4 Great Gift Ideas That Cost Zero (Or Minimal) Money

Yard work: Best gift EVER.

Yard work: Best gift EVER.

It doesn't have to be about anything deep, it just has to make the other person smile.

I’m the first to admit that I am difficult to give presents to, but I love gifting. It is one of my best talents, if I do say so myself.

I’m not into gifting at holidays, though. I like it to be random and surprising. How much better is it to get a lovely, thoughtful gift on a bleak January Tuesday instead of when you already are getting lots of stuff at the end of December? See what I mean?

But social conventions are what they are, and if you're reading this list, you're probably running up against the Christmas clock. What to do? Take it from me: The best of the best gifts are ones that involve very little money, or just a couple of bucks for supplies. But that is it. Really. Trust me.

1. Write a damn letter.

I don’t care if your handwriting is bad. You can type if you must, but then you have to print it out, and where's the personality in that? Even a stream-of-consciousness letter about meeting a friend is a great gift. My friend Jenny? We’d met before, but I remember the first time we truly clicked. Walking across campus, she started talking about how she knew when she was ovulating. I bring this up once a year or so because it is random and reminds us of history and requires smiles.

And that is the goal of your letter. It doesn't have to be about anything deep, it just has to make the other person smile.

2. Do a good deed.

Want to know the people I love the most? Those who have given me their time. That could mean all sorts of things, but that’s what shows me you actually care. I’m going to make it easy for you and give you a list, but know that these are only a few ideas.  

  • Watch some kids
  • Bake something
  • Do dishes
  • Fold laundry
  • Run an errand
  • Do an airport run
  • Bring milk and bananas
  • Rake leaves

You get the idea. Do something. Even better, do something the person hates doing. You won’t love it, of course, but you’re making another’s life a little easier/brighter.

3. Hit up Goodwill.

You can dumpster dive, troll garage sales, whatever. The point is to get something for nearly nothing. I know it sounds weird. My goal in virtually all gifting is to elicit a smile. If you have other goals (sex, wealth, power), then I’m probably a terrible guide. The boyfriend who brought me a framed horrible painting for my birthday? The one he found on the way over? He’s lasted in my memory for a really long time. A super-tacky shirt found for $1? That’s gifting gold.

4. Make a mix tape.

...or burn a CD, create a playlist — whatever your technological heart desires.  The point is to make a curated set of music. There’s nothing I love more than a mix. I request them almost every year from almost every person I know. I usually end up with one or two. No one believes me! This is the best gift. That’s why it became a cliche. Because sharing tunes you like, in the perfect order, is a bit of a gift from the heart.

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