The Non-Gift Gift Guide For When You Can’t Spare The Cash

The holidays can be a stressy time, especially when the phrase “gift giving” comes up. While it’s been estimated that Australians spend nearly $9 billion annually on Christmas presents, another survey reveals what the majority of us really look forward to is spending time with family and friends, food, all-around cheeriness, and having time off work.

We often feel pressured to spend money we don’t have on presents we think we should give at this time of year when really, some of that time or money could be better spent in the company of loved ones, saved or invested into communities and causes we care about, or spent on fun activities with our favourite people.

Here’s our suggestions for thoughtful cost-effective gifts that can make a difference in someone’s life. Navigate away from that browser tab imploring you to buy someone herb-scented temporary tattoos, and take your pick on something that’ll last longer below:

Offer to Deep Clean Your Favourite Person’s House 

As it’s getting to the end of the year, there’s probably someone special in your life whose house has reached that ‘I-just-can’t-deal-with-it-anymore’ level of clutter and questionable livability. Offer to be that legend who swoops in with a seven-day plan of how to get their home back to that Martha Stewart Living state (or, you know, just regular-person-standard is also fine).

Keep in mind that deep cleaning is different to a light spring clean, so it can be handy to team up other friends, decide to only tackle a most-used area of the house, and decide on a limit of hours or spare weekends with the lucky person you’re helping out.

Price: Free, if you stick to using existing cleaning products from their or your own personal stash. The ultimate price here is your time and effort.

Bonus: To go with this, consider giving your friends or family the gift of a magic car wash (organise to get the car cleaned overnight and return it in the morning before they’re off to work), or giving someone’s pet dog a bath (after making your own non-toxic dog shampoo, of course).

Help Make A Homemade Sourdough Starter

Why not give the gift of ditching the dreaded $10 lunchtime sandwich for the skills to bake a fresh loaf of bread? You can make a sourdough starter at home, which could be a game-changer for the friend or family member who has allergies they have to be careful about (you can tailor a recipe to be gluten-free, for instance), or a housemate who complains about excessive supermarket staple prices (make as much bread as you want, and freeze it for later!)

Price: All you really need is a bag of good quality wholemeal flour (which can cost around $10 per kilo), and good quality water. If you have the cash to spare, you can also shout them this Sourdough Bread Workshop at Bee Sustainable for $95.

Get Them Into (The Good Kind of) Pickles and Jams

Summer is the perfect season for pickles and jams. The best bit is you can make them from basically anything – watermelon rind, nectarines, tarragon and cucumber, limes, papayas…there’s heaps of flavours to experiment with.

You can turn your kitchen into a preserve lab during the summer by consulting some beginner’s recipes to tackle with friends.

Price: Keep an eye on what fruits and veggies are in season, and tailor it to your personal budget and/or what’s on special.

Let Someone Borrow Your Brain For An Hour or Two 

Hey, you multi-skilled brainiac, ever thought about how a great gift might be skill sharing your expertise with someone?

Maybe you’re great with words and could help someone spruce up their resume for a dream job. Maybe being multilingual makes you a living, breathing and more fun-to-be-around version of Duolingo that could help a jet-setting hopeful in your life. Maybe someone in your extended family has just joined Instagram and needs a few selfie or foodstagram tips.

Whatever your special skills are, don’t be shy about sharing them around over the holidays (within your limits, of course). Bonus points if both of you can teach each other something in exchange.

Price: Your time and energy, so be mindful of what you can realistically commit to – there should be an expiry date on gifts like these to encourage a timely and respectful exchange for both parties involved.

Record and Remind Someone How They Shaped Your Life

This is especially great for those of you who need something for parents/grandparents/great grandparents/family friends who raised you/older siblings, especially if they’re hitting a milestone age like 30, 50 or 100.

It might seem trite, but the best way to let someone know they’ve changed your life for the better is to…actually tell them. Even better, write down a Top 10/50/100 reasons list in a keepsake notebook and gift it to them. Hot tip: consider splurging on a Rifle Paper Co. notebook.

Price: Rifle Paper Co. notebooks cost $24.95 and upwards, but they’re not the only option. What’s most important – and priceless – is the handwritten and heartfelt information personalised by you.

Give Someone You Love The Gift of A Day/Week/Month of Free Meals

Freezer meals can be the equivalent of a thousand angels descending from heaven for that friend who works multiple jobs or night shifts, is a full-time perpetually stressed uni student trying to get through their final semester, the family or friend who’s just recently had a baby, or that close pal who’s just been through a rubbish break up or lost a close friend or family member.

The meals don’t have to be fancy – think healthy bento box lunches, nutritious pastas, or filling casserole dishes – with cooking instructions, or already pre-made. If you’d like to be extra thoughtful, consider packaging everything in reusable containers.

Price: depends on your grocery list, and how much time you have. Consider making a little more of your day-to-day meals than you normally do, and packing up those extra portions for friends or family if you’re feeling a little stretched for time yourself.

DIY A Self-Care Stash For A Friend

Sure, we’ve all got those friends who go to Aesop, Mecca or LUSH and basically switch to kid-in-a-candy-store mode (and it’s quite possible for some of us that we are that friend), but what if you want to make a self-care stash for a friend without breaking your bank account?

Impress your friends with the ol’ ‘I-made-this-myself-especially-for-you’ line. We’ve combed the internet and found you easy-to-follow recipes for making sweet-smelling soap out of beer, a DIY sugar scrub, a soothing night-time bath salt, wild chamomile body cream, a healing salve for aches and pains, a small-batch homemade lip balm, homemade deodorant, an edible mud mask (don’t worry, it’s not actual mud), shower jellies, gentle cleansing facial wipes, and an essential oil muscle rub.

Price: definitely cheaper than store-bought, depending on where you buy your ingredients, and how many items may already be in your kitchen cabinet or pantry.

Donate to a charity or cause they care about

Sometimes the best gift can be donating to a force for good on behalf of that person in your life who is legit serious about not wanting to indulge in the holiday season’s gift-giving traditions. Australia is home to many brilliant charities, including:

The Indigenous Literacy Foundation

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre


Women’s Information and Referral Exchange


If you know that you, your friends or family have a specific cause they’d like to donate to, and want more information on what your options are, the ChangePath directory is also a good resource.

Price: up to you – pick a meaningful (and reasonable) number, and get creative with the certificate or receipt that shows where the money went.

Nathania is a writer, video editor and snack enthusiast based in Melbourne. You can find her on Twitter @unicornology