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For many of us, giving (and receiving) thoughtful gifts feels lovely at the holidays. Especially this year, with so much sadness and struggle, it’s reasonable to want to do something nice for family, friends, and ourselves. But that desire is at odds with another reality many of us are facing (every year, but especially this one): real financial constraints. This year, what if we put the pressure to buy off the table, and instead found new ways to give without financial sacrifices?

Here are our favorite low-to-no-cost gift giving ideas:


Make a homemade-only rule. Homemade gifts from the kids are always the best (who doesn’t love that popsicle stick...whatever that is?). But grown-ups can get creative with homemade gifts, too. Consider writing a letter to a loved one, including some favorite memories (and photos!) of time you’ve spent together. Baked goods never fail, and can be easily packaged in festive tins from the Dollar Store. Hot fudge sauce (which can be customized with flavors like mint, cinnamon, or, if you’re into it, booze) or tangy preserved lemons both make tasty gift treats.


Give the gift of time. Make a calendar of special things you’ll do together as a family this month. (Our family adventures are a great place to start for ideas.) Movie nights with popcorn and ice cream, fort-building followed by fort sleepovers, and game nights all make the cut in our homes. (Pro tip: If you have a co-parent or you’re bubbled up with another family, consider giving them the gift of a day off from their children. Seriously, can you think of anything better? Or is that just us?)


Limit your shopping with a secret gift exchange. If you have a large extended family or friend group that loves gift-giving, this might be the year to propose a secret gift exchange instead. Everyone gets assigned one person to buy a gift for, and then you have the fun of guessing who bought which gift. (There are websites that make this easy for you, too.)


Whatever you choose, keep it thrifty. Even buying gifts doesn’t have to be expensive if you check out your options for secondhand goods. Your local “buy nothing” or buy/sell/exchange groups on Facebook can be good places to look for gently used toys, games, and clothes, and secondhand shops always offer great finds.

“Especially this year, with so much sadness and struggle, it’s reasonable to want to do something nice for family, friends, and ourselves. But that desire is at odds with another reality many of us are facing (every year, but especially this one): real financial constraints.”

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