I had been given a few dollars to shop for a gift for my grandmother. Because we knew she liked fancy things, and because we were kids impressed by bright shiny colorful objects, we all–independently–bought her bath beads. My grandmother wondered aloud if we were, um, trying to tell her something.

  4. phrygian says:

    I make bath salts and soaps. Or, if I know the person cooks, flavored olive oil (with herbs from my garden). Then, I use Photoshop/Indesign to create custom labels for the gifts. People are usually impressed that you’d take the time to make them such an individualized gift.

  5. cSam says:

    I second the magnet idea. I made personalized magnets for my friend a couple of years ago for her birthday. Just print out or draw some pictures, attach it to magnet strips, and add various craft things like glitter and ribbons.
    Also (coming from a college-aged crowd here) mix CDs are fun. It feels really personal, more so than an iTunes gift card. My friend made a really cute gift when she bought some things from a dollar store to match the songs on a CD she gave me, so opening the gift (and trying to match items to songs) was an event in itself. I think the more personal a “frugal” gift, the better it is.

  6. synergy says:

    I’m in the process of teaching myself to knit so I can make some Christmas gifts. Nothing hard, just a couple of scarves. I’m pretty sure I can turn them out in the next 2 months.

  7. kad9k says:

    Knitting rocks! It’s so easy and even a simple scarf using just one type of stitch impresses non-knitters. I also like to knit dishcloths in bright colors. Dishcloth cotton costs about $1 for enough to make 2, and you can wool blends for scarves dirt cheap, too.

  8. vealcalf2000 says:

    I go to a discount fabric store and pic up discounted fleece and make no sew blankets. I made them for everyone last year and only spent about $20 making 4 blankets. What’s nice is there is usually a good selection of good quality fleece even in the bargain bin and you can select colors, themes, etc. of fabric that suits the recipient.

  9. pestie says:

    If someone gave me scented candles, I’d kick ’em in the nuts. God, I hate those things.

  10. kimsama says:

    I like to do one of two things:

    First, it’s fun to put together all the ingredients and a recipe for some special food, then give that in a fancy package. It can be for cupcakes or crazy stuff like pilaf or Japanese food. The cooler the better!

    Second, my father makes wine from local ingredients every year. So, I usually spend several weekends a year picking gallons of raspberries, blueberries, sumac, dandelions, violets, roses, etc for him, and he gives me nicely bottled wines made from those things in return (though the turn-around is usually a couple of years for aging!). I then can make up pretty labels in Illustrator and give them as gifts.

  11. Streyeder says:

    I’m giving out cookies this year. I can afford the labor (free) and I don’t think finding tins will be too bad. It’ll be WAY under what I usually spend for Christmas and everyone will be happy.

    I really can’t wait to start baking. :)

  12. rmz says:

    Scented candles? The hell?

  13. stpauliegirl says:

    @vealcalf2000: My mom does no-sew scarves with fleece like that. She always finds superfun prints. A couple of years ago, she gave me an M&Ms one that I get compliments on every winter!

  14. no.no.notorious says:


  15. Chicago7 says:

    When you give this stuff and the recipient says “You shouldn’t have”, the really MEAN you shouldn’t have.

    Thank you is good enough.

  16. thomas_callahan says:

    Not to be ungrateful, but I have enough crap, I don’t need scarves or scented candles. Food if you must, at least it goes away, but if the reason you’re giving a present is just to say “thanks” or “I appreciate you”, then just say it with words.

    If you’re a total stranger then the Starbucks gift card is completely appropriate, since words from a stranger don’t mean a whole lot and food or books from a stranger is weird, but if you know me then these kinds of gifts are not necessary.

    And if the gift is for a holiday, then things like the recipe book and candles (even books unless it’s from somebody that really knows what books I’d like) just feel like “I felt like I had to give you a present so here’s a cheap one”.

  17. RandomHookup says:

    I think a lap dance is the kind of gift most fellows appreciate. And it’s free!!

  18. Jacquilynne says:

    I would like ‘knit something for them’ to be permanently removed from these idiotic lists, if for no other reason than it’ll stop people from asking me if I’d knit them things as a favour, since apparently knitting things is cheap and easy, all the lists say so.

