Cheap or free holiday gift ideas

It seems crazy to suggest that it’s holiday shopping time again, but here we are. I don’t know about you, but with the pandemic, and life still feeling “different” I have put little to no thought into our holiday plans and purchases.

Something we have discovered through this weird and uncertain year, is that we don’t need nearly the amount of stuff that we own. We have decluttered like crazy this year, and are struggling to come up with gift ideas for our tween daughters that won’t fill up the space we’ve made in our home.

We are also watching our pennies, after doing some redecorating this fall. Our house looks great, but our pocketbook is showing the repercussions.

Here’s a list of cheap or free gift ideas to consider this holiday season:

Try an experience.

I realize this won’t be the same as in past years. Gift cards for attractions may not get used, but think smaller.

Here in Kingston, the library offers passes for local museums, and some in nearby towns, free to library card holders. Try scheduling a date with your friends or loved ones to visit your own town, or those nearby as a tourist. Check your local library for similar opportunities.

Kingston Frontenac Library also offers Parks Passes, though they are unavailable this year. Visit the library website for more details.

Check out local library boxes.

cheap or free gift
A library box in Kingston, Ontario.

Have you seen library boxes? They are essentially a cupboard on a post, in front yards of residential neighbourhoods. These libraries are open to everyone to give and take books at their leisure.

I myself have taken books from local boxes and gifted them to others in past years. I found a perfectly wonderful copy of Emma for my daughter, Emma. She hasn’t read it yet, but she thought it was a great gift. (She’s also only 12, so there’s lots of time yet.)

Registered library boxes will show up on this map, after you enter search criteria. I searched Kingston, Ontario and a lot of pins dropped onto the map. Try searching your town and see what you find!

Gift second-hand items.

Like the books in library boxes, second hand items often have a lot of left, and can be suitable for gifting on a budget. Stores like Salvation Army, Value Village, Talize, and other local secondhand locations like Phase 2 and What’ll I Wear in downtown Kingston, may provide unique and fun gift ideas as well.

Other places to find gently used items that may be appropriate for gifting, are online sites like Kijiji or Facebook Marketplace. We’ve gifted items from our own home before – children’s toys and books we’ve grown out of to younger cousins, and picture frames (with fresh photos) to family.

There can be a stigma to regifting, but in the current climate crisis, and with reusing being such a strong message now, I, for one, think regifting is amazing, and the best way to pass on items that may otherwise end up in a landfill.

A photography collection.

Speaking of regifting frames with new photos, gifting images that you may have collected throughout the year is a great idea.

We all take untold numbers of photos on our phones in our day-to-day lives. Some people, like me, take cameras on hikes, or for days out, and take yet more photos. An easy, and free, idea for a gift could be a collection of these images in their digital form.

I don’t know about you, but we have a lot of USB drives and memory cards around the house. Load one up with favourite photos from the year, and gift it! Or take that collection to a photo printing location and make enough copies to wrap up for grandparents or aunts and uncles who just love getting photos of the kids.

If printing them is too steep, lend the memory stick, and let the recipient download the photos. Then take it to the next household and do the same. Or ask the receivers to give you a memory stick of theirs to return to them full of photos. I know that takes some of the fun out of gifting, but its a reasonable idea.

My last idea is kitschy one – coupon booklets!

We’ve all received this gift at some point in our lives, have we not? Homemade coupons for “dishes duty” or “car wash” – cute and fun, and definitely free.

This idea can be for anyone. Have the kids design coupons to use at the grandparents house. Things the kids can do, in an age appropriate manner. For us, things like “sweep off the deck”, “make grandma and grandpa dinner”, or “redeem for a batch of cookies” would be fun.

You can also use these as spouse gifts, and get spicy with them. There’s no limit to what you can write a coupon for!

A few last thoughts:

  • Give your time – help a family member with cleaning or cooking; or simply visit (safely, of course) with friends and family who may be lonely.
  • Crafts or art – things the kids made at school and you don’t want to throw away, but have no room for at home.
  • Freezer meals for anyone – when you’re cooking for yourself, make extra for those who would appreciate it.
  • Cookies and baking – who doesn’t love homemade treats? Check out my Holiday Baking roundup from last season for some ideas.
Cheap or Free Holiday Gift Ideas

There’s no limit to what you can come up with as cheap or free gifts. And you don’t need to share that you’re regifting or purchasing second hand. Gifts come from the heart, and the time you spend coming up with perfect ones is of more value than the price of the gift.

If you’re looking to volunteer your time this holiday season, Shopping Angels Canada has just launched an amazing initiative here in Kingston. They pair volunteer shoppers with people who may not feel safe leaving their home during the pandemic. Read my article on Kingstonist for more information.

Have I left out any easy cheap or free gift ideas? Let me know in the comments. I’m always looking for unique ideas for my parents, who never need anything, and never want us to spend money on them!


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  1. We made a music CD recording of the kids. Highly coveted by both sets of grandparents!! Videos would be good too if they have grandparents that know how to run a DVD ha ha…. my kids don’t. Also, my son made a birdhouse and marshmallow squares for one set of grandparents. In the past they’ve painted flower pots and made tree ornaments.

    1. Thanks for sharing Melaena! Were the kids singing Christmas songs? I think that’s adorable. 🙂

      We do ornaments some years as well – and gifting baked goods is doubly special now that my oldest can do 90% of the baking on her own now.

      Have a great holiday season!

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