Learn how to give presence vs presents, create lasting memories, deepen your relationships with your special someone and avoid buying new. Here’s 50+ things to do or make instead of buying someone a present – the ultimate guide to frugal gift giving for any special occasion.
Traditional gift giving for birthdays, Christmas and special occasions can be a lot of fun while simultaneously being the cause a lot of stress and anxiety. From financial considerations like ‘Is my gift valuable enough? Too valuable?’ to the usefulness of the item itself ‘Will they use it? Will they even like it? Will they just want to regift it or return it?’.
Why Gift Presence vs Presents?
Over the last few years we have talked to our families about moving away from traditional gift giving in favour of presence over presents.
Some of our best memories are things we’ve done for our birthdays together or for special days with family – giving us far greater and more long-lasting happiness (not to mention wonderful memories) over any store bought gift we’ve received in the past.
For example last Christmas, Laura’s family opted out of gift giving altogether in favour of spending time together, both on Christmas day and to do different activities in the lead up to the Christmas holidays. It took all of the stress out of Christmas planning and allowed us to be in the moment and enjoy each other’s company, especially on the day.
For Sarah’s Dad’s birthday, instead of presents we took the whole family on a hike, followed by brunch at an Italian specialty store. Both locations are a bit of a drive from where we live, making it even more special since they don’t often get the chance to drive out that way. Instead of presents, we picked them up and spoilt them with time out in nature followed by coffee, pizza and decadent Italian pastries.
Choosing to gift through activities, time or handmade items isn’t necessarily about not spending any money (although as you’ll see in the list below there are lots of ways you can save money or spend very little at all). Rather, it’s about reducing the amount of clutter and stress that gifting presents can lead to.
Avoiding presents (stuff they don’t really need, stuff we no longer need to stress about) allows us to be really present for each other in a more meaningful way.
Set up a note in your phone for each important person in your life, then write down ideas as they mention different things they are interested in throughout the year. That way you’ll have a handcrafted list for each person for their next birthday or Christmas celebration!
50+ Things to Do or Make Instead of Buying a Present
While some of these ideas will cost money, we know we’ll enjoy spending every cent, because sharing our time and enjoying experiences with our friends or family is priceless.
Activities, Adventures & Experiences (Suitable for Anyone)
- Have Coffee – Whether it’s in a cafe, while going for a walk or even at home. Take time to talk with them and really listen.
- Go on a Hike – Look for beautiful hikes in your area that are suitable for their level. Even better if there are waterfalls, lookouts, ruins or a great place to stop for lunch!
- Take Them on a Picnic – Pack their favourite snacks or set out a full spread with cheeses, charcuterie, fruit and more.
- Cook their Favourite Meal – If you have a big family, delegate a course or recipe to each person, or just do a simple potluck.
- Make them a Coupon Book – Pick your favourite activities, do chores or help in the garden, take them shopping etc and make vouchers they can “cash in” when they want.
- Host a Board Games Night – Settle in with their favourite games, snacks and music.
- Puzzle Night – Crack out a jigsaw puzzle, put on some tunes and while the night away together.
- Cards Night – Play their favourites or teach them whole new games.
- Video Game Night – Play their favourite current games or crack out an old console for extra nostalgia.
- Movie Night – At the cinema or at home with PJs and popcorn. Pair it with their favourite meal (cook it yourself or pick up their favourite takeaway).
- Get Them Library Books – Especially good for book lovers that don’t necessarily want to have an entire book collection of their own. This can be ongoing too; Sarah’s been keeping her Mum stocked up with her favourite genre of books ever since!
- Take Them to a Museum or Exhibition – Check out what’s on at your local museum or art gallery.
- Go Fishing or Crabbing – If you live near the water you may not even need a boat, especially if you have a jetty or breakwater nearby. You might even be able to borrow gear and bait if you know a keen fisher-person.
- Offer to Help Out for a Day – This could be decluttering, cleaning, looking after kids or just hanging out. Be in the moment with them, listen to them, relax and have fun together.
- Teach Them Something – Is there a skill you have that they’d love to learn, such as playing guitar, cooking, sewing etc? Learning a new skill is a great way to spend time together.
- Offer to Photograph Them – If you’re good with a camera, maybe it’s been years since they’ve had a family photo or a nice shot of themselves. You can then help print and frame it too, or put the camera on auto and jump in the shot alongside them.
- Go Op-Shopping / to Thrift Stores – We did this a few years ago for our friend who was a single mum with a newborn. Getting out to try on new clothes and helping her set up a whole new wardrobe at a fraction of the cost was time very well spent.
- Go to an Event, Workshop or Class Together – One year for Sarah’s birthday we went to a pottery class, and still use the pieces we made to this day! You could go to an art class, cooking class, concert or performance.
- Go to a Festival, Food or Creator Market – A great way to try new foods, find hand-made goodies or gorgeous pot plants, listen to live music and more. (Pick the right festival or market and you might get to do all of them at once!)
