30 Frugal Gift Ideas to Show You Appreciate Someone

A Guest Post by Leo Babauta

What do you get someone if you want to show you appreciate them, but if you don’t have a lot of money to spend?

If you have a lot of money, you can buy just about anything for that person. But for those of us with limited budgets, you’ll have to show that appreciation with a little creativity.

Australian reader Victory recently asked:

I’m in my final year of high school and in about a fortnight we graduate before heading off to exams (in Australia for those who live in Victoria) and so I was wondering if you could perhaps make a post about Teacher gifts. I’m a little low on ideas for showing gratitude to my teachers but I know they deserve something decent for helping me getting into university and such so perhaps you could offer frugal but tasteful advice on gifts other than the usual wine/beer/chocolate?

It’s a great question. Teachers are some of the most selfless people I know, and the work they do benefits us individually and as a society. However, I thought I’d broaden the topic for those who aren’t in school … and talk about frugal gift ideas for showing your appreciation to someone.

Let’s first identify what’s essential: that we show the person who has done something nice for us how much we appreciate them. It’s not essential that the gift be big, or expensive, or anything like that. It’s a token of our appreciation … and let me tell you, no matter how small, the person will likely appreciate the gesture.

The gift should also be appropriate to the person — if it’s personal, it’s likely to mean more. So while wine is always a nice gift, if the person is into other types of drinks (such as coffee), that would make a better gift. So take a moment to consider the person, what they like, and the times you’ve spent together.

So, let’s look at some ideas … some obvious, perhaps, but this list is meant only to spark your own ideas. Also, the definition of “frugal” is broad here … some ideas cost more than others, and some can be made for very little.

  1. Frame a picture of you with them.
  2. Lotions or bath oils.
  3. Journal. A nice journal can be beautiful. It’s one of my favorite gifts.
  4. Gourmet coffee with a personalized mug.
  5. A nice pen.
  6. Photo album or scrapbook, with memories already included.
  7. Homemade cookies you bake yourself.
  8. Or brownies.
  9. Spice gift basket. Get some small jars and fill them with exotic spices.
  10. Gift certificate for the person’s favorite hobby store.
  11. A burned CD with all the person’s favorite songs.
  12. A letter, hand-written on nice paper, from you. Make it heart-felt, with all the reasons you appreciate the person.
  13. A small plant.
  14. A movie pass and a small container of gourmet popcorn kernels.
  15. Soup mixes or cookie mixes in nice clear jars.
  16. Personalized T-shirt.
  17. Stationery and stamps.
  18. IOU booklets, with whatever services you are willing to perform. Obviously only good for someone you know really well.
  19. Knit or crochet something for someone (I can’t do this, but I know people who can).
  20. An “I appreciate you because” jar. Fill a nice jar with slips of different colored paper, each with a reason you appreciate (or love) someone.
  21. Jams and jellies.
  22. Good bread (home-made works great).
  23. Books (my favorite).
  24. A blank recipe book … write some of your favorite recipes on the first few pages.
  25. A keepsake DVD with a video of special moments, edited (and captioned) by you. A slide show presentation with music burned on a DVD works too.
  26. Create your own art (and put it on nice stationery or in a frame). By “art”, I mean a sketch, painting, poem, short story, whatever.
  27. Scented candles.
  28. Make-up set.
  29. Shaving kit.
  30. Box of good tea and a teacup.

Editor’s Note:  Not sure where to start journaling or what it does for you?  Here are 7 Ways Starting a Daily Journal Practice Will Change Your Life.  <<

Ways to Spread Kindness Around.

Don’t let the headlines fool you friends.  Kindness exists out there in the world just waiting for you to start the ripples.  I have been a passionate supporter of kindness for many years, but even I drop the ball.

I was going through the archives here, that is the button on the side of the blog that lets you pull up past months, and I found in November I usually give you guys lots of ideas on how to spread kindness.

What exactly is kindness?

Kindness is the spirit of being friendly, generous and considerate.

Can I show kindness even if I don’t like people?

