6 Ideas for Meaningful Gift-Giving on a Budget

November 24, 2023

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Holiday Gifts on a Budget Alene Brennan

For as long as I can remember, Black Friday shopping was just as much of a holiday tradition as decorating the tree and baking cookies. We were those shoppers that got up early in the morning to be first in line. Now we didn’t camp out overnight on the sidewalks of Walmart but we were at the mall at 6 am, with a mapped out plan of which stores we were going to hit up first. 

We were serious shoppers and we got serious deals. I actually have a lot of great family memories from Black Friday. And I still love a good sale. 

AndI have my list ready of what I want to purchase this weekend as well. 

But I also know that some of the best gifts that I received over the years are not the ones that had the biggest price tags attached to them. They were often the gifts that had the most meaning. One of them didn’t cost a dollar and it was legit one of the best gifts that I’ve received and still have years later. 

So that’s what I want to share with you today. 

I have six unique and really heartfelt ideas to freshen up your holiday gift giving without breaking the bank.

Idea 1: Personalized Photo Books

Okay, let me start this idea with a question to you… How many photos do you have on your phone right now? 

I have 39,000! That’s insane. 

I love having so many photos of memories that my family and friends did over the past several years, but they’re all just sitting on my phone. 

And while I may enjoy them when I occasionally flip through them, because I do. I will scroll back to different events and reminisce. But what about the family and friends in those pictures? Some of them never got to see the photos that I have. 

That’s why I absolutely love photo books. 

I gave one to my husband from pictures of our honeymoon. 

And I gave one to my in-laws last year filled with pictures of them with their granddaughter. 

Very few people take the time to print pictures let alone put them together in a book and they’re so easy to do now with all of the online programs and apps – Shutterfly, SnapFish, even CVS has great photo options. 

Last year we actually got family photos done and I got some canvas prints of them done at CVS to hang on the wall. So if you don’t want a book, you can find a single picture and have it printed on a canvas to hang. 

Another variation of this is a gift that my husband gave me for my birthday one year – it’s a framed photo from our wedding that has a marriage prayer written on the mat of the frame. I’m sure that you can find something similar on Etsy. 

So my point is if you want to do a book with a collection of photos that’s fantastic, or you could just select a single photo that you print. 

Photos are so meaningful because they capture memories. And being able to enjoy them throughout the year is so nice!

So my first gift idea would be a photobook or special photo print. 

Idea 2: A Curated Playlist or Podcast Collection

I’m going to totally show my age here, but remember when you used to make a mixed tape of your favorite songs – some of which were even recorded directly from the radio – to give to your BFF or your sweetheart?

Well, the modern day version of that – is a playlist of favorite songs or podcast episodes that the person that you’re buying for would love.

Personally, this is one that I want to be on the receiving end of, so I’m adding it to my wishlist from my husband. 

He’s the DJ in our family. 

He always has the best music going and he makes great playlists.

Me? I don’t take the time to make a playlist. I just go with whatever is on the radio. 

But I would love to have him make me a playlist. 

And he could take it in so many different directions. 

We actually grew up together, so he could do a Playlist of all the music we listened to when we first grew up. 

Or he could recreate our Wedding Playlist of our favorite music played at our wedding including our first dance and the song that we walked out to, the song he danced with his mom and I danced with my dad. 

This is something that you can really get creative with too. 

You could do childhood favorite songs, family memories, love songs, there are so many directions in which you could take this. 

And if you wanted to do a podcast collection – you could either develop a collection of episodes a topic that they’re really interested in or of their favorite people – speakers, leaders, sport players, whatever is meaningful to them. 

Just make sure that if you do a podcast collection that you include My MS Podcast because obviously this is a generous gift to all!

To make a playlist of music you can use Spotify, Apple Music, or other platforms to create and share the playlist. 

For podcasts, create a list and share it via email or a note. And if you wanted to have something tangible for them to open, list the episodes on a card and then send them one email with all the links. 

Idea 3: Self-Care Kit

Encouraging others to take good care of themselves is such a gift! 

And I love that this gift can be done on any budget really. 

You could get a cozy blanket at HomeGoods and include a cup of your favorite herbal tea and a gift card to Amazon for them to get a new book. 

If you’re crafty you can make your own blanket. I really want to learn how to knit those blankets with the big yarn. That alone would be a great gift and doesn’t cost a lot.

