Just in time for the holidays, Are You Going to be This Way the Rest of the Time I Know You? posted a challenge: to come up with 5 completely free and 5 almost free gifts. This is a great way to challenge yourself to come up with useful gift ideas that won't break your budget instead of just running out and buying the latest gadget.
Absolutely free gifts (can count items you already have around the house):
1. Stocking stuffer samples: I get a lot of free samples throughout the year from places like Walmart.com for mostly toiletries like deodorant, toothpaste and the like. Perfect size to stick in a stocking! I'm even giving my husband some to give back to me in my stocking. :) One tip: use a secondary email address on the form to avoid spam.
2. Day at the park: Plan a day with someone you love and the great outdoors. If you're in the snowy north like myself, go sledding and then make some hot cocoa. In a warmer climate, google some local wildlife and go find the animals.
3. Mix tape: Go old fashioned and make a custom compilation for your friends or family. Of course, I have a bunch of blank CD's hanging around and loads of songs on iTunes.
4. Giveaways: While rare, there are occasions when the freebie handed out at promotional events are actually good. A cool t-shirt or even a stress ball would be a great gift for a kid.
5. Re-gift card: With one of my credit cards, we can claim our rewards in the form of gift cards to restaurants or stores. You can either give away the gift card or use it to buy presents. We often get $25 gift certificates to Amazon.com and use them to buy books, DVDs, CDs, pretty much anything.
BONUS - Rescue a pet: There are plenty of dogs and cats available at the pound or posted in the newspaper that are initially free. Of course, there is food, vet bills, and supplies later on. Imagine the look on your child's face when they open a box with a puppy in it! Instant classic.
Caveat: don't give a pet without either discussing it with the recipient or being prepared to care for the pet yourself. I surprised my husband with a kitten that was found behind my mom's restaurant after we'd talked about getting one for ages. They get along pretty well:
Almost free gifts (under $10, hopefully under $5):
1. Mix in a Jar: A popular cheap gift favorite. Basically it's all the dry ingredients for a recipe layered in a jar with instructions to make the recipe. I am making the double fudge brownie in cute little snowman jars that I bought for $2.24 each.
2. Dinner on Us: Offer a busy couple dinner with all the fixings at their house, from set up to clean up. If you plan it well, it can cost less than $5 total. A favorite of mine is baked ziti.
3. Super Clearance: Throughout the year, there are special deals and steals online and radical markdowns in stores on discontinued merchandise. I was able to snag a few such deals, both at about 99.5% off. I would post details, but I don't want to spoil the surprise!
4. Custom Web Design: My husband used to work in web design and we have a server in our basement. For the low, low price of $9.95, we bought a domain name for my parents and set them up with their own website for their photos. They keep it going and love posting all their pictures.
5. Cozy Fire in a Basket: Nothing beats curling up by the fire on a cold winter night, so why do so many fireplaces go unused? Because it's a pain in the butt to gather the wood and build a fire. So invest in some firewood, divide it up and include some kindling (gathered in the woods) and matches. If you have a little extra money, buy a cheap wood carrier and wrap it all up together.
There are all my ideas for saving money on gift giving this holiday season. I have used a few in the past and plan on using more this year. Make sure to check out the original list and the list at Paid Twice for more ideas!