Yes you can.  Even if you prefer not to talk to others, there are many ways you can practice just being kind in everyday life and see what happens; however, is you don’t really like going out or even interacting with others verbally, I still have some idea for you to try.

What do you mean by “ripple effect”?

The results of your effort or action will ripple out and continue on long after you have done your good deed or kind action.

Okay, I am willing to try it.  How do I get involved?

  1. Operation Gratitude would love to have your help.  They actually like to include at least 5 letters in these care packages that they send to deployed troops, new recruits and Veterans.  They have been told these hand written letters of thanks, kindness and love are some of the most treasured items that the people who receive them get.
  2. I really like the above idea ^^^, but I want to send letters to someone who is really down in the dumps.  In fact, I want to nominate someone to get letters!  <<< yes.  That’s a great idea.  How do I do that?  This site is really amazing and they read through the nominations and pick several to post for a 2 week period.  So keep checking back on the site or write to someone who has been nominated already.  The World Needs More Love Letters.
  3. Scan your day for 3 small things you have done to help someone else.  Quite simply, smile at strangers, hold the door for someone, or say thank you by looking someone directly in the eye.  Ask them how their day is, and mean it when you listen.  You might be the only one to ask them that today.  It can be the difference in something thinking no one notices them, to someone realizing they are worthy of notice.
  4. Give a “Shout Out” to one new person daily.  On social media, through e-mail, or a hand written note on a desk without your name if you prefer.  Tell them they are doing a good job and you notice their efforts at x.  If you see a co-worker do something good when no one was looking, surprise them with a coffee or a gift card the next day.  It really does create ripples.
  5. Pay attention to your mind, what you are sharing and what you are promoting out there.  Do NOT mindlessly promote what you hate.  Promote what you love.  It really can be that simple my friends.


3 Tips for Turning Pity into Self-care!

I was drawn to this post my friend shared today by a famous yoga teacher who I really admire.  She seemed to have a really cool life.  She is young, admired, in shape and really self-confident.  Or so I thought.  She gets to go on exciting trips and travel all over the world…little did I know she was homesick and going through a divorce.  She posted a photo of herself on her social media today and the first person to comment said some ugly things about her being “vulnerable” as an excuse for pity.  Wow.  Harsh.

Interestingly enough, I bet we have all been there though.  Seeing someone’s posts and wondering if they just needed a pick-me-up or were they seeking attendees for their pity party?  The truth is, we all have felt this way at some point in our lives.  We are on the brink of being really vulnerable and wondering if others care.  The flip side to this is we might stay closed off from the world because we are busy thinking we will be judged for how we feel.  The fact is, emotions are like waves.  We can no more control them than we can control the turbulent sea.  We just have to ride it out.

I say this as I am still in the clutches of my own grief on losing a beloved pet.  So I can’t control my waves of grief right now, but there are things I can do to make this time more bearable.  I can turn my pity, of which I honestly feel like I am the only one at this party, into self-care.

3 Ways to Turn Pity into Self-care:

  1. Observe your thoughts as they turn to “why me”?  I recognize that I will have moments of thinking I am the only one who has ever experienced x,y, z.  Since I know this is definitely not true, I use this as an excuse to journal my feelings and explore what is really going on here.  Did someone post a photo of the exact opposite feeling?  Quite possibly.  And what is the exact opposite feeling I want to explore right now?  Happiness.  Love.  Support.  Okay, so now let me list the ways that I feel these emotions I am trying to get to.  Who makes me feel this way or what?  It doesn’t have to be a who…as I can definitely create my own happiness with things that make me feel successful.  So then I go down that path instead.
  2. Don’t open the invitations you get…to go to the other pity parties.  This one might be hard.  So do this one as tactfully as you can, but if you are struggling, the emotions you want to surround yourself with are not going to be more struggle and pity.  Get my drift?  You really want to think about the things that are going well in your life and get back to that higher vibration that allows you to feel good about yourself.  If you can turn it into something productive, like a friend journaling session, or a walk of pity, then go for it, but set a timer.  After 3 minutes, switch and listen to the other person.  Then you must have 3 minutes of praise and success.  Because ultimately, you know that this stage will not last forever.
  3. Make a practice of talking about your joys.  Again, this one is hard.  We always want to talk about what is bothering us…or what we want to change, but feel like we can’t.  What if we talked about all the things that made use feel joy, happiness, and fulfillment in life?  Ask a trusted friend to tell you 3 good qualities about yourself if you are feeling down.  Even better, text them and tell them 3 things you love about them out of the blue.