- Take Them on a Local Tour of their Favourite Cultures – There might be certain shops, grocery stores, places of worship or restaurants that they might love to visit with you.
- Wine, Gin or Beer Tasting – At a venue, at home, or make a day trip out of it and organise a bus tour if you live close to a great region.
- Beach Walk – A great way to get some fresh air and nature vibes. Take a picnic basket and blanket to settle in if the weather is right.
- Bike Ride – Look for a great local trail in your area, pack a bag of snacks and water, hop on your bikes and see where you end up together.
- Day Trip – We love heading out to a small local town to check out what’s in the area, see new sights, try something from a local cafe or bakery etc.
- Airbnb – Whether its one night away, a weekend or longer, depending on your budget and flexibility.
- Fix Pebbles Together – Help them fix annoying problems around the house, like that wobbly kitchen cupboard door or cleaning out their skylight. It’s so rewarding for you and them, and gives them the motivation to get started and get it done.
- Clean and Detail Their Car – Driving around a clean car always feels good!
- Organise a Gardening Day – Pull out the weeds and plant beautiful flowers or edible plants together.
- At Home Yoga Retreat – Lay out your mats, light some candles or incense and flow together. You can follow a class from your favourite yoga instructor on YouTube, or tailor a flow just for them if you’re more experienced.
- Exercise Class – Same as above but with a higher heart rate. 😉
- Escape Room – Find one in your local area where you can get the adrenaline pumping and beat the clock to escape.
- Kayaking, Canoeing or SUP – A great way to get out on the water, get moving and spend time in nature together. We did this one year for Sarah’s birthday and were even lucky enough to have dolphins join us for part of the way!
- Tea Blending – Make your own signature blends together.
- Donate to a Charity on their Behalf – Celebrate their birthday while helping them make a difference for others.
- Host a Murder Mystery – A great way for bigger groups to celebrate together.
- Forage Together – We have a great trail where we know we can harvest wild fennel, wild apples, feijoas and more depending on the season. Only forage what you recognise and know is safe to eat – especially mushrooms or berries – and if in doubt, just admire the scenery together.
- Go to a Sports Game – Football, soccer, basketball, netball or more. Enjoy the energy of the game together. If playing is more their thing than watching, how about a friendly game of golf?
- Gift them an Annual Pass – This could be anything from their local cinema or recreational facility (swimming, sports etc) or an online pass for yoga, exercise or other skills.
- Scavenger Hunt – Leave clues around the house leading them to your main surprise at the end!
- Choose Your Own Adventure – Set it up as a little book or flow chart stuffed with lots of potential activities and see which one they end up choosing! From our personal experience, be prepared to do them all!
Fun Activities For Partners Only 😉
- Spoil them with a Pamper Sesh – Make homemade face masks or coffee scrubs, or give them a pedicure.
- Massage – Even better with a homemade massage oil.
- Draw them a Bath – Get fancy with candles, bath oils or make them a nibbles platter to enjoy while soaking.
Gifts You Can Make (Rather Than Buy)
- Essential Oils – Create a custom blend that you can use to make frugal homemade items like perfume oils, lip balms, deodorant, reed diffusers, room sprays, modern potpourri or even cleaning supplies.
- Dream Pillow – Take a piece of fabric and sew it into a pouch to make a dream pillow, then fill it with calming herbs like lavender, camomile and rose hips to help prevent nightmares and promote good restful sleep.
- Edible Gifts – Make up a big batch of homemade cookies, cakes, spice blends, homemade sauces etc.
- Pickles & Ferments – Make them a batch of their favourite pickles and/or ferments like sauerkraut, kimchi or kombucha. This requires a little experience and some forward planning depending on the ferment time.
- Bake Them a Birthday Cake – Nothing says Happy Birthday better than a homemade version of their favourite birthday cake!
- Create Art – One year (despite having never painted before) Laura painted a beautiful watercolour of a Willy Wagtail (our favourite bird), all from following a YouTube tutorial! You could make them a macrame wall hanging, draw them a picture, or simply make them a homemade card using whatever art supplies you have on hand.
- Flower Arrangement – Bonus points if you can make it yourself from flowers in your garden or (with permission) from neighbour gardens etc. You could even do it together by following an online DIY flower arranging class.
- Knit or Sew Something They Need – This could be handkerchiefs, clothes, placemats etc. Last Christmas Laura sewed a set of Christmas hats and reusable bon bons, and filled them with silly jokes, memories and origami toys to reduce waste and avoid plastic.
- Seeds / Seedlings – Collect seeds or grow seedlings of their favourite herbs, plants or succulents to bring new life to their garden or window sill.
Hopefully these ideas have given you lots of inspiration! Whether you choose to gift presence over presents, or make a beautiful DIY creation instead of buying new, we hope these ideas will take the stress out of gifting for birthdays and Christmas.
Enjoy your planning, get creative, and have fun with your special someone!
So, how will you be gifting presence vs presents for your family and friends this year?