Budgeting / Shopping Smart

Zero-Cost Gift Alternatives That They’ll Actually Love

By Friday, December 18, 2020

Pssst: You don’t need to buy presents for family and friends this year.

….and you don’t have to feel guilty or weird about it, either.

Maybe gifts aren’t in your budget this year, or perhaps you could spend that money towards something more pressing, like your rent, bills, or paying off the credit card you really leaned on earlier this year when the pandemic first hit. Maybe you lost a job this year or were forced to make a career transition that isn’t as lucrative. Maybe your significant other lost their job and your household income took a hit. Maybe you got sick and are still focusing on healing yourself. Maybe you were never really one to save much, but COVID-19 was a wake-up call to start saving for a rainy — or rather, a pandemic — day. 

Either way, it doesn’t matter; you don’t have to justify why you’re not buying gifts this year. And quite truthfully, you wouldn’t be alone. 

According to a recent study done by Credit Karma, 34 percent of the U.S. participants shared that they felt financially unprepared for the holidays, with 50 percent of that group worried about being able to afford presents and 59 percent saying they’re going to either switch up their gift-giving plan this year or do away with it completely.

Like everything else this year, ‘Holiday 2020’ will be different. The season already feels different, with many cities under quarantine and lockdown again, due to rising COVID cases. A lot of us aren’t even seeing family this year, and instead, are spending the holidays alone. One of my coworkers told me that she had to cancel her trip back home and that the last time she saw her parents was last Christmas.

At the end of the day, some of us are still processing (and grieving) our losses this year. If you’re going to a holiday party, it’s probably over Zoom, and chances are, you’re probably dreading it. Even my neighborhood feels darker, with the houses that are draped in lights appearing so much duller this year. There’s less joy, probably because we’re less joyful. And if this is impacting your abilities to follow through with the tradition of gift-giving, you have my permission to just not do it this year. 

However, you can still be thoughtful in so many other priceless ways:

1. Make a call

More than anything, we just want someone to listen to us and be present. Like, offering someone an hour of time to talk about life, work, their feelings about The Undoing finale, etc. could really be better than a physical gift this year. Many of us have been isolated from family and friends, so just the human interaction is so very much needed. Schedule the time in their Google calendar so that both of you have something to look forward to. If either of you (or both of you) are super busy, block out 30 minutes — that’s usually doable for everyone. (Bonus: No, video is *not* required, so you don’t have to wash your hair beforehand.)

2. Bake a treat

By this point, you should be a total pro at baking, right? Assuming you’re not sick, you can bake a batch of cookies or brownies (something that will hold up for at least a couple days) and either hand-deliver to them while social-distancing or send the dessert through the mail. The only costs here are ingredients and postage.

3. Offer up your Netflix/Hulu/Disney+ login

You can even go a step further watch a show “together.” My entire family uses my Netflix account, and considering I had to pay extra this year to account for more users, I feel like my work here this holiday season is done. (Obviously, make sure you trust the person with your information since accounts can be so easily hacked into these days.)

4. Write a letter

I guess you can write an email, too. But IRL letters feel more personal, and there’s something special about having a tangible message in your hands that you get to tear open and take time reading. Check out our tips on how to tap into old school snail-mailing, here.

5. Offer to look over their resume

The invaluable gift people gave me this year was looking over my resume and LinkedIn. Applying to jobs is such an emotionally-taxing task, and it’s hard to get honest feedback from people about your resume, which is supposed to neatly and smartly sum up your entire professional career. And the stakes can be high. One typo and you might not get the position you want. Or maybe there are better ways to get your message across. Offer to be the person who goes through your friend or former coworker’s resume, LinkedIn, or CV with a fine-tooth comb. Be honest, offer notes and guidance, and give your full support. Bonus: Write them a recommendation on their LinkedIn!

6. Lean into nostalgia

Send friends and family members copies of old photos from, well, better times. More likely, you’re bound to find photos and videos online and on your phone, so this “gift” will either cost you a couple of bucks or nothing at all. A friend recently dug up a video I sent her in college, which first made me cringe and then smile wildly. It was a sweet gesture that probably only cost her like five minutes of her time, but it meant a lot to me.

7. Send videos from the now

Have cute kids who do cute things? Record and send. Have bonkers pets who do bonkers pet things? Send family and friends videos. Or if you happen to record the first snow of the season, or the snowman your kid built, or the tree you decorated, or the cookies you frosted after watching a YouTube video about cookie frosting.

8. List book recommendations

There are a billion “best of” book lists out there, but I usually discover titles from friends and co-workers. It’s more personalized that way, since you’re likely to know what, say, your sibling wants to read versus the New York Times’ round-up. If you want, you can even send a copy of a book you recently enjoyed. Books, after all, are meant to be shared!

Gina Vaynshteyn is an editor and writer who lives in LA. You can find more of her words on Refinery29, Apartment Therapy, HelloGiggles, Distractify, and others. If you wanna, you can follow her on Instagram or Twitter.

Image via Pexels

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