Opportunities for growth exist as we see our pity for what it really is.  A moment of self-doubt where we don’t feel good enough.  A moment of judgement where we think we should be doing more.  A moment of envy perhaps, where we see the outside of someone’s life and look at the highlight reel.  Go deeper into what is really bothering you and what the opposite of that feeling is.  It is there that you will find your gold.

Like this?  Read more on self-confidence. <<< 


Advice from Mother Teresa

“People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway.
If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway.
For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”
~Mother Teresa

In honor of World Peace Day, I am posting this quote today.  Just breathe in her advice…because there are people everywhere saying “What’s one day of peace going to do?”  But really, give the world the best you have and it may never be enough.  Give your best anyway.  Remember we belong to each other.



I don’t know when it became acceptable for others to simply do whatever they feel like doing at any given time, speak to you however they feel or act however they want.  Today’s society drains me as there seems to be no common courtesy in the world anymore.  Yesterday I went to my local health food store.  Unfortunately, I said I wasn’t going in there ever again after something happened the last time I visited.  I spent about 6 months personally boycotting the store.  Seriously.

Until I needed some things that no one else sells.  So I made my trip up there hoping I was going to see him…the cause for irritation.  I made it into the store and poof, he magically appeared.  Throwing a comment over his shoulder as he walked by me, can I help you find anything, as he kept walking away from me.  Yes, actually you can.  I need coconut butter.  Using a simpering, irritated voice “Oh my God. You are like the 5th person to ask for coconut butter.  I do NOT have it. I have coconut manna. What do you all want it for anyway?”  As he sighs heavily like I am putting him out.  Did I mention that he is the owner?  Well he is. 

Let me tell you about the first time I ran in with my whole family to get something.  It was like 4:45 p.m. and I needed something as I eat gluten-free.  Some of my ingredients are difficult to get.  I am sometimes, erm lots, depressed when I can’t eat similar items my little family is eating as we used to make things together.  We have changed our whole eating habits for me as a dinner ritual, which is nice, but occasionally, I want a cookie darn it.  So we went in to get some ingredients only this guy has.  Seriously, it wasn’t much of a list.  I went in and they yelled out “Closing in 15 minutes.” as a way of greeting us.  No hi.  No hello.  No welcome.  Nothing.  I got my little things with my husband and kids as we were on our way to my parent’s house, and went to the counter.  From behind the counter a voice says “BETTER late than NEVER” in a seriously ugly tone.

So number one, I am doing this guy a favor by shopping in his store.  Number two, I get no recognition, no greeting, no courtesy.  Number three, it’s like I am putting him out by being a customer.  So I refused to enter the store for months and apparently he hasn’t changed because after he “helped” me yesterday, he proceeded to mention things he can’t sell now because we are getting a Whole Foods soon and people would just drive there, which by the way, is 40 minutes away right now.  So let me just gently remind you all, if you are a small store owner, a business person of any kind and someone is doing you a favor, don’t speak to them like you can’t be bothered or perhaps “don’t have the energy” to treat them right.  They will remember.  Trust me.  Treat the person how you would want to be treated.  It’s just a small thing in this world.  Kindness.  Pass it on. 



Show the love…

The Greatest Gift

13 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned,[a] but have not love, it profits me nothing.

I woke up today with these words on my heart.  Do you know someone who has started to sound like a clanging cymbal?  Perhaps they use the word love, yet love would be an unconditional thing of which they have put stipulations around said professed love.  They have faith, or so they say, but if they did, they would not question your motives?  What is love without trust.

