I have mixed feelings about gift giving. As much as I love to spoil the people I care about, I also want to offer gah-worthy gifts on my terms. Basically, I want to be able to choose how much to spend and who to give to. I would like to offer gifts that will be enjoyed, but that will also contribute to some greater good. So this year I’m making it my mission to come up with a beautiful, budget-friendly gift for everyone on my shopping list. And I’m going to do it my way.
Feeling the Pressure to Buy
With all of the consumerism surrounding holidays and birthdays nowadays, what should be a rewarding giving experience can easily become super stressful and overwhelming.
Take Christmas for example. With all of the parties, secrets santa’s and traditions to uphold during the holidays, we can easily feel pressured into buying cheap gifts just for the sake of gifting. Or worse, feel obligated to spend more money than we can comfortably afford.
As a teenager, I remember scouring the mall, trying to find something nice to give my mom for Christmas. My pickle, which I’m sure you can relate to was this: There was nothing within my modest budget that I could buy my mom that she couldn’t already buy herself, if she really wanted it. So I figured, if she didn’t already have something, she must not really want it that badly. In fact, I’m pretty sure her wish list included a Mercedes and a trip to Europe. Otherwise she was content with what she had already.
After a long afternoon jumping from store to store I ended up buying her a cat statue. Yes, a random wooden cat statue. I can’t say that I was as excited as usual for her to open my gift that Christmas morning. And I’m pretty sure that her warm thank you was disguising a less excited “What am I going to do with this?”. A few years later, we decided as a family to no longer exchange gifts.
Rethinking Gift Giving
This Christmas shopping experience as a young adult made me rethink the whole gifting concept. I get super excited about giving someone a present that I think they will love. It really does feel better to give than to receive. But for me this rings true only when I can give a meaningful gift. Something that the other person would actually want or use, not hold onto out of guilt.
Sure, we all like receiving presents, and the gesture behind gift-giving is always appreciated. However, I hate the idea of anyone spending their hard-earned money on something I don’t want, or worse, taking on debt to buy me something that they can’t afford. I really don’t need any more stuff. Like most of us, I’m good. My home is full.
That’s why I’m eager to get back to a style of giving that aligns with my values around sustainability and financial independence (as well as my taste for beautiful things). A gifting style that’s free from rules and obligations. Fortunately, with a little time and creativity, there are endless ideas for gift giving that are affordable, eco-friendly and, of course, absolutely fabulous.
The Budget-Friendly Gift Guide
Over the years I’ve come up with a variety of gift giving ideas that are rewarding for the giver and also appealing to almost any recipient. Not strictly reserved for Christmas, these affordable (but never cheap!) presents are suitable for any gifting occasion. From chic DIYs that can be prepared in bulk to personalised experiences, all of these ideas can be done with a small budget. They also tend to be environmentally-friendly and low waste, because the best things usually are.
I hope that this budget-friendly gift guide makes your future gift-giving experiences a little less stressful and a hell of a lot more fun. And in case you’re wondering, my mom actually still has the random cat statue I gave her 15 years ago. Maybe she grew to love it or maybe she just never had the heart to give it away. In the end though, it really is the thought that counts.
1. Homemade Snacks, Sweets and Conserves
As a foodie, it’s such a treat to receive good food as gifts. Several years ago a friend of mine handed out a selection of homemade cookies in pretty, reusable tins. It was perfect! Not only were the cookies delicious, especially because they were made with love by my friend, but I am still using that tin to store food in the kitchen years later.
There is something deeply touching about receiving a gift that someone else has thoughtfully made themselves. I love the idea of thrifting pretty, pre-owned jars, containers and cooking dishes that can be used as reusable packaging for an edible, budget-friendly gift. Fill them with a batch of grandma’s secret recipe sweets or your homemade granola mix. You could also go berry picking in the summer and make heaps of jams and conserves. Or grow a bunch of basil and make your own pesto. Then simply create your own labels and you are good for gifts for months to come.
For a more personalised edible present, bring a loved one their favourite meal in a vintage casserole dish. Or surprise your best friend with a cake served on a beautiful plate for him or her to keep.
2. Personalised Services (IOU)
If DIY isn’t really your thing, how about you offer your time and talents to loved ones instead. Do you have a special skill, like photography, graphic design or even accounting that you could share? This could be the ideal gift for a friend wanting to take engagement photos, promote their small business or tackle their taxes – without having to spend a fortune. You could also offer to give new parents a night off by coming over to babysit for the evening. Or what about helping a friend to re-paint a room or cutting the grass for your grandparents.