    Nice yarn is not cheap and knitting things from WalMart acrylic is a waste of time unless they’re for an infant and have to be very, very washable. Frankly, if all you’re going to do is knit a rectangle out of a novelty yarn and call it a scarf, you can buy those pre-made for less time and money than it’ll take you to make.

    I do knit gifts, frequently. But an adult sweater takes 100+ hours of work and 100+ dollars of yarn which is by no means cheap. I hate that some of my recipients might think it was an attempt to be cheap when in reality, I can only manage to knit things for people to whom I’m extra close.

  19. gtabacchi says:

    A lot of these things sound more like token gifts than actually giving somebody something that they actually want. It just seems that if you are going to give somebody a gift, it’s more important to pick out something that will matter to them than to save a couple of bucks.

  20. MystiMel says:

    I’m taking a ceramics class right now for some cheap Christmas gifts. I can turn out a few cups rather quickly and I can even personalize them. I made a cup for my mother that says “mother” in Japanese. Others will be artistically glazed. Eventually we will be making bowls and serving sets.

    I also suggest if you take a vacation, you should bring back trinkets for people that are somewhat personalized. If it’s something they can’t get themselves because it is only sold far away, they will appreciate it. I brought back special honey from Japan for my relatives who seem to have everything already. I brought back dollar store items with Minnie mouse on them for my little cousin and nice chopsticks, fans, and candy for other people. They also had $5 t-shirts with incorrect English on them.

  21. rdm24 says:

    The best gifts aren’t physical entities. It’s more often than not time you spend with a person! It can really make someone feel special the way no iTunes gift card ever could!

  22. nardo218 says:

    @Jacquilynne: V true. Dishclothes and scarves aren’t difficult, but anything worthwhile is really too much effort and money. I crocheted a baby blanket for my friends, thinking baby crap is too expensive to buy, but I ended up spending twice as much as I would to buy one. And people only really appreciate handmade things if they REALLY like the end product or they are really into tradition and stuff. There’s nothing worse than spending all that time and effort and the person wishes you’d just spent $10 at Target for a few onesies.

  23. HungryGrrl says:

    Personally I’m sick of receiving ugly fun-fur hand knit scarves. The thought is nice but they’re hideous and end up at the Salvation army. If you don’t know what color someone’s coat is, you shouldn’t be making them a scarf.

    If you don’t know a person well go the non-clutter, good for everybody safe route and get a gift card for either hot beverages or books & magazines. Specialty grocery store gift cards are good too.

    If you’re looking for a cheap gift for someone you know well and care about a lot, think of something they’ll really appreciate.

    Stay simple with host/hostess gifts. Cheescake, wine, flowers, or home made cookies. Ideally it should be something that the host can enjoy on their own after the party… don’t be put out if the bottle of wine you brought isn’t served. It’s for them, not you. Don’t burden people with knick knacks or candles they may not like or use.

    For a college-student relative, practical gifts are always appreciated. Gift cards for media (digital or retail) so they can get the music they want but can’t afford to get legally; rolls of quarters for laundry, gift cards for restaurants or Trader Joes. Again, unless it REALLY MEANS SOMETHING to your relationship, don’t burden them with cute useless objects, candles or picture frames!

  24. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    @nardo218: Right on. I knit, crochet, embroider, and quilt, and due to the time and money involved in sourcing and creating really quality projects, I would never call them “cheap” or “easy.” May lightning strike me if I ever put my money and effort into creating “cheap and easy” projects. You work so hard and expect such a delighted reaction from your special handmade labor of love, and the recipient is like, “meh.”

  25. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    @HungryGrrl: If someone gave me rolls of quarters for Christmas so I could do my laundry, I’d be embarrassed. Give money if you want to give money. Don’t pin it to a purpose related to personal hygiene.

  26. zolielo says:

    I melt glass or metal then buff to make very low cost paper weights as gifts. If someone already has one of my “art” pieces I put a bit more labor and transform the lumps into pots, cups, dishes.

  27. cSam says:

    @speedwell: agreed. At my school it’s cheaper to use the school’s ID cards to pay for laundry, so a roll of quarters is almost useless.