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love is kind.  It does not think thoughts that have never entered your mind, nor is it boastful.  It does NOT rejoice in iniquity, which by the way, means crookedness.  If said love rejoices in the truth, then you should not be afraid to speak the truth in front of those who truly love you and know what love is.  The last line above is my favorite “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  That is the test of a true love.

I also like Love never fails.  What does get in the way of love is the ego.  On Monday, I am going to do a different kind of Motivational Monday where I talk about speaking from a place of love.  It is very difficult to do.  Especially in hard times, sickness, and pain.  It will be part of a blog book tour I am on and you will have a chance to comment, so make sure you tune in.  Those who comment that they would like a digital copy of the book will be entered in a drawing.  I’ll need your e-mail after you win, so check back.

Lastly, I would like to say that I have been given a great gift in my husband.  Almost 18 years…it does endure all things.Love Never Fails



Hope for humanity…

During November, I wrote some hard posts about the children I knew from the projects.  I gave you but one snapshot, one glimpse, into the life of a child born to poverty.  Most people walk around behind rose-colored glasses and fail to see these children as anything more than burdens on our society.  You know that’s the truth whether you want to admit it or not.  There were years I started hating giving gifts at Christmas.  That’s right.  I felt like I was the only one in the entire world who looked at the wealth of others and started wondering if they saw how ridiculous it was.

Then, a few years ago, I started hearing about the secret lay-away “Santa” and I wrote about it.  One of my friends saw, and became one.  I started feeling better about things.  Two years ago, I wrote about a man who saw my family in the grocery store, and perhaps it was because my husband I were being snippy about the price of things, but he kept listening to us.  I felt a bit weird.  I told my husband to keep it down.  We went down another row, and the man approached.  Now, I’m going to be honest.  I thought this man needed money.  I was wrong.  You can read about here.  But the funny thing was, I was prepared to help him.  I had no idea what was going to happen next.

Last year, I wrote about giving a gift card to the homeless man on an extraordinarily cold day.  Making eye contact, and him calling me friend was a good thing.  Sometimes I don’t think I do enough good for this world.  Other times, maybe the small things I do everyday do really matter in some small way.  I know it’s a ripple effect and I have to be more conscious about it.  I donate things all the time, but what I have not donated lately was my time.  I was working with a group of people, and I need to call them again.  It’s time to do something good for others.



Spreading cheer…

It doesn’t take much to brighten someone’s day.  A smile.  A nod.  A kind word.  I’d even take Joey saying this:

That being said, I had two very different experiences this morning.  I walked into a certain grocery store, and no one said a word.  I went down the aisles, and someone was stocking the meat.  She was actually blocking where I needed to go, but I waited thinking she was going to look up.  When she turned around I smiled, and got a look of, well, nothing.  I guess I wasn’t even good enough to get a half-smile.  I went through the rest of the store, and noticed the only had those damn self-checkout things.  I dislike those things.  I want a person.

I finally found a person checking out, but the light was off.  The lady one register over peeked over like she was hiding and said “THAT register is closed, BUT I’ll take you.”  Don’t say it like you are doing me any favors lady.  What in the world.  Apparently, her clothing meant she was a manager of some sort.  Hmmm.  She sure didn’t act like it.  Then some lady came back that had been on break I guess and an older gentleman came up behind me.  He said he hated those self-checkouts and asked if this lane was open, because gee, they were hiding with the light off.  I said yes, it was, and we started talking about how robots were going to take over…ha.  No one was going to man anything anymore.  Well, I guess checkout lady didn’t much like that, but truth be told, she didn’t like anything anyway and it was only 9 a.m.   As I left I said thank you, and she looked at me like she really didn’t want to say anything, but mumbled something.

