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6 Low-Cost (or Free!) Gifts People Will Actually Like

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The season of giving is upon us, and it’s incredibly easy to overspend because we want people we love to know they really matter to us. Yes, it’s “the thought that counts,” and we teach our kids to say thank you, no matter how odd the unwanted the gift. But deep down, most of us give partly because of the pleasure we get from pleasing somebody else. We don’t want recipients to understand that we are being responsible; we want them to be delighted.

Let’s face it: Often we’re just one Hallmark commercial away from deciding that getting out of debt isn’t nearly as important as watching a loved one’s eyes light up with pleasure.

And so we scoured the Internet and asked friends about gifts that are cost-free, or close to it, and are likely to be treasured — and better than a homemade coupon that will most likely get lost. These gifts won’t get your debt-repayment plan off track (if you need a motivating reminder of just how much debt can cost in a lifetime, this calculator can tell you) — but they will allow you to give something of value. Your wallet will thank you, but more importantly, so will your recipient.

1. A Play Date

For this one, you find a free kids’ activity (or plan one of your own) for the recipient’s children. You set a date and a time. The recipient is free to ask you to change it, but unless they do, you are committed to that time slot. You may be taking their kids to a museum, to the playground or baking cookies with them at your house. But their harried parents get some time off. And they can schedule it and count on it.

2. A Mix Tape (or CD or Digital Playlist)

How do you know your recipient? If they were in high school band with you, be sure you include something from that era that makes you both laugh. At a family reunion this past summer, my sister pulled out a Carpenters’ Best Hits CD she bought for me. (Yes, I’ll confess it was one of the first albums I bought.) We were both in tears by the time we were singing “Ticket to Ride” out loud — we were laughing so hard. And torturing our kids with our music was half the fun. If there’s a song that reminds you of your relationship, choose that. Otherwise, go with songs you know the recipient will like. Or pick a theme and find songs that work with it.

3. The Benefit of Your Expertise

Do you have a friend or relative who admires your fashion sense and has asked for your advice? Show that person how to wear those new Christmas clothes, down to scarves, jewelry, shoes and accessories. Check closets for clothing that needs to be deleted from the recipient’s wardrobe, and those that deserve more wearing time. Choose outfits and photograph them for your recipient. No more guessing (wrong) about what looks good with what.

Fashion not your thing? Maybe you are a natural for a few hours of Web consulting. Or maybe your friend really needs a photo that looks more professional than the selfie you saw he posted on LinkedIn, and you have the time and expertise to take one. (Again, set a date and time, and be committed to following through.)

4. Photos — Organized

Mobile devices have made it so we need never miss a photo op, but we still can’t seem to find time to organize all those images. If there are boxes of photos, you could organize those (you may even find a photo album that has been started but has lots of room left among old photos). Identify everyone you can. Chances are good your recipient can supply some names, dates or occasions that you could not. Going through the pictures with them, and adding the information they recall is part of what makes this gift memorable. Digital photos can be organized into albums, virtual or physical. And remember, some recipients will appreciate a gift they can hold or display.

5. A Resolution Buddy

You know what makes a New Year’s resolution easier to keep? Someone to keep you accountable — and to encourage you and remind you of why all this effort will be worth it. Your daily check-ins and support will help. (And bonus: Your friend will probably be willing to return the favor when you check in, so this can also be self-gifting.) One of my friends and I have committed to doing yoga at least twice a week and reporting to the other. Knowing she’s waiting to hear from me, I’m motivated to squeeze it in.

6. Returns Genie

You know how much you hate standing in line to return the gifts that didn’t work, didn’t fit or were duplicates? So does everybody else. And how happy would you be if someone pretty much insisted on doing it for you … as their gift?

What’s your favorite free or low-cost holiday gift? Share your memories or suggestions with us below.

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