Alternative Gift Guide: Make it Meaningful

Is wine your default holiday gift? Do you wish you could come up with thoughtful gifts, but the thought of a DIY project—carding wool, dying it and spinning it into a shawl for your best friend—makes you panic? Whatever your gift-giving style, you can achieve a thoughtful balance. Rather than toiling over a handmade gift for hours or just grabbing a decorative candle on your way out the door, check out these fresh ideas.

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1Paint pottery

Take a trip to the pottery place and you’ll find ceramics your friend will actually use (not that cat figurine—though, she may be into that, too). Is your friend a coffee nut? Paint a mug and throw a coffee gift card in there. If she has a green thumb, try a flower pot with seeds and soil inside. For a delicate touch on a housewarming gift, fill a hand-painted vase with fresh flowers. Whatever you choose, use your friend’s favorite colors and patterns. Bonus: Painting is a stress-reliever. Color yourself happy!

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2DIY sea salt spray

Getting beachy waves in the dead of winter is not always practical. So it’ll be a sweet (er, salty) surprise to give your friend that tousled look with a spritz of something natural. With just four ingredients in this thrifty sea salt recipe, you can bottle up the beach for Baywatch-worthy hair without spending a ton of cash. Just add a cute tag and you’re good to go— she won’t “sea” this one coming! (Wait—don’t ruin the presentation with that corny joke.).

3Make a cookbook

Instead of buying a cookbook, make one full of your winning recipes. For a fancy finish, have the pages laminated and bound at your local copy shop, complete with photographs of the final product. If you’re more crafty than techy, handwrite the recipes and draw for a homespun look. The best part? You can cater to her favorite eats. If your friend has a sweet tooth, make it full of mouthwatering desserts. Super low-maintenance pal? Try no-brainer 10-minute recipes.

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4Jazz up your wine gift

If you just want to buy a bottle of wine and call it a day, no judgment! But, you can still add some flair. Wrap it in a hand towel that goes with the theme of your friend’s house, with a beautiful ribbon. For an even more delightful presentation, spike holiday punch and bottle it in a mason jar (easily found at a flea market). You’ll save big—bottoms up!

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Time is one of the most valuable gifts you could give. If your friend has children or pets, offer to babysit or house-sit. Make an official “coupon,” and follow up with a phone call to pin down the date, so she knows you’re serious. She’ll have peace of mind to know someone she trusts will be taking care of her family. What can beat that?

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6Get out there

Let’s face it: You may want to shell out cash rather than craft something from scratch. But that doesn’t mean a gift card has to be thoughtless. Check out memberships in the community, from art galleries to science museums. If those would bore your friend to tears, land tickets to an upcoming concert or musical your friend will enjoy. Don’t live in a cultural center of the universe? There’s always a gift certificate to your friend’s favorite restaurant. She’ll be thankful to take a break from cooking.

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7Donate in your friend’s name

There are so many deserving causes out there, you might panic at the thought of having to choose one. But if you know your friend well, there is something that hits close to home. If she has pets, but not enough time to spend at the local animal shelter, donate for her. Or maybe she’s been caring for a family member affected by a disease, and hasn’t had the resources to aid the research process. Contributing in her honor may treat her to something she’s felt guilty she hasn’t done herself yet.

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8Go glam in a sweet way

When’s the last time you donned a ring pop, candy necklace or bracelet? You may not be able to get your friend the real bling, so go retro with nostalgic candy from her childhood. It’ll bring her back to being a kid. If you want to amp it up, throw in something she can actually keep. Surf through this cool jewelry (that won’t break the bank) so she could, you know, complete the look. (Accessories are Fair Trade, organic, vegan, charitable—the whole nine yards.)

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9Give the power of words

Even if your friend’s committed to her Kindle, there’s something special about handpicking a book, rather than just recommending one to download. If your friend’s a real word nerd, browse rare books in your price range. Bookmark a page with a passage or poem that has significance to your relationship. Personalize the bookmark with a photo of you two, or a quote (can be an inside joke, doesn’t have to be inspirational!).

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