Or if you wanted to go in a different direction of self care you could do an all natural, eco-friendly basket of natural bath salts, soaps and a candle.

Or you could simply do a gift card to a place that offers massage and nail services. You could do either just a dollar amount or keep it simple with a manicure. That’s not going to be as expensive as a massage, but still a really nice self care gift to give. 

Idea 4: Personalized Recipe Book

Do you have family recipes that you could compile into one book that you could print and give to each of your family members?

You can either hand write them or have them printed into a book. 

You could even include some stories or pictures of family memories behind the recipes. 

I feel like this is one that is overlooked but will be incredibly special to give. 

And here’s the beauty of these gifts, they’re not only wonderful to receive, but they’re great to give as well. 

Just like the picture idea, you’re going through old memories whether it be photos or recipes and that’s really special. 

So there’s a lot of joy tucked in creating these gifts as well! 

And if in the back of your mind you’re thinking, Alene, this might be a little painful because I changed my diet to manage MS and now I don’t eat any of these family recipes anymore. 

I get… oh how I get it! 

Here’s an idea. 

What if you pulled together this recipe book as is, and then over the course of the next year, you pick one recipe per month to create an allergy friendly version of it. 

One recipe per month.

That feels doable and because there’s meaning to the recipes it might spark more inspiration into the process.

Who knows you might come up with some pretty spectacular recipes that you end up publishing your own recipe book to give next holiday season! 

Idea 5: Themed Movie Night Kit

Put together a movie night kit based on their favorite film or TV show. 

This could include a Netflix gift card with themed snacks or drinks or other things relevant to that movie or show. 

Sex and the City Themed Basket

  • Cosmo cocktail or mocktail kit
  • High-Heeled Shoe Wine Bottle Holder
  • Maybe a facemask or nail polish

Downton Abbey

  • Beautiful tea cup and specialty teas
  • Recipe for scones or give them delicious scones 
  • Bath salts

Eat Pray Love

  • Eat: Pizza stone or special olive oil, gift card to a cooking class
  • Pray: yoga mat, journal, gift card to a yoga class
  • Love: you could do a fun playlist of love songs, the love part of the book was set in Bali so you could do some massage oils.

Again, it could be as simple or elaborate as you want it to be. These are just ideas to spark some inspiration for those in your life.

Okay, I saved the best one for last. 

The inspiration for this gift came from a gift that was given to me after my mom passed.

I know, it’s an odd time to receive a gift. 

But I was working as a nutrition coach at a health club at the time, I was leading the nutrition department and my good friend was leading the team of personal trainers. Well he organized the entire team to each write a note to me about our friendship. They each wrote handwritten notes, put them in a gift bag and gave them to me on my first day back at work after my mom’s services. 

The notes were as unique as the group – some were really heartfelt, others were filled with inside jokes to make me smile and others were inspirational. Some were short and sweet – just a few sentences. Others were pages long. 

The collection of letters was as unique and special as that group was to me at that time in my life. 

I still have the gift bag filled with those letters to this day, and I pull them out every once in a while to re-read them when I need a little pick-me-up. 

So this idea could be recreated in many ways. 

One way that I think would be super fun would be to create a memory jar. 

Idea 6: Memory Jar

Get a mason jar and tie a pretty ribbon around it. 

Fill the jar with notes of favorite memories shared, inside jokes, or reasons why you appreciate the person that you’re giving it to.

Actually you could make this as a fun holiday tradition.

While you’re letting cookies bake, you sit around the table and write notes that you put in everyone’s jar. 

It’s such a thoughtful and meaningful gift, that the person receiving it can reflect back on throughout the years. 

Because we never know what’s on people’s minds and their hearts – even our closest friends and family. 

This may be the thing that they reach for on a hard day that brings a quick smile to their face.

And isn’t the true gift of holiday giving – helping to bring joy to one another? 

Share Your Favorite!

Share your favorite budget-friendly, meaningful gift ideas or experiences in the comments below! Let’s continue to generate even more ideas too! 

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I'm Alene, your MS Sister.

When I was diagnosed with MS in 2016, I was scared and felt alone. But as a Nutrition Coach, I knew there was more to healing than what I was being told. I took action and within six months the lesions I had on my brain shrunk and went inactive. Now, seven years later there has been no new lesions and no new activity. As a nutritionist specializing in multiple sclerosis, I help women take back control of their future.

That’s my story, but I’m not alone. It's your turn to start Thriving with MS. I’m here to show you the way. 

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