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10 Simple, Budget-Friendly Gifts You Can Give That Are Actually Great

Looking for simple budget friendly gifts ideas? A reader wrote recently that she was trying to pay off debt but had several birthdays to celebrate. “How do you balance wanting to give generous presents while still sticking to a budget?” she wrote.

Good question! I suspect many of us are similarly challenged. We want to bless our friends and family and show them that we love them. At the same time, we are trying to be thoughtful about finances and not over-spend.

A hanging glass terrarium filled with plants.

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Here are some ideas, beginning with the very toughest group:  teenagers. Some teens really only want one of two things — gift cards or cash.

How in the world do we apply frugality and creativity to cash or gift cards? For either of these options, it pays to plan ahead.

Cash. Try the $5 Bill Savings Plan for a couple months. Or throw your change in a jar, and cash it in for currency at the bank. You could also give your favorite teen the whole jar of coins.

Gift cards. Buy a discounted gift card on eBay. (Look for a seller with a feedback score of at least 100 and a good rating.) Or check out one of the online gift card exchanges like CardHub, CardCash, or GiftCards.com. Costco and Sam’s Club often sell gift cards for less than face value. If you’re patient, you can also earn gift cards by using a site like SwagBucks for searching.

An outing. Make a memory instead of giving a physical gift. Visit the art museum, or the zoo, or a historic home, or take a factory tour. For the past several years, my parents and I have celebrated their anniversary by doing something fun. Last week we spent a relaxing afternoon at the Denver Botanic Gardens, and had such a good time.

A special book. My friend Mindy bought her entire family’s Christmas presents at her library’s used book sale. As an author I may be a little prejudiced, but most people love receiving a book — especially if you find one aligned to your friend’s interests.

Consumables. My sister once gave me a huge, extravagant bag of Ghiradelli chocolate chips for my birthday, and I made treats all year. Anything that’s a splurge-y version of something your friend uses on a regular basis will be appreciated,  from a good bottle of olive oil to a generous bag of Arborio rice or a box of citronella candles or some new art supplies or organic potting soil and flower seeds.

Artisan food. I love receiving homemade food gifts, don’t you? Use the produce from your garden to make homemade preserves or pesto. Cook up a batch of roasted almondscheese crackers or homemade honey graham crackers. Bake an apple cake or butterscotch brownies.

Something growing. Grow herbs from seed and give a potted herb garden. Force spring bulbs in a pot. Root a cutting from a plant you already have. Or make a little terrarium with a few tiny plants.

Look for cool pots at thrift stores and garage sales, and give a potted flowering plant like geraniums or pansies. My friend Gail gave me seeds that she gathered from the lupine growing in her mountain garden, and I think of her each year when the pretty flowers come up.

A photo or family memory. Have a vintage family photo copied and put it in a simple frame. Make a scrapbook. Take your loved one’s portrait. Print out the family genealogy.

A donation. For the person who has everything, give a gift to a worthy charity like Heifer International, Water.org or Mercy Corps.

A party. Invite your loved one’s friends over, make a birthday cake, and celebrate. When people offer to bring something, let them!

How About You?

We’d love to hear your gift-giving ideas and suggestions in the Comments section of this page.

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is the author of 17 books, including Small Bites and 101 Things To Do With Bacon. She shares ideas to simplify cooking, gardening, time and money. She is also the owner of Cross Media, Inc. and founder of the BENSA Bacon Lovers Society.

4 thoughts on “10 Simple, Budget-Friendly Gifts You Can Give That Are Actually Great”

  1. In the summertime I go to rummage and estate sales and look for antique depression ware or crystal – platters, bowls, vases, and wine glasses. Coupled with fresh flowers or baked goods or a bottle of wine you have a wonderful gift. I have several pieces that I have acquired, just waiting for the next needed gift.

  2. Ironically, I just wrote a post (1craftyfoodie.com) about ways to save when buying for kids’ birthdays and a lot of my advice can transfer over to buying affordable gifts for adults as well. You mentioned gift card exchanges but also there’s buying cards from cardpool.com at a discount. I also mentioned in my post 2 favorite off-price retailer’s Ross Dress For Less and Tuesday Morning have a lot of great gifts. I use them when shopping for kids and also for adults. As a volunteer coordinator, I started making some cute gift bags for my volunteers and I bought everything from Ross. I got a 6-pack of gift bags, a multi-pack of hand lotions, and some kitchen towels and then tied them up cute with ribbons my office had on hand already.

  3. One of the best gifts I ever received (nearly 20 years ago) cost very little money, but I still appreciate it every single day. At the time I didn’t own a decent camera, and I was very sad that I had no good photos of my cats. So for my birthday a dear friend of mine colluded with CatMan to surprise me. She came over one afternoon when I wasn’t home and photographed all of my cats. Then she had the best pictures enlarged (this was back in the days of film), she bought some mattes, and got a bunch of frames at the thrift store and framed them herself. Now my walls are covered with beautiful photos of kitties who have long since crossed the Rainbow Bridge. And I’m grateful every single day for those beautiful photos.


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