Explore Alternative Gifts This Season

Giving holiday gifts is a thoughtful and generous gesture.  Buying holiday gifts, on the other hand, can be a stressful and frustrating experience.  And the truth is there can be better ways to spend your time and money. Need we remind you of the hours you log at the mall during the holidays?  Or the gifts your kids played with just once and then ignored?  This year, consider cutting down on holiday hassle and excess by giving alternative gifts. 

In the “2010 Responsible Giving Survey” conducted by Liberty Mutual, Americans indicated that they were looking for more responsible ways to give.  A majority of said they were planning on giving homemade gifts and making charitable donations of time and money.  Inspired by this trend, we’ve compiled 10 great alternatives to traditional gifts for you to consider this season. 

Donate in someone’s name.  More than half the people who responded to the Liberty Mutual survey agreed that it’s more responsible to make a charitable donation in someone’s name than to buy them a gift.  And the opportunities to do so are as many and varied as the folks on your gift list.  Have a niece who adores animals?  Sponsor a sanctuary animal in her name.  Is your best friend a true book worm?  Donate a book in her honor to her local library.  Is your mother-in-law a cancer survivor and activist?  Make a donation to her favorite cancer charity.  

If you do decide to give a gift in someone's name, keep these three things in mind:

  • Choose wisely.  Make sure the cause you pick aligns with your recipient's beliefs and passions.  
  • Get their name right.  Find out how your family member or friend would like to be known.  Since their name will be associated with this gift, it's important to find out how they'd like it to appear.  Would they prefer to go by their full name or a nickname? Do they use a middle initial?  Do a little homework to be sure they'll be happy with they way they're recognized. 
  • Double check their mailing address.   A certificate, card or some other record of the gift you made will likely be mailed to your recipient.  Be sure you have up-to-date address information to submit to the charity.  

Make a gift.  Hand-knitted scarves, hot cocoa kit in a jar, homemade soap, candles crafted in your kitchen, holiday photo ornaments—the list goes on and on.  Homemade gifts are prized for their creativity and quality as well as for the time and love that went into making them.  If you’re looking for ideas, do a quick inventory of your talents and the materials you have on hand to find inspiration.  Plus check out these 65 DIY gift projects we think you’ll love.

Offer an experience.  Research in the field of happiness shows that experiences makes us happier than physical objects in the long run.  The reason:  our satisfaction with objects, no matter how much we like them, fades over time as we adjust to having them.  But our happiness and satisfaction with experiences actually goes up. 

To give someone more lasting joy this season, offer gifts such as movie tickets, gift certificates to a local bowling alley or golf course or restaurant reservations.  Consider signing them up for a class they want to take or sponsoring an activity they’ve been wanting to try (Segway tour, anyone?).  Don’t rule out being part of the fun yourself.  Hosting a fondue party/charades night for your closest friends is bound to be a memorable experience for everyone.

Lend a helping hand.  Chances are you know someone who could benefit from a bit of your time or a little extra effort on your part, so go ahead and give them what they need.  Send babysitting coupons (handmade by you, of course) to a harried friend with two toddlers.  Gift your neighbor with a season of snow-shoveled sidewalks on you.  Sign a friend up for Yerdle and help them de-clutter their garage in a weekend.  


Whip up a homemade favorite.  You know that vegetarian lasagna your friends always ask you to bring to the potluck?  Or those slow roasted spare ribs you’re famous for?  Consider making and giving your specialty item to those on your list who love it the most.  If you’re willing to let them in on the secret, send along the recipe so they can make it themselves. 

You can also flip this idea on its head and learn a treasured family recipe yourself. Spend time with a relative to get one-on-one instruction for making their beloved recipe and give them the satisfaction of knowing this dish will live on at future family gatherings.  

Share a skill.  No doubt you have a talent someone else would like to develop.  Set aside time to show them what you know this season.  Sit down with your sister and give her a tutorial on how to hem a pair of pants.  Teach you nephew five key chords on the guitar.  Help your daughter improve her backhand.  Do a skills inventory--think big and small, practical and esoteric--then plan to share your flare with a loved one.  

Shoot for the stars.  For the dreamer on your list, consider naming a star after him or her.  While it’s not official—only the International Astronomical Union has the right to officially name celestial objects—your recipient’s name will replace the number that currently identifies starts in the Astrophysical Observatory Catalogs.

Bundle up a hometown care package.  Even the most well-adjusted family and friends can feel the pangs of homesickness when the holidays roll around.  Give them the gift of connection by sending them something from the place they’re from.  Mail off a hat from their hometown sports team, send them a subscription to the local newspaper or put together a box of snacks and treats found only in their old neck of the woods.  Those who can’t get home for the holidays will appreciate a little bit of home coming to them.

Give a gift from your garden.  Pretty plants and fresh herbs can be turned into all kinds of gifts that are inexpensive to make yet highly prized and appreciated.  Your foodie friends would love a gift of homemade herb better, herb salt or bundles of dried herbs. Gardening guy- and gal-pals will thank you for rooted cuttings from the plants in your garden (make  note of what they admire the most).   Everyone who craves a little TLC go ga-ga over a homemade herbal or floral body scrub.  Check out these recipes that include how-to's for a Tomato Sugar Scrub and a Lavender Salt Scrub.  

Package up photo memories.  Lots of us have hundreds of photos on our phones or computers, but they're not curated or organized in any meaningful way.  That's where you come in.  Take the time to gather, organize and caption photos to create albums to give or share with loved ones. 

Online electronic photo albums allow you to gift an album to multiple people on your list (just make sure everyone has a computer and internet access) while traditional photo albums can become cherished heirlooms that are passed down to family members over the years.

If you like the idea of sharing photos but are short on time, scale the project down a bit.  Electronic photo key chains and picture frames are great for giving snapshot keepsakes and are less work than compiling larger albums.  Smaller “brag book” photo albums with slots for 4” x 6” pictures let you give someone an organized, portable folder of photos rather than putting together a more elaborate scrapbook-style album. 

What's the most memorable unconventional gift you ever received?  How are you planning to celebrate more responsibly this year?  Share your stories of uncommon giving with us here.