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Gifts That Don’t Cost Money

senior and friendWalk into any store or watch advertisements on TV and you might think that the only road to giving this season is through a diamond necklace, a new electronic gadget or a plastic toy.

But greater happiness is not closely correlated with getting things.  It’s our experiences that increase our happiness over time.  And many experiences are free.  Below are suggestions for giving this season that don’t cost anything and just may be the gifts that are remembered long after the hustle and bustle of the holidays has passed.

Give the gift of your time

Soup kitchens and charities can always use spare hands, but so can people in our day to day lives.

  • Offer to watch a busy mother’s children, so she can wrap presents or go to the grocery store unencumbered.
  • Pick up dry cleaning or groceries for a friend working long hours
  • Help an elderly neighbor put up decorations or clear their walkway of snow

Give the gift of tradition

When you think back to your childhood, it is likely that you remember specific traditions, more than a particular gift and that it is these traditions that make the holidays seems special.  Sharing customs and traditions with others will make the holidays memorable and special in a way that no store bought gift can.

  • Spend time with children telling stories or passing on traditions from your family
  • Create new rituals—for instance giving thanks at meal times, remembering loved ones who aren’t present, singing holiday songs, baking together, making special decorations or reading a particular story.
  • Put on holiday music that connects you to your past
  • Participate in local activities, such a tree lighting ceremonies, sing-alongs or social gatherings
  • Reconnect with customs from your heritage—for example, some Polish Americans on Christmas Eve spread hay on their kitchen floor and under the tablecloth to remind them of a stable and a manger. In Alaska, boys and girls with lanterns on poles carry a large figure of a star from door to door.  Advent calendars and the use of tinsel first originated in Germany.

Give the gift of kindness and generosity

Although we all feel we should be happy and joyful during this season, many are stressed, overloaded with demands and expectations and feeling frazzled.  An act of kindness or generosity can lift someone’s spirits during a difficult day and make you feel good for contributing to their happiness.

  • Say a kind word to someone
  • Start the day off with positive remarks
  • Think about and communicate to others how they enrich your life
  • Listen to someone else’s troubles, without needing to share your own experiences or difficulties.

These are just a few suggestions for making this time of year meaningful and joyful without the need to spend money.  Please share any ways that you give to others, without spending, in the comments section.

Senior and friend photo available from Shutterstock.

Gifts That Don’t Cost Money

Christy Matta, MA

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APA Reference
Matta, C. (2011). Gifts That Don’t Cost Money. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 9, 2020, from


Last updated: 20 Dec 2011
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