Over time, I’ve been disheartened as I see generosity being boiled down to dollars and cents. On one hand, it’s totally true that dropping a lot of cash on a present is a sign of generosity, because you could have spent that money a lot of ways. But it seems like only one component of generosity. For the many friends and family in my life for whom money is more precious than time, especially around this time of year, it seems to make sense to pour time into gifts rather than money. The main side effect is that pouring time into gifts tends to be one way to make sure the gift really fits the person and shows your close connection to each other.
Here are a few ways that I’ve thought of or tried to be extra-generous this year, even if buying extra-pricey gifts isn’t in the cards.
1. Start early.
By getting a leg up on your gift plans, you can take advantage of sales and opportunities. If you have other circumstances where you feel obligated to buy things — charity auctions, kids fundraisers, local farmer’s markets — kill two birds with one stone by picking out something for a person on your list rather than just adding to the random stuff in your own home. I especially like shopping for raw materials on Black Friday: if you plan to craft something as a present, getting your glue and popsicle sticks on Black Friday reduces your overall money investment, while still maintaining a great look for homemade gifts.
2. Aim for experiences.
While we probably don’t want to give our friends little coupon books for hanging out with us, I think a lot of grown-up friends would appreciate a cute card with an “I.O.U.” for a specific event — let’s go to the movies together, or hit the gym come New Year’s, or just a round of drinks. These are things we all want to make time for, but by making them the gift we are giving, they become a little more concrete, and we’re more likely to make space for them.
3. Share a skill.
If you happen to be good at something, but don’t usually charge anyone for it, it can still be valuable! Can you offer to do some work on a friend’s car, or teach a younger sibling how to play a sport or instrument? Anything that people take “lessons” for could be something you could give to someone else!
4. Memory-based gifts, like pictures and scrapbooks and videos, pack a huge punch.
I know you can get anything in the world on a coffee cup now, but just old-fashioned compiling of great pictures and video memories can be a meaningful present that costs nothing, or next-to-nothing. Obviously, if you are short on time, you can also pay someone else to do all the pesky organizing and layout, leaving you just to do the collecting of the memories, which is the most meaningful part, anyway!
5. Handmade gifts are great when practical.
While it’s true that fingerprint art is most meaningful coming from children, there are handmade gifts that can also be of use to people. Most of us could use another scarf if you are handy with knitting needles, and a painted mug from a paint-your-own-pottery place is just fine to add to a collection of crockery. While I would say that most of us aren’t able to make beautiful art on our own, we can definitely make useful items with some kind of subtle personalization to them. Or, if you are an artist, this is a great way to show people everything you can do!
6. If you default to gift cards, add a note.
I know that it’s old fashioned, but writing someone a little letter can be awfully meaningful, and shows them you’ve thought about them a lot. Then, you get the flexibility of the gift-card form of generosity, alongside a kind reminder of how much you value that person.
With planning, it’s possible to create gifts that showcase how much you care about people without being the most expensive things in the store; you don’t even have to be that handy with your craft supplies to make this happen! It’s about turning your actual talents into things your friends and family will be happy about.
Laura Marie is a writer and teacher in Ohio. She blogs about the stories behind family recipes at Recipe In A Bottle.
Image via Unsplash