5 Birthday Gifts to Give When You’re Broke

I’m one of those people who loves the hunt for the perfect birthday gift. I also absolutely love my own birthday — going so far as to make it a month-long celebration — so I always want to make the birthdays of the people I love special. 

That can be hard to do when I’m on a budget. But fortunately, giving a great birthday gift doesn’t have to involve maxing out your credit card. Really, gift-giving is about expressing love — making it tailored and thoughtful for them. Here are some ways I give memorable birthday gifts without breaking the bank.

For parents or significant other: birthday coupons

When I was little, my mom would insist that she didn’t want anything for her birthday. (Not that I had more than a few quarters in my piggybank, anyway.) What she always asked for was for me and my dad to clean her car inside and out — including vacuuming the seats, filling the tires with air, and scrubbing the hood until it sparkled. For my mom, this special act of service meant more than a trinket. 

You can do the same for your family or significant other. Is there a chore they hate doing, or another way you could make their life easier? Craft a coupon for a free lawn mowing, car washing, or pet-sitting session. If you don’t have the money to give a gift, your time is just as valuable.

For extended family: baked goods or homemade candy

A few years ago, my brother-in-law made everyone in the family biscotti for Christmas, packaging them up in cute paper bags with labels. While I know it was because he was a broke college student at the time, it’s become a tradition — every year he debuts a new flavor and we love guessing what it will be. 

You can do the same with baked goods or homemade candy. With some basic pantry ingredients and a few colorful paper bags, you’ll be on your way to a thoughtful gift. (Curious about my brother-in-law’s famous biscotti? Here’s the recipe for last year’s flavor!)

For friends who have everything: gift baskets

My friends and I live really far apart, scattered by time and graduate school. When we do get together for birthdays, I often get them a few “guilty pleasures” and make it into a mini-gift basket — all for $10 or less. Depending on what my friend likes, I’ll head to Target and pick up lip balm, magazines, and a face mask to give them a great night in. Or if I’m already at the supermarket, I’ll pull together a basket of some of their favorite snacks — chips, crackers, or candy — in a similar “treat yourself” basket. 

For the bookworm: used books

Loving to read means it doesn’t matter whether the book is new or not — just what it is. I had a friend give my husband and me a stack of used vintage cookbooks for our wedding. It meant so much to us to have these classics grace our kitchen cookbook shelf and it was so much more personal than a $200 wedding gift. I look for fun vintage copies of classics at flea markets or used book sales.

For the jet-setter: travel-sized beauty

Even luxury skin care comes in trial and airplane sizes! Head to the checkout line at Sephora or the travel section of your local pharmacy and scope out the options. You can pick up tiny Moroccan oil, cocktail kits, and more to help them survive their next flight. And who knows? You may treat yourself too with something under $5.

Originally published on September 30, 2019.

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