8 seriously great gift ideas that cost zero dollars

With a little heart you can really nail your present for them this year, for free.

With a little heart you can really nail your present for them this year, for free

(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

The holidays come but once a year… but holiday bills — they can keep coming? How bah humbug! When our desire to give a great gift to someone and the reality of our budget are opposed, it can feel like we're Scrooged. The old adage is that it's the thought that really counts — but can it? 

In short, yes. Gift ideas that truly took some thought — those can truly cost zero dollars. Here are eight for your consideration. They require nothing more than the device you're using to read this, and some not even that. If you put in the effort, one of these might just spark true joy in the heart of the receiver. 

1. A very special audio recording

Does the person in question love podcasts and can you make an "episode" just for them? Perhaps you can dive deep into their favourite old movie, book, band or another topic? (Bonus points for using your best Terry Gross or Michael Barbaro impression.) Can you record the most delightful storytime to be played for all the kids in your life? Can you write — whether in affectionate parody or in all sincerity — positive affirmations you think someone should hear? Do they get all the tingles from ASMR, like I do, and can you record your own sleepytime session with the best triggers? The most cherished gift you ever gave could be a play button away.

2. A surprising photo project 

Remember in the movie Love Actually when Keira Knightley sees the video her friend shot at her wedding and exclaims, "They're all of me"? That's the spirit behind this idea, but the plan is much less complicated. Curate an album of your 10 best photos of them, with captions like, "Look at how beautiful you are here", or "When I took this photo I was thinking of how long we've known each other and also how great your hair looked that day, wow." You could finally refine the 500 photos from your weekend trip together down to a definitive 32 for posterity. You could use an app like 1 Second Everyday to tell the sweet story of your life together (be it last month or all of 2020) because maybe they just don't realize your relationship has such poetry. Or that their hair looked so good. 

3. A playlist with a purpose

Give them a playlist that's the soundtrack to something. Have they just started jogging and you know exactly the BPMS to suit their route? Can you choose and send them a recipe, with the playlist that takes them through the process of shopping, cooking and sitting down to eat? Don't limit yourself to just songs, you can include poems, speeches, movie clips and don't sweat it if you don't have a music service subscription because you can find all that on YouTube and make a playlist there. Think about what you'd like them to hear and feel. Playlists are an enduring romantic gesture of film and TV for a reason. 

4. A guided walking tour 

Walking's hot. Get your steps in with purpose by planning a themed adventure for two. Would your person be into learning about the architecture of your town? Is there a walking tour version of "This is Your Life" or the history of your love/friendship you can take them on? Are there simply beautiful secret spots you'd like to share? Depending on what you choose, make it well-researched, plan meaningful moments at each stop like sweet words to say or enticing clues for the next spot. It could become an annual tradition.

5. A regift — and the case for it

If there's something you own that someone else would love, your willingness to part with it is a wonderful thing. And yet the regift has such a bad reputation. A little marketing can help lift its status. Make sure to include a thoughtful note telling them why you think they should have this gift — and make sure that reason is true. Don't: oversell the sacrifice, but don't undersell the desirability either ("I haven't worn it in years" is better saved for another type of offering). Do: free yourself from the trappings of excessive consumerism.

6. A week of fitness programming that's really fun

If your giftee's into fitness, then program a week's worth of fun, free online workouts that they can do alone — or that you can do together, for more accountability (and lols). You can use a combination of YouTube videos and free apps. As you program the week, alternate between cardio and lift days, making sure to get some stretching and/or yoga in there, too. Consider something fun for the weekend when there might be a bit more time, like the choreography to a song you're both into or whatever TikTok says you must learn. Record and post results. 

7. A plant baby from your home

Gifting a sprout from your house is a way to spread plant love to all. Learn how to make and gift clippings and you'll be able to propagate a present whenever you'd like. (If you're trying to catch us on a technicality and wondering about having to buy a vessel — please refer to the regift section of this article and go exploring in your cupboards.) But before you gift any offspring, make sure to check your plant's original tag for a patent ID to make sure you're allowed to propagate that plant for others. It might be restricted to your home. 

8. Shovelling someone's walk — and other acts of service

Showing up in person to do something nice for someone (at a safe distance) will never go out of style. Shovelling is top of mind this time of year, and such a great surprise if you can sneak over early and work quickly. But there are certainly many other tedious tasks you can take off the hands of someone you care about, as your heartfelt gift to them this year. Labour is love.

Jamey Ordolis is the senior producer of CBC Life and a regular contributor to CBC Radio.

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