Affordable ideas for exceptional gifts this holiday season

The festive season should be a wonderful, joyful, and relaxing time of year. However, the weeks and days leading up to the holidays are often stressful and overwhelming. This is due, in no small part, to the self-imposed pressure to stretch budgets beyond the breaking point and purchase the perfect gifts.


We’re never so vulnerable to overspending than when we’re facing the holiday crunch. Nobody wants to seem thrifty or thoughtless or be the one who spent less than everybody else.

Lest we all become trapped in a vicious annual cycle of one upping ourselves and one another, this is a good time to pause and remember the best gifts are not necessarily those that cost the most. It really is the thought that counts.

What is a meaningful gift?

A meaningful gift is one that comes from the heart with lots of thought to what the recipient values and needs. These don’t necessarily need to be a purchase or material in nature. It can be anything — big, small, material, or experiential — that brings joy and creates a lasting memory.

Tips for selecting meaningful gifts

  1. Keep a gift journal — Make notes of possible items or experiences that loved ones may want or need throughout the year.
  2. Determine who the gift is for — Look for gifts that reflect the nature of your relationship and what that relationship means to you.
  3. Consider the persons interests and values — Does the recipient value knowledge, time outside, friends and family, food, new experiences, etc.?
  4. Check out their wish list — Consider items the recipient may want but feels guilty buying for themselves; and put your own thoughtful spin on it.
  5. Give experiences over material gifts — A growing body of evidence suggests experiences not only make people happier, but the happiness is longer lived as well.

Types of gifts

  1. No cost — Think gifts of time, gestures, repairs, free experience, etc. These can be as simple as taking someone for a walk, preparing and delivering meals, or teaching someone to ski or skate. The list is endless.
  2. Homemade — Create crafts, bake deserts, knit a sweater, write a heartfelt letter. Homemade gifts are great for everyone. The best part is you can easily customize these for the recipient.
  3. Donation — Donate funds or gifts in kind to a local non-profit in a loved ones name or invite them to join you as a volunteer. Choose a cause that’s close to the recipient’s heart and show you understand what’s important to them.
  4. Sentimental — The holidays are already a nostalgic time, and a great opportunity to re-live and build on fond memories. Compile a book of Grandma’s best recipes or dig up a cherished book from a loved one’s childhood.
  5. Consumer goods — There’s nothing wrong with buying things; just be sure these items fit your budget. Consider possible hints the recipient may have dropped throughout the year. Or, even better, ask them for a list.
  6. Gifts of money — Depending on their financial circumstances, cash and a warm holiday greeting may be just what a recipient needs to brighten their holiday season.
  7. Gifts of service — Make the most of someone’s time by gifting a pamper package (e.g., massage, manicure, etc.), house cleaning, vehicle detailing, or a long-delayed repair.

Managing holiday spending

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted global supply chains, vastly increasing the price of merchandise and cost of living. This year more than ever will require careful planning, discipline, and creativity to find meaningful, yet budget-friendly gifts.

Tips to prepare and manage holiday spending

  1. Plan ahead and be prepared — Make notes about gift ideas and try to set money aside (in a separate savings account if possible) throughout the year. This reduces the pressure on you and your finances when it comes time to start shopping.
  2. Set a budget — Set a limit for how much you plan to spend on all holiday expenses (gifts, food, decorations, travel, etc.). Record these in a spreadsheet and track your spending accordingly. Once you’ve hit your limit, stop spending.
  3. Rethink the budget — Review your budget throughout the holiday season. Do you really need new decorations? Are all those stocking stuffers necessary?
  4. Don’t second guess yourself — Stick with a gift once you’ve committed to it. If it’s meaningful and heartfelt, the recipient will love it.
  5. Start early, finish early — Shop with a clear and calm mind by getting it out of the way early. This can go a long way to prevent panic spending and impulse purchasing.

Tips for saving money

  1. Use cash or debit where possible
  2. Create a plan to pay off any credit card purchases (and stick to it)
  3. Take advantage of loyalty programs and discounts
  4. Look for discounts / shop for sale items
  5. Do your research and comparison shop to find the best price possible
  6. Minimize time in store by knowing what you’re looking for and where to find it.

Keep more money in your community

Another suggestion for giving meaningful gifts is to support local businesses and organizations. Purchasing from small independent retailers keeps revenue in your community and ensures your neighbours can afford a wonderful holiday season as well.

Have fun choosing those special gifts for the people in your life. Keep your spending to a minimum and make sure to find time to enjoy the people and traditions that make this the most wonderful time of year.

Consultation icon