Gift-giving on a Budget - Humantold

Gift-giving on a Budget

Cheryl Lim, LMHC December 13, 2021

Interactions with loved ones over the holidays can be stressful, and presents can complicate those relationships even more. Here’s some gift-giving advice to help you get through with your mental health intact.

During the holiday season, people often struggle to navigate gift-giving in a way that shows loved ones you care while balancing their mental well-being as well. This year has a unique set of challenges with the one-two punch of supply chain issues and the ongoing impact of the pandemic on personal finances. 

Some of us may find ourselves tempted to overcompensate for not spending time in person by giving gifts. Others might be limiting their holiday spending for the first time because money is tight. Whether you’re buying Christmas gifts on a budget or going all out for Kwanzaa this year, gift-giving can be tricky.

Think about the reason you’re giving a gift. For most, it’s a way to show love, letting someone know you are thinking of them, and an opportunity to show someone your kindness and appreciation. Showing your love doesn’t necessarily mean you need to purchase or give a costly item, especially if you’re stretched financially. The price tag doesn’t determine how good or worthwhile a gift (or the recipient) is. 

We offer ways to be smart with gift-giving—especially those on a budget—because the holidays are stressful enough. Presents for loved ones shouldn’t be anxiety or stress-inducing. Making the whole present and holiday ordeal easy on yourself is an act of self-care and a gift worth giving to yourself. 

DIY Gifts

DIY (do-it-yourself) gifts are great when money is tight. They are very thoughtful and allow you to lean on your creative strengths. Homemade gifts are perfect, like a picture frame, candle, self-care kit, care package, card, or song. Anything you can create that you know someone will use is an ideal budget-friendly gift.

Whether you knit, crochet, paint, bake, cook, weld, or sew, you can create a thoughtful, one-of-a-kind present. 

To strengthen relationships, make it a family event where everyone makes a handmade gift (e.g., tie-dye shirts, bake cookies, make a photo collage, or decorate cupcakes). There are dozens of ideas and tutorials you can find online for those who view themselves as lacking in creativity or artistry.

Remember, handmade gifts require time to research and make. This option works best if you plan early. Also, be mindful that some DIY projects can cost more than just buying the item, in which case do what makes sense for you.

Practical Gifts

Practical gifts can be anything that you know your gift recipient truly needs. Winter-time practical gifts can include a blanket, warm slippers, or a small space heater. 

The point of going the practical route is that you know the gift will be utilized, and the money will not be wasted. A good example is giving gift baskets or care packages with useful items you picked instead of a more expensive pre-made gift basket. 

As the wintry weather rolls around and people try not to get sick, an affordable and practical gift like a care package could include season-themed masks, hand sanitizer, sanitizing towels, hand soaps, or a toiletry kit. Depending on what types of practical gifts you get for others, you may be looking at $20-$30 per person.


While some people advise against giving cash or gift cards, many people hope for these so they can get things they really need. Online payment methods make it easy to send money for things like food and drinks or anything else you’d like to cover for someone as a holiday treat. In fact, Business Wire continues to find that people love gift cards. 

When sending a gift card or cash, you may feel uncomfortable deciding on an appropriate amount. While most people agree that the amount is dependent on your financial abilities and degree of closeness, make sure you only give within your means. Follow your gut. 

Have you ever considered paying a bill as a gift? That could mean the world to someone that’s struggling with finances this holiday season. According to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, it’s more important to have necessities such as heat, gas, electricity, and running water than a new journal or self-help book. 

Sentimental Gifts 

People appreciate sentimental presents that demonstrate how much you care. If you’d like to be extra thoughtful with a gift, you may even be able to find something that has sentimental value (bonus points if it's also a DIY gift). 

You really have to know the person to pick out the perfect special-meaning gift for them—knowing is a large part of the gift itself. It’s about understanding your loved ones. For example, a thoughtful and sentimental gift could be something they mentioned they liked or wanted in passing or an item that carries profound meaning, like a framed ticket stub from a first date. Just like a DIY gift, a present like this varies in cost.

Quality Time

There are various meaningful ways to show people you care about them besides material items, too. Non-material gifts are a great option, especially for those who are not good at gift-giving. 

Giving quality time as a gift also prevents the recipient from getting a gift they don't want or need. If your recipient is a minimalist, they may prefer not to collect material things (especially stuff they would never have purchased themselves). Spending quality time with that person fosters the opportunity to connect meaningfully. 

Planning something to do and sharing an experience is a sincere way to show you care. Like all gifts, this requires thought and planning. An enjoyable experience creates a longer-lasting memory and may hold more emotional significance than a material gift. Another form of giving quality time could be taking care of chores, responsibilities, or babysitting so someone can spend time doing something they enjoy.

Again, a gift like this varies in price but can often cost little to nothing. 

More Strategic Gift-giving Tips and Tricks

If you’re gift-giving on a budget this season, use these tips to save:

  1. Invite your friends and family to create wish lists (like using the website Elfster), so everyone can plan accordingly.
  2. If there is a large group, consider doing Secret Santa (one gift per person) so everyone saves.
  3. Budget early to help save and plan. 
  4. Set maximum price limits you can spend on the gift. 
  5. Plan a delayed party after the holidays (so everyone can shop after-holiday sales).
  6. Save the environment and your money by re-gifting. You’ll save on things like wrapping paper by reusing gift bags, and you can make your own paper confetti.
  7. If multiple children are in a family or household with similar interests, consider getting a shareable gift.
  8. Buy in bulk when you can, if that works for the kind of gift that piques your interest. 
  9. Check out places like thrift stores or buy second-hand items online. There’s nothing wrong with second-hand items. 
  10. Split the price of large ticket items with your partner, family members, or friends.
  11. Take advantage of cashback, discounts, coupons, promo codes, or other rewards.
  12. Shop the off-season products—especially clothing. If you plan right, you can shop after any significant holiday for big sales (e.g., after Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, and Christmas to make important purchases for the following year’s gift-giving).

Say No If Necessary

Opt-out of the gift exchanges that are unnecessary or create too much stress in your life. There’s no shame in stepping away from holiday events if participating is too much of an anxiety trigger. Prioritize giving presents to those you care about the most. Communicate whether you are doing a gift exchange or not to avoid awkwardness or confusion with one-sided gifting.

Remember presents are a way to show connectedness, and some even believe it reflects what you mean to each other. You don’t have to wait for a holiday or an excuse to express how you feel, and it does not have to be in the form of a present. The critical thing to remember is to be present and don’t be afraid to discuss holiday plans openly. Avoiding unrealistic expectations is challenging but essential this time of year.

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