‘Tis the season of way too much: eating too much, overcommitting to too much, and the one I hope to help you with today…too much spending. We’ll ask for all the lists and often check them twice without checking our bank accounts just as frequently. As someone who loves gift-giving, the usual holiDAZE season spending spree (read: charge away, Santa) was always the driving force behind next year’s resolution to get my finances in order. But as I’ve gotten older (wiser!) I’ve realized there are some gifts that truly are that MasterCard commercial “priceless”…and they often cost very little. So before you brave those store lines to get the best deals, here are some holiday gift ideas that are both low cost and big impact. WARNING: May cause your cup of holiday cheer to overflow. I’m not sorry.
Frame a Beloved Keepsake
As my mother took on the arduous task of cleaning out my grandmother’s house when she passed, she made sure to keep Cleo’s spirit alive and well at Christmas in many ways. We still all wear one of her awfully gaudy Christmas sweatshirts, while always opening at least one gift marked “From: Cleo.” A magician in the kitchen (as all grandmothers are), one year my mother framed some of my grandmother’s most popular recipe cards, giving each of her siblings the recipe they cherished most. (Like my Uncle Tom, who always got his own Peach Ice Cream Pie during the holidays!) Seeing Cleo’s handwriting, and perhaps a smudge of an ingredient or two brought about tears of joy, bellows of laughter, and – despite whatever had been eaten already that day – a few rumbling bellies. Like I said, she was an amazing cook!
Cook the Holiday Meal
Bring a whole new meaning to the phrase “Made with love.” Let your go-to holiday host off the hook this year and offer to do all the cooking! My boyfriend and I did this as our Christmas gift to the family last year, taking responsibility for all meals to be had during the days of their visit. The best part? There are so many gifts within this gift. Not only does the host get to put their feet up for a bit, but it’s an opportunity for you and your team (I definitely do not suggest doing this solo!) to spend some quality time together as well. That was one of the perks when Anders (hey boyfriend) and I did this last year. We got to spend a lot of time together (we were dating long-distance at the time) and the experience allowed us to finesse our teamwork skills. Now that was our scenario, but perhaps yours is a gaggle of siblings together for the first time since last year. What a fun way to come together and give back to those who fed you all those years. And can you imagine how much joy a parent would get out of seeing all of their children not only under the same roof but working together? Possibly better than when they were children? Pass the tissues, friend. This gift may make memories that are cherished forever.
Side note: Yes, buying all the groceries for this can add up, but it’s possible you won’t have to fund the whole thing. When we brought up this idea last year, our host was all for it but insisted on buying the food! We later settled on splitting the cost, but it goes to show you how much of an impact this can have for someone.
Wreaths Across America
Sometimes, the greatest gift you can give someone is the gift of time, and what better way to get in the holiday spirit than to honor those who gave their life for us. This year, we are going to volunteer for Wreaths Across America. Since 1992 the non-profit organization Wreaths Across America coordinates wreath-laying ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, as well as over 1,100 additional locations in all 50 U.S. states, at sea, and abroad. Anders’ mother and grandparents are buried there, and the reverence that exudes from that place is enough to make you cry upon entering. This example is particular to us, but there are other ways you can volunteer, like bell ringing for the Salvation Army. Can’t make that happen? As your out and about getting ready for the holidays, give volunteers a cup of hot chocolate when you see them. Write a letter to your local police and/or fire department thanking them. Offer to drive neighbors to the airport, or volunteer to pick up their relatives that are flying in. Giving is living, friends. Find at least one way to give back this holiday season and your heart will always be warm.
Adopt a Family
Saving this one for last as it perhaps isn’t the most frugal – as what you choose to spend is completely up to you – but the joy you’re sure to feel in return is priceless. One of my girlfriends does this with her family. Since holiday gatherings consisted of mostly adults for her family, rather than stress over buying each other things that they don’t likely need, they band together and Adopt a Family in need instead. Even if you do have children, it’s never too early to expose young ones to the importance of generosity. Not in a place to spend the money? Don’t underestimate the importance of donations! Participate in Warm Coats & Warm Hearts by donating winter coats at your local Burlington Coat Factory, or give children the gift of a loving bedtime by donating a set of pajamas and a book to your local pajama program.
At the end of the day, your greatness is not determined by what you have…it’s determined by what you give. These are just a few examples of some heartfelt, rather inexpensive ways you can have an impact on a friend or family member, or a friend who you haven’t met yet. If you brainstorm for a minute, you could come up with a substantial list of ways you can give back. Go to Google with your idea and see what’s out there! Only by giving can you receive more than you already have!
Meghan Johnson is a freelance writer and transformation coach in the DC Metro Area. She struggled financially during her years as a teacher, going further into debt each passing year. This inspired her to get financial fit, resulting in a five-year debt pay-down plan…that she crushed in half the time. Meghan has her own blog (Dear Strong Woman) and a finance blog (The Penny Drop) with her partner-in-crime, Anders. They live life outside of DC with their dogs Muzz & Juno.
IG: @strongwoman_mj & @thepennydrop