The next store, I just hummed a song and spoke to people again.  The lady stocking the supplies, she didn’t not smile, but didn’t exactly go out of her way either.  Hmmm.  Went to check out and noticed a lady who was having problems in front of a lady who seemed to be in a huge hurry.  She had pinched lips and looked perturbed.  I told this older gentleman in messy, stained clothes to go ahead of me.  He only had a newspaper and I smiled at him and said please go ahead of me.  I have a cart full.  He said thank you, and I believe the pinched lipped woman looked less frazzled after I did that.  Then a man came up with his arms full of things and I laughed and said “Do you need a cart?”  He smiled at me and held up some crazy snowmen signs and said “How can you not get these??” and he reminded me of Wayne Brady, so he made my day.  How could I not get two snowmen signs?  I don’t know Wayne, but I think you are hilarious.

As I was leaving, the checkout lady got to talking to the rumpled man I let go ahead of me, and Wayne was behind me, so I knew we weren’t in any hurry now.  Good, because we were talking about books, and I happen to like to add my two cents.  The rumpled man turned to me after I checked out and pressed a photo-copied recipe into my hand for a ham loaf he said was wonderful.  I took the stained recipe, that appeared to have his name on it, and smiled at him as he told me about the steps.  Never once saying I couldn’t eat a thing he put in it, but just nodding.

As I left, I thought about how it pays to “read” people and try to give them what they need.  Attention, a kind word, or just a smile can go a long way for people having a hard time.  What can you do this week to make someone’s day a little brighter? 




What does poverty look like?

It can be any color.  Sometimes, it is painful.  It doesn’t have a phone, internet or cable.  Sometimes, it hangs out with anger.  It has a rumbling belly and a grudge a mile wide.  Sometimes it is cold.  It gets mad at others who don’t appreciate the finer things, like having a warm jacket.  Sometimes it is envious.  It might be friends with drugs and alcohol.  Sometimes, it tries to hide from those friends.  It doesn’t care if it has to use food stamps as long as that means food.  But sometimes, oh sometimes, it hates asking for help.  Poverty has pride even though others don’t notice it.  Sometimes, it was just born like this and wishes it could grow up to be something else.

I loved all my children instantly.  Even the difficult one.  The mad one.  The one who hated school.  I thought he hated me too, but since it was only first grade, what in the world did he have to be so angry for?

He didn’t listen, or do homework.  I tried to talk to his mother, but she didn’t answer the phone.  Half the numbers weren’t working for most of the kids by November anyway.  Some parents still hadn’t met me yet.  This was not what I thought.  What was I doing here?  One day, my angry friend didn’t show up to school.  He always tried to pick a fight with the other kids or back talk me, but I was still surprised he wasn’t there.  An hour or so after school started, in walked “Q” with his wife-beater on drenched in sweat (the kids called tank-top undershirts that name).  I felt his forehead, and asked him what in the world happened.  Was he sick?  No, I missed the bus.  Ok, so is your mom signing you in?  No, she’s not (he angrily spit out the words).  Okay, honey.  How did you get here?  I walked.  You walked???  To school???  Honey, I have to call your mom.  Where is she?  You can’t call her.  Her boyfriend ripped the phone off the wall and hit her with it.  So then, they left.  And I missed the bus.  At this point, I had to compose my features.  I was about to cry.  Ahem.  I’m just going to get my friend real quick.  Would you like to talk to her?  (I am/was legally bound to report abuse of all kinds and I didn’t know what else had happened, but before he said another word, I needed the counselor there.)  No.  I don’t.  Can I give you a hug?  Yes.  I squeezed Mr. Q as tight as I could infusing in him all the love I possessed so he knew someone cared.  So I got him working on whatever totally trivial piece of work I was required to teach this child.  Because let me tell you, I can’t remember what it was and he certainly needed to know he was loved right then.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, I loved the curriculum I taught back then, but I knew I needed to teach so much more.  Things that are taught from birth to age 6 that slip the minds of some folks because they seem second nature.