On websites like Canva you can easily design and print your very own personalised gift certificates. Just be sure to follow up and set a date for your IOUs, as some recipients may feel uncomfortable making the first move and may need to be reassured that you are still happy to help out.
This is a great alternative to purchasing a present because it costs you nothing but your time, and could also really help someone else out financially. In fact, it could be exactly what they need right now. Naturally, with no physical gifts given, an IOU is also a very eco-friendly option.
3. One-of-a-kind Care Packages
If you prefer to buy a physical Christmas gift, try putting together a package with a few specially selected or themed items for a one-of-a-kind present. This is something that you can work on throughout the year as you come across fun things in thrift stores, flea markets or on your travels, but it also works if you leave your shopping until the last minute.
For example, combine a gorgeous vintage teacup and saucer with a pack of loose leaf tea, an old (yet charming) coffee table book and a small scented candle. You could also build a box around a specific theme like whisky, gardening, travel or hockey. Wrap your items up in an old box with some festive paper. Or use an old silk scarf as a sustainable yet elegant alternative to gift wrap.
These types of thoughtful presents always feel special without being expensive. It’s all in the presentation. Bonus: If you incorporate edible, thrifted or regifted items, you are also creating a unique gift with a much smaller environmental impact.
You can learn more about how to thrift luxury items on a budget here.
4. Themed Food Baskets
It’s so much fun to receive a gorgeous basket of food. Fortunately for us, it’s also really easy to do make one ourselves without spending a fortune. Simply pick a theme and combine 5-10 related items in a nice basket or linen tote bag. The theme can be a recipe, represent a culinary region, or even focus on a special category of foods, such as exotic spices. Do you have a friend who just got back from Tuscany? Combine a variety of pastas and pestos with an Italian olive oil and some thrifted linen napkins. Or put together a picnic basket filled with gourmet crackers, dips and a bottle of wine.
Visit the food section of your local Homesense or Winners to find a nice selection of gourmet products at excellent prices. You can create your edible bundles depending on whatever you find in stock there. Alternatively, visit your local farmer’s market, a specialty food store or an ethnic grocer. Then arrange your items in a nice box, bag or basket, or use a tablecloth to wrap everything up like a present.
Again this is a great way to offer a rewarding and budget-friendly gift that will truly be appreciated.
5. Pretty Potted Plants
Over the past few years, I’ve really started to appreciate having more plants around my home – everything from potted pink roses to cacti, herbs and hanging flora. As much as I love receiving a bouquet a flowers, I get to enjoy my potted plants around the house for so much longer. They’ve become such a source of happiness that I’ve started offering plants to friends as budget-friendly gifts, and so can you.
Head to your garden centre or florist and pick out something fun, low maintenance and within your price range. You can also look for plants on websites like Craigslist or at moving sales. A friend of mine, for instance, recently picked up the most incredible range of mature cacti for next to nothing from a local plant enthusiast who was downsizing. You will also want to include a ceramic or clay pot with your gift so that the plant has somewhere suitable to be planted in its new home.
If you are still partial to cut arrangements, try offering a bouquet of dried flowers instead. Dried flowers can be just as beautiful, and since they’re having a bit of a moment right now, they’re quite easy to find. Most importantly, dried flowers can be kept indefinitely, and isn’t that the dream? Another sustainable and affordable gift ticked off your list.
6. Clean Beauty Products
Because we’re all going to need a bar of soap eventually. From the person who has everything, to the vegan minimalist in your family, gifting basic grooming products is always a safe choice. You can even make it an eco-friendly gift by shopping brands that use organic ingredients, don’t test on animals and minimize packaging. Some of my favourite grooming gifts include reusable stainless steel razors (they will save you so much money in the long run), package-free soaps and clean beauty products.
Some sustainable grooming brands are more expensive, but if you can afford to splurge, they tend to be worth the money. Besides, it’s always reassuring to know that your gift will actually be used and that it won’t cause any harm to its recipient or to the planet.
Here are links to several excellent clean beauty brands that are great for gifting:
- Edwin Jagger Safety Razor
- Savon de Marseille by Marius Fabre
- RMS Beauty
- Tata Harper
- Noto Botanics
- Kjær Weis
- Santa Maria Novella
- Officine Buly
- Fat and the moon
- Meow Meow Tweet
- La Savonnerie du Nouveau Monde