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I stopped celebrating Christmas at a young age, and that decision has saved me a fortune on gifts. I also don’t have too many friends, which means fewer gifts for the inevitable weddings, housewarming parties, and birthdays.
But maybe you love the holidays and have a ton of friends, so you need to think about buying gifts fairly often. And that can get expensive, right?
What can you do to keep that expense to a minimum? Use the suggestions below. You’ll find inexpensive gift ideas for weddings, birthdays, housewarming parties, and just about any other celebration or event, starting with…
1. An Anniversary Gift for a Wedding
Okay, the other guests have already cherry-picked the bride and groom’s wedding registry for the cheapest items. What can you do to give a gift that both stands out and is affordable?
First, buy a 25th anniversary card. The 25th is the traditional silver anniversary, which is why you’re going to buy a silver bar and glue it or tape it neatly inside the card.
Then write something like, “I figured you have enough wedding presents, so I wanted to help celebrate in advance your 25th wedding anniversary, a certain milestone for you two. Consider this a symbol of your commitment (and a way to pay for a romantic anniversary dinner 25 years from now).”
It makes for a romantic and unique gift. If you go really cheap (like for the wedding of an acquaintance) a one-ounce bar of silver and a card will currently cost you about $20. Of course, a five-ounce bar would be more impressive.
2. Down Payment Gifts
A “down payment gift” is something that’s essentially part of a future event or experience you’ll be sharing with the recipient.
For example, if you plan to take a road trip with your husband in two months, and his birthday is coming before that, you might buy him a beverage cooler, and a card that says something along the lines of, “Happy Birthday… Can’t wait to hit the road this summer.”
If you have a child who will get a driver’s license after the holidays, you could get a hands-free phone device as a Christmas gift, so she will be ready for driving safely. You might buy fireworks for a gift if a birthday comes a few weeks before the Fourth of July, along with a note that “You have to save these for the Fourth.”
The beauty of the down payment gift is that it’s often something you would have been buying in the future anyhow. That effectively makes the net additional cost zero.
3. Dollar Store Gifts
You don’t really want to tell anyone that you bought their gift at a dollar store, but they won’t ask anyhow. So the only real problem is finding something nice.
The good news is that there are two basic types of products at dollar stores. One is the type made for these retailers — and made poorly. The other is the occasional overstock or closeout products they get. These can be of decent quality.
For example, I once saw beautiful decorative marble eggs for $20 in a high-end gift shop, and later found the exact same thing in a dollar store. They probably bought them for fifty cents from a failed gift shop.
You can also often put a gift together starting at a dollar store. For example, recently I bought some wooden roses for (of course) a dollar each. My wife loved them. A bouquet of a dozen, in an inexpensive glass vase, would run you less than $20.
4. Gifts of Service
When you really have nothing to spend on a present, you still have your time and skills. So give those as a gift.
For example, for a housewarming gift you might buy a dollar-store card and in it write something like “I ran out of time to buy a gift, but you might like this better…”
Include a certificate , which (of course) you printed for free at home, good for a night of pet-sitting, or a Saturday of yard work, or whatever else you can offer.
You can try this for birthdays too. It might seem tacky with non-family members, but it is just about the cheapest valuable gift you can give.
5. Handmade Gifts
My neighbor still uses the colorful walking stick I made for him last year. When my wife and I went to the house of a new friend from Ecuador, I brought a gift of a walking stick decorated with an old Ecuadorian coin purchased for 25 cents at a coin shop. I don’t think I’ve ever spent more than a dollar making a walking stick.
Handmade gifts are great for all sorts of gift-giving events, from Christmas to birthdays to just going over to a new friend’s house for dinner. And you don’t necessarily need to have much skill to make something creative.
For example, buy cool-looking foreign coins five-for-a-dollar at a coin shop, drill a hole in each, and make them into necklaces using craft jewelry string. Your net cost for ten of these might be $5 or less, or 50 cents each, and kids love them (I know because we used to sell them for a few dollars each at flea markets).
