10 Budget Gifting Ideas

The Cup of Jo founder offers a way to have a budget-friendly holiday spirit


Pop quiz: What’s the best gift you’ve ever gotten? Chances are, it wasn’t the most expensive, but the most thoughtful. During the holiday season, when sales, wish lists and gift guides reign supreme, it can be easy to get caught up in the pressure of trying to find the perfect shiny objects for everyone on your list. But if you’re on a budget (or even if you’re not) keep in mind that some of the best gifts are the ones that come from the heart. 

1. Write a letter

Last year, I went to a dinner party where the host had written an acrostic poem using the letters from each person’s names, and wrote out the different things she loved about them after every letter. How nice would it be to offer someone a letter about how much you love them? It could detail favorite memories of the two of you, or just tell them the wonderful things about them you don’t share every day. It costs nothing, but is truly the very best gift. They would cherish it forever.

2. Make something edible

Bake brownies, cookies or brown butter rice krispie treats and package them in a pretty tin or box. Or make a freeze-able meal you know they’ll love. The best gift anyone could give me would be already made dinners, for a week or a month. You could make lasagna and cut it into pieces, which the recipient could heat up as necessary. (If someone did this for me, I would honestly weep with gratitude.) On those busy nights, they would have a home cooked meal, and would think of you.

3. Band together

Whenever possible, go in on a group gift with other family members, colleagues or friends. By splitting up the amount everyone contributes, you can get them a bigger ticket item they really want, while keeping the costs affordable for all. Win-win!

4. Establish a price limit

It may not sound very festive, but establishing a price limit actually makes gift giving among a group a lot of fun! If everyone agrees on $20 and under (or whatever price sounds right for you), it takes the pressure off and makes shopping fun. There are so many good, inexpensive things available: socks, face masks, games, books, gadgets...the list goes on.  

5. Give a memory

Last year, a friend brought me a framed photo of me and my kids that she printed from a social media site. She told me she chose that photo because she thought I looked beautiful in it, and that everyone (especially moms) should have more photos of themselves in their homes, along with their loved ones. It was so touching that it brought tears to my eyes. It’s so easy to pull and print a photo and it makes such a thoughtful gift.

6. Gift a book

How lovely would it be to gift someone a book you love—either a favorite book from that year, or a beloved book from any time—and put little notes in the margins about what you love in it? As they made their way through the pages, it would be almost like you were reading it together. This would make an especially great gift for someone you’ve recently started dating, as a way to get to know one another better. You could also give a little collection of your favorite books or books with a similar theme, like a cookbook and a food memoir. 

7. Make it by hand

There are so many handmade things to show a person you care. Knowing someone put in the time and the thought to make something for you always makes it feel extra special. Even if you’re not the crafty type who’s up for knitting something, you could write down a collection of your favorite recipes, or hand print your favorite poems. Or, you could collect quotes that you love and think will resonate with them and compile into a book.

8. Try a game

Games are fun, affordable and make excellent gifts for all ages. There are so many different types available, for different ages and skills and interests, and you can truly find something for everyone! Give it with a note about how you can’t wait to play together, and then make good on your promise.

9. Curate a collection

A mini collection—a grouping of little favorites—four things you like that you think the person would love. Maybe a book, a candy bar, one pretty notecard, a bunch of stamps, because you know the person never has stamps. All of the tiny things you know the person would love, but they can be inexpensive. The thought you put into it and how much you know them is what makes it great. 

10. Make it personal

No matter if you’re shopping for your best friend, your child, or your great-uncle who’s impossible to please, you can’t go wrong with a personal gift. You could choose a movie from the year they were born, a wine from a vineyard that shares their name, or something from the state or city where they grew up. One year at a friend’s birthday party, someone surprised him with a special candy they had ordered from a local shop in the town where he grew up. It was such a special surprise, and we could all tell how touched he was by it. Sometimes, all it takes it a little extra thought to make a gift all the more special.


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