The holiday season is supposed to be cheerful, but the stress of finding the right gift and stretching your budget can make it anything but.
Keeping a generous spirit isn’t always easy when you’re worried about staying on track.
Luckily there are a few ways to give generously this season with minimal budget damage. In some cases, there’s hardly even a dent.
Handmade Gifts Don’t Have to be Predictable or Subpar
Handmade gifts might seem like a holiday season cop-out. They’re not. They’ve got a personal touch that a store-bought gift could never have.
For example, if you knit or crochet, a simple scarf is practical and creative, even if you only know the most basic stitches. Fundamental sewing skills open up an immeasurable list of potential gifts.
If your talents lie elsewhere, such as cooking, put them to work making edible gifts that anyone would appreciate.
The bonus with food gifts, such as jams or breads, is that you don’t have to worry about whether they’re the right size or color.
Read: Homemade Holiday Gifts That are Good Enough to Eat]
Handmade can mean whatever you want. Wood or metalworking, painting, or writing can lend itself to a unique gift that costs time, but not much money.
If you’re lacking in inspiration, hit up Pinterest, where there’s never any shortage.
Offer a Real Service
Remember when handmade coupon books were popular Mother’s Day gifts?
One coupon might equal a mopped floor, load of laundry, or a full day off from housework. The idea is still a good one, and you don’t have to make coupons.
Offering a service as a holiday gift lets you step in and handle a chore that the recipient doesn’t often have a break from or might have trouble doing.
[Read: 7 Ways to Pare Down Your Holiday Spending]
You could weed a flower bed, go grocery shopping, or even perform difficult chores such as cleaning windows or washing a car.
How about offering to take down and pack away holiday decorations? Few people would turn down a gift like that.
When you give a service, your recipient doesn’t have to go without a pretty package to open. Use your computer to create and print a fancy certificate, and wrap it up.
Donate Time Instead of Money
If you normally donate money to a certain charity but the purse strings are a bit tighter this year, why not volunteer your time instead?
Many charities practically run on fumes when it comes to the amount of resources needed to help the people they serve. Any assistance that doesn’t reduce those resources lets them help more people.
AARP’s Create the Good website is a matching service that helps you find volunteering opportunities in your area.
You can search using your own terms, such as schools or feeding the hungry, and narrow the results by zip code.
You could even start a new tradition. Donating gifts and money for underprivileged families helps them enjoy a happier holiday season.
[Read: How to Make the Most of Your Charitable Giving]
But if there’s nothing extra in your budget to give, you’re not out of luck. Each member of the family could donate one of his or her gifts.
To keep it fair, no one has to sacrifice their nicest or most beloved gift, but they’re also not allowed to give away the one they like least.
To make it through the holidays unscathed, sometimes you have to be creative. Your budget naturally dictates what you can and can’t afford to spend.
If you’re struggling for inspiration, go back to Pinterest and just start searching. You’d be amazed by the creative ideas that users share.
They’re not all arts and crafts projects. It’s like the “hive mind,” if the hive mind mind was the coolest and cleverest person you know.
Commit to a budget-friendly holiday season, and rely on smarts instead of fighting for sales to save money. Your wallet and your sanity will thank you.
Mary Hiers is a personal finance writer who helps people earn more and spend less.