I’d like to tell you this had a happy ending, but the truth is after I talked to the guidance counselor, his momma tried to come up to my class and start a fight with me.  I had just found out I was pregnant with my first child and the guidance counselor was there in the hall as the mom stared me down, mind you, I’m still a 5’2 white girl, and I stared right back.  She did make a motion as if to strike me, but did not.  She went in to see the principal and my friend Q was moved to a different room that year.  A black teacher’s room (see previous post if you wonder why this matters).  He came to my room every day.  Every single day after that.  He told me he missed me.  He asked to be moved back.  I was almost on the verge of tears so I sat him down.  “You didn’t do anything wrong, honey. And neither did I.  Sometimes, folks don’t see eye to eye on how to handle a situation, so they do the best they can.  Your momma, well, she doesn’t like me much now.  Maybe later she will, but right now she doesn’t.  It’s not your fault. ”  Like I said, Q came to see me everyday.  His teacher and I were already friends, so she knew how much it meant to me.  And guess what, she was married to a white man, but Q’s mom didn’t know that, ha.


Writers note:  I wrote the two pieces separately, thinking of the same situation.  They seemed to fit together to give you, the reader, the whole picture.


The homeless…

You see them on the street.  You grab your child’s hand and whisper “Don’t make eye contact” and you hurry by.  They are on the corners with their signs and you say “I bet they make more money than I do.”  They come to your churches, and the smell, oh the smell, you can’t wait for them to leave.  I wonder how many people have ever sat down and talked to them.  I wonder how many people ask them how they got they way and what can they do to help.  I am lucky to know a few people who do that.

Over the last 15 years, I have taught mostly lower socioeconomic children.  Some years past, “T” was in my class.  He was special needs and perhaps got that way by his mother’s use of various drugs and/or alcohol.  He had a smile that could light up a room and I loved him, as I do all my children.  He was a handful to say the least and required constant, constant, attention.  He would always be somewhere he was not supposed to be, and would “bother” the other children.  The lady I worked with had a hard time with him as well, so she would have to take his hand when we went anywhere as a class down the hall.  I had to do what is called a child study on him.  We did lots and lots of paperwork and I worked with the school counselor and social workers as well as the psychologist.  One day, we found out T’s mother had been evicted from where she was living.  He had a sister that I knew of and I went to that teacher to find out what had happened.  She knew even less.

I went to my good friend next.  A man who had worked on a committee with me to try to help the teachers with behavior problems in class.  He worked closely with the families and he knew of my struggles with T’s situation.  We did everything in our power at that time to speed up the child study, but sadly, T was “not in our district” anymore and somehow was going to be removed from school.  To this day I am still not even sure how this happened.  Both administrators at the time were well aware of my work with this family.  I have never seen my normally mild-mannered, doesn’t use a curse word, heart of gold friend stand up to the administration like he did the day I begged them to help me keep T at school.  I told them if he wasn’t in my class, I was afraid of what was going to him.  I said his child study was coming up, please let him stay until then.  Somehow, it didn’t matter.  That was the year I lost faith in the system.  That was the year I cried and told them he had no other place to go, but they didn’t budge.  That was the year I went to people above them and started letting them know what was going on.

That was the year my friend said I was right.  There were some things that might be worth losing your job over.  Miraculously, one of the administrators was moved to another school over the summer and no one even saw it coming.  Well, there might have been a few who saw it coming.  I told my friend I didn’t know how much longer I could keep doing this.  I was drained.  We started talking about other jobs for me, and I said I loved his job.  He gave me the eyeball and said that my strengths could also be my weaknesses.  I always got too close.  He’s right.  I do and I would probably lose my job over it or quit (true story).  I have been told that over and over again in my professional career.  I cared too much.  To this day I still don’t believe that is possible.

If you would like to be one of the few who care too much, here are some resources for you:

Homeless Shelter Directory  Currently 3,355 shelters in the U.S. on this site  The food bank listings are there as well.

Veterans Affairs Department  No one should be homeless that served our country.  Help your community.

The National Center on Family Homelessness  The National Center merged with American Institutes for Research and this site has comprehensive resources for families.

35 ways to help the Homeless  One tip that was truly helpful, was to develop a list of shelters that you can hand out to the homeless on a small card.  I also have bought extra gift cards to Starbucks, and have been known to hand those out.  I could tape a handy list of soup kitchens to the card as well.

Lastly, I would encourage you to get to know your local shelters and food banks.  We don’t know how they got there, but we can help them move on.

Truly Give