Thoughtful Gift Ideas They’ll Actually Love

When I have the mental and monetary bandwidth, I can be an exceptional gift-giver. But usually, I end up shopping last minute, spending more than I want to spend, and feeling like the gift isn’t what I actually want to give. It’s a veritable cyclone of guilt—a guilt that is wholly unnecessary (and, of course, a product of privilege that should be acknowledged).

With more and more folks facing financial anxiety, especially around the holidays, I’ve been thinking of gifts for my friends and family that don’t cost a dime. (Some may cost postage since I live far from many of my loved ones, but you get it).

If you don’t quite have the time to craft something, head here for our list of gifts under $50. Or, if you have a little extra cash but still don’t love the idea of buying tangible things, here’s our round-up of the best experience-based gifts for minimalists.

1. Spotify Playlists

Expand your musical palate without relying on Spotify’s hit-or-miss mixes. Ask your loved ones for a playlist swap or curate themed playlists for them to listen to when the right mood strikes. Or, offer to curate one new playlist for them each month—a gift that they’ll look forward to all year. Since my musical tastes came to a dead stop in 2012, I’d greatly appreciate it if someone could catch me up on the past ten years. Hint.

2. Recipe Books

We all have those recipes that we turn to several times a month (hello, my vegetarian variation on these Bibimbap bowls). But we don’t always realize that these recipes are fresh to someone else. Gather your go-tos and share them with your friends and family, or maybe even the coworker who’s always impressed with your lunch-packing skills. If you’re not in the printing mood, send it all in an email. Their meal plans will thank you.

3. Reading List

I’m forever getting book recommendations from my friends, and yet my rate of reading is far too slow to take the recommendations as I get them. But, if I have a set curriculum laid out for me, I’m more likely to stick to it. If you’re a big reader, curate lists of your very favorites for each of your bookish loved ones. Maybe even include a heartfelt personal note about why you chose those books for that person. If your shelves are full of books you’ve already read, consider gifting those alongside the list—they’re probably just collecting dust, anyways.

4. Offer Your Talents

This is a twist on the “coupon books” that so many of us gave as children. Instead of a vague promise to unload the dishwasher, share your adult skills with your BFFs. For example, offer to research doctors, mechanics, or meal plans for them—and maybe even make a few calls to schedule appointments. If you’re handy with a spreadsheet, offer to help with budgeting or filing taxes. Are you an exceptional organizer? Connect with your friend who always wants to “pick your brain” about organization tips, and offer to go through their closet with them. If something comes easy to you, consider who might benefit from your skill. Then, put a date on the calendar to help them out.

5. Help With A Transition

Getting married, moving, and dealing with professional transitions are all deeply disruptive. If your loved one is experiencing one of these in the next year, gift your support. Tell them what you can offer. And ask what they don’t need, so that the boundaries are clear. Making phone calls, getting quotes, identifying new and unexpected opportunities, and even copyediting and offering feedback on resumes are all helpful.

6. Give From Your Wardrobe

Is there a piece in your closet that you hardly wear, but your friend swoons over it each time she sees it? Wash it, wrap it up, and pass it along. I’ve both given and received clothing this way, and it’s so special that someone knows me well enough to gift me a piece they know I love. I literally had a friend gift me the dress off her back because she realized it was something I would love dearly—and I do. Each time I wear it, I am reminded how grateful I am to have her in my life (and the dress rocks, too).

7. Make Or Write Something Personal

There’s no time like the holidays to share your deepest feelings with your loved ones. Share your gratitude and love in a heartfelt letter, or create art using supplies you already have. Create a digital photo album of all your adventures. One year, I crafted a poem for my boyfriend (now husband) using only lines from songs that held special meaning to us. It was a sweet walk down memory lane, and he appreciated the level of thought I put into it. I know it’s a tired cliché, but sometimes it really is the thought that counts.

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to show your nearest and dearest how much you care for them. Whether you’re gifting a brand new furniture set, or you’re scouring thrift shop shelves (or online storefronts) for the perfect vintage gift, it always comes down to the spirit behind the present. Support, gratitude, and a little pinch of thoughtfulness make any gift more magical, no matter how much it costs. Oh, and Netflix or HBO passwords never hurt.

What are some of the best free or low-cost gifts you’ve ever received? Share in the comments below!


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Emily Torres is the Managing Editor at The Good Trade. She’s a Los Angeles transplant who was born and raised in Indiana, where she studied Creative Writing and Business at Indiana University. You can usually find her reading or writing, caring for her rabbits, or practicing at the yoga studio. Say hi on Instagram!