A Guide To Giving Great Gifts Without Going Broke

Somehow over the past few decades we’ve got it into out heads that a “gift” must equal something of monetary value. Clothes and gadgets, trips and expensive jewellery are all accepted ways to show someone else you care about them – and that’s great! But what about those of us who can’t necessarily afford to splurge on expensive dinners and gift certificates? Here’s a little pep talk to get you out of your shame-spiral.

Birthdays should be fun, pleasant experiences shared with friends. So why does the act of gift giving often make us feel so anxious and embarrassed? The Financial Diet revealed a few simple rules to follow to give the special gifts we so long to give, while also keeping us out of debt.

#1 Gifts shouldn’t be representative of how successful you are

If you can’t afford to buy extravagant gifts for everyone in your family come Christmas or birthday time, it’s actually not the end of the world. While in your mind you might think this is the prime time to express to everyone that you’re earning a decent salary by buying extravagant gifts you can’t afford – people genuinely are chuffed you even get them anything at all. And buying beyond your means might be digging yourself a hole you’ll struggle to get out of later.


Keep in mind that gift giving isn’t a competition, and it’s OK that you didn’t get your best mate a Kindle Fire for their birthday. They’ll live on, and so will you.

#2 Make a list of things to buy, and stick to it

Just like you should do at the supermarket, the best way to avoid frivolous purchases is to write down exactly what you’ll be buying and not get distracted on your journey. Start by deciding on an overall budget, then break it down from there. If you want to be really strict about it, ditch the credit/debit card for the day and only bring the amount of cash you’ll need for the presents.

#3 Someone’s getting cookies, and they’ve gotta be OK with that

Firstly, you will realise that there are some people in your family or friendship group that fall into the “not an actual present” category, so they’re probably going to get some baked goods instead. Secondly, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with giving out baked goods as presents – you set aside time, you donned an apron and you worked hard on these. That deserves just as much credit as going out to buy a JB Hi-Fi gift card. Also everyone loves cookies. You’re fine.


#4 Ditch the “one for you, one for me” mentality

Beware of sale time – especially around Christmas. The temptation to buy a bunch of crap for yourself while shopping is increased exponentially when things are on sale, so try not to fall into the “one for you, one for me” kind of spending. Especially with half-off candles. Or Spotify subscriptions. Or leather jackets :/

#5 Activities are great presents, don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise

Surprise them with a drive down to the coast, or a hike along one of the city’s great scenic tracks, or a picnic at the local park. Not to sound too sappy but quality time spent together really does mean more than a material item ever could.

#6 If you’re really stuck, just be honest

If you can’t swing a gift this year, just be honest – they’ll understand. If this person cares about you, they wouldn’t want you putting yourself in financial ruin just for a coffee table book on architecture (those things aren’t cheap!). Don’t worry, good friends don’t hold grudges.

And hey, if you’re looking for some cheap giftspiration, here’s some ideas to tide you over:

Homemade treats

Nothing says “You’re ace!” like a homemade jar of jam, or granola or something that fits inside said jar. I’ll tell you that.

pexels-photo (2)

Set aside an afternoon to create some extra special food for your birthday pal – and opt for things that will last like relishes and jam, energy bars, tea blends, homemade chocolate or a dry felafel mix.

DIY trinkets

Printing out a picture of the two of you and popping it in a creatively decorated frame from Spotlight is always a priceless gift. When done well.

Herbs and plants

It’s the gift that keeps on giving – literally. Plants or herbs are a great cheap present that will not only add a bit of greenery, but will also clean the air and possibly provide food and flavour for your present-receiving mate.


Sunflowers, dill, parsley or basil are all great mid-winter gems that’ll bloom come spring time.

An old fashioned mixtape

Remember these? Weren’t they fun? A personalised playlist is the teenage equivalent of a hug. Sharing music with a mate or significant other is a great way to let people into your musical world – you could pick a list of songs from high school, a playlist of powerhouse female vocalists or tell a story in 10 perfectly selected songs, High Fidelity style. Also you don’t actually have to procure a tape player from thin air and give them a cassette – a USB with songs is equally as fun, just add a little spark by handwriting some liner notes to go with each song.

Write up a recipe book

Throw together a makeshift cook book by writing down a few of your favourite recipes in a notebook. And if your personal recipes only stretch as far as eggs on toast try these on for size (don’t worry, we won’t tell).

Offer to babysit, pet sit or house sit for free

It’s a really nice thing to do, your pal will be infinitely grateful, and you get a little something out of it too – Babies! Dogs! A clean house that isn’t yours! – so it’s definitely a winner.

Rebecca Russo is a freelance writer, editor, community radio dabbler, occasional hiker and celebrity autobiography enthusiast. She has written for online publications including Junkee, AWOL, Fashion Journal and Tone Deaf. Find her online here.

Want to start saving?

Open a Westpac savings account to take control of your money.

Find Out More