6. Unique but Cheap Gifts
If you don’t have much to spend on a gift, make it something unique. Sometimes people value an inexpensive but interesting present more than a traditional expensive one.
For example, for less than $25 you can get a surfboard wine bottle holder that makes the wine look like it’s defying gravity. That could make a cheap bottle of wine seem more impressive, and the two together might still cost you less than some good bottles of wine alone.
For the friend who has everything you might name a star after him. That will run you less than $30, and it comes with documentation. An acre of land on the moon will also cost you less than $30, and that comes with a deed.
Then there are the websites that specialize in unique gifts. Just use the search feature on them to find the inexpensive ones.
For example, if you search “gifts under $25” on UncommonGoods.com, you’ll find things like a pick punch. It makes guitar picks out of any old gift cards or credit cards. What a great (and useful) gift for a guitarist friend.
Other “under $25” gifts found there include “Yoga Joes,” which are GI-Joe-Like figurines in yoga poses, a “Build Your Own Robot Kit,” and a “5-in-1 Tool Pen.”
Here are few more places that have a decent selection of unique (and weird, funny, and indescribable) gifts for under $25:
- Amazon (just search “unique gifts and sort by “Price: Low to High”)
7. Home-Cooked Gifts
If you can cook you always have something inexpensive and appreciated to give as a gift. For example, a birthday cake that costs $30 at the store can be made for $10 at home.
To save even more money you might have to miss the party (with a good reason, of course), and make a birthday dinner at your place for your friend or family member. Start by looking up a list of cheap and easy dinner recipes. You have to eat anyhow, so this special event might cost you only a few dollars extra.
Again, you might want to aim for unique if you don’t have much to spend. For example, watch a video on unique ways to cut fruits and vegetables, and make a plateful of artistic healthy snacks to bring as a gift to a housewarming party. Your total cost could be less than $10.
8. Alcohol Assortment Gifts
If you’re on a budget, impress with variety rather than price. There are a couple ways to do this with gifts of alcohol.
For example, a gift of a good bottle of whiskey might run you $30 or more. But many liquor stores have those little sample bottles of various drinks for 99 cents each.
Buy a dozen different drinks, ranging from rum to schnapps to flavored vodkas, package them nicely (in a dollar-store basket perhaps?), and add a card that says something cute like, “Tell me which you like best so I know what to get you the next time.”
And why give a friend only one type of craft beer for her birthday when places like Total Wine and More have hundreds of varieties available for single-bottle purchase? Some are as cheap as a dollar or two each, so a six-pack of beers from around the world will easily cost you less than $20.
9. Re-gifted Gifts
Just because I love drinking beer, doesn’t mean I want to go to the trouble of making it. So what did I do with a beer-making kit I received as a gift? I said thank you and stored it in its original packaging, so I could give it away a year later as a zero-cost gift.
Re-gifting is probably easier for me, because my wife and I tend to move every couple years, so nobody is likely to know we’re giving away their gifts. But as long as you regift in a different social circle than the one from which the gift came, you should be fine.
You can read up on the rest of the rules of re-gifting if you’re not sure you’re doing it the right way.
The nice thing about re-gifting is that no matter how expensive the gift was originally, it cost you nothing to pass it on to someone who will actually enjoy it. That makes this just about the cheapest type of gift you can give. Of course, you might want to add a card and new wrapping paper — bought at the dollar store, of course.
10. Garden Gifts
Those of us who like fresh fruits and vegetables really appreciate gifts from the garden. And for the giver, they can be very inexpensive.
If you have a peach tree in the yard, for example, chances are good that when the fruit ripens you have more than you can eat, so rounding up a basketful to give as a gift costs you nothing but your time.
If you have big garden you can attractively arrange a variety of vegetables in a basket for a nice housewarming gift.
Can you can add to this list of inexpensive gift ideas? If so, please share your suggestions below … and keep on frugaling!