With holiday shopping upon us and inspired by the upcoming once-in-a-lifetime palindrome date of 11-11-11, I’ve devised a list a list of 11 almost-no-money gift ideas for the whole family this holiday season.  These ideas will help you keep spending to a minimum, while still offering your loved ones gifts to be treasured.  Best of all, you’ll set a good example for your kids on how to give at the holidays without overspending or taking on any credit card debt.  And many, if not most, of these ideas work with kids too.

Make it…
Use only what you have at home.  We all know that we have enough leftover craft stuff to last us a lifetime.  Make a game of finding everything you have and bring it all into the kitchen and then start making a few homemade gifts for those you love.  Grandparents especially love this kind of gift.  Go ahead, make their day!

Re-gift it…
One year my youngest wrapped up a beanie baby she owned as a holiday present for her older sister.  Well, that did not go over so well as my youngest was 13 and was clearly late to the gift game and was trying to make something work.  But, giving something you really love to someone you really love can be a great gift.

I give books that I have read and loved.  This way my friends get a book that is guaranteed to please.  I often include a note with other books that I have read by that author and suggestions they might want to follow up with at the library.

Kids can re-gift a favorite book, gently used and much-loved toy or even clothing that they have seen a sibling or friend admire.  As long as they are willing to share the gift permanently and understand this, it’s a great way to let the person know you were listening.  This strategy will also help strengthen a child’s sharing and empathy skills.

Write it…
Letters are so important.  In the 21st century we are all inclined to email and text, but a real hand-written or typed letter truly will get your child’s attention.  Use it this holiday as a gift of your time and attention.  Tell them how you spent your holidays as a child; what was most important.  Pick a moment this year when you were proud of them.  Recap something developmental and then wrap the letter as a gift.  Because it is a gift – showing you see them and think of them.

Forgive it…
This is an all-time favorite of my family at New Years – but it can work at Christmas as well.  I give them each a free pass on one thing they did wrong but have yet to confess.  It’s a brilliant way to hear what might be lurking out there for you as a parent to yet be aware of, and it gets everybody talking about what took place that needs forgiving.

Craft a “Forgiven” coupon and again, wrap it as a gift with a date and time when all will gather and share what they need to unburden themselves with.

Acknowledge it…
Look around you.  There are likely a multitude of things to be grateful for.  A word or a letter of acknowledgement is one of the best gifts you can give anyone.  Thank your pastor for his or her spiritual leadership.  Thank your friends for being there for you.  Thank your doctor for his or her compassion.  I’m sure that if you sit down for five minutes and think about the blessings in your life you will generate a very long list of people that deserve a gift of acknowledgement.

Promise it…
My favorite gifts from my kids when they were young – coupons!  “Anytime kitchen clean-up”, “Shoulder massage”, “One hour of quiet time”, oh there were many such wonderful gifts. Kids made the coupons and wrapped each up and I got to “cash-in” throughout  the year.

Grandparents love to get coupons for guaranteed time with grandkids.  From face-to-face time to time on the phone or Skyping on the computer on a regular basis – this will be a cherished commitment that will end up being a gift to both grandparents and grandkids.

This year, as budgets are tight and Christmas is notoriously tough on budgets, because so much money gets spent all at once, try stretching that budget with a coupon.  Do the kids love baseball?  Coupon them tickets to a home game this summer and add a baseball or t-shirt to the gift to make it fun.

Tackle it…
Everybody in the family can make a list of needs and wants for things that do not cost money, but need someone’s time and talent to do.  Then print the lists and cut apart each item from the list separately. (To make sure you do not pick your own, you can either color the paper or use colored paper when you print your list – using a unique color for each family member.)  Fold each item “card” up and place them all in Santa’s hat, then on Christmas Day, everybody gets to pick 11.  And that becomes the family’s gift to one another.

What’s on my list this year?  Changing light bulbs around the house inside and out.  Picking up shoes at the back door and putting them where they belong! Emptying  the dishwasher.  What kids list will depend on their age, but requests can range from a ride to the library to using the car on Friday night.

Start it…
Set a great example by starting something this year that your kids (or spouse) have been after you to do.  Lose weight?  Exercise? Cook more meals at home? Eat out more? Read more? If someone you know or love has been after you to do something you know you should do, make a promise in writing, create a one page plan on how you plan to do it and ask them to help. You win and the kids get to see you model the way to tackle a lifelong goal.

Bake it…
Okay, it does cost time and some money, but baking has long been a tradition for gifting at this time of the year for our family.  I have a long list of kids that wait on my chocolate chip banana bread.  (Email me if you’d like the recipe; happy to share.)  Attach the recipe to the baled goods and you are good to go!

Lend it…
Make a list of what you have that you would be willing to “lend out” when asked.  Maybe you have a snow blower – for those of us here in the Midwest, it’s a welcome gift on those wet, snow days – which you could lend to a friend and neighbor.  Take the list and place it in your holiday card and include an email or phone number they can use when they’d like to take advantage of the gift you have offered for use.

Quit it…
If you have a habit that is stressing out your kids – not to mention your own health – make a gift of quitting, tapering, changing or getting some kind of help that gives them peace.  Show them how you plan to tackle the issue, and enlist their help.  Everybody wins.

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Susan Beacham
Written by Susan Beacham
Susan Beacham founded Money Savvy Generation in 1999 after almost two decades in private banking and investment management complemented by considerable time teaching at the elementary level.

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