14 Free Last-Minute Gift Ideas, Because Christmas Is Now and We Are Broke

It’s Christmas. Sh*t. Where on earth has this year gone? I’ve done a great job of buying presents for myself, some important investment pieces like an espresso machine and a new bra. But the true meaning of Christmas lies in spending money on other people outside of myself, finding the perfect gifts to mark the passing of a year as a ritual inspired by both human connection and capitalism — and woefully, I’ve blown through my budget for the season. As the day draws close, with little time and even less funds, I’m scrounging around my childhood home for free stuff to give my dear friends and loved ones. Luckily, I know the true meaning of Christmas isn’t in the gifts that we give each other, but the sentiment behind them.

For those people I truly love, I could give them a Costco package of dental floss, or burnt biscotti wrapped in soggy newspapers, and they would know I at least meant well. The satisfaction, though, of looking into a person’s soul, deriving what you know and like about someone, the unique nature of your relationship with them, and finding an object that encapsulates all of these qualities — like an awesome mug that changes color when you put hot water in it — is a particular pleasure in this most seasonal of seasons.

So it’s time to find some objects lying about, wrap them in boxes, and call them Christmas presents. Take a look around — the perfect free gift might be closer than you think.

1. Coupons For Favors and Services

The classic free gift: make a list of services you can perform for your gift recipients from amongst your many skills and talents. Have a firm hand, yet a soft, gentle touch? Promise free massages. Found some shoe polish in the back of your closet? Give a quick shoeshine. For an unforgettable gift this Christmas, offer to fulfill a consensual sexual partner’s fantasy. It doesn’t cost a dime to don a cravat, a dashing British accent, and pretend to be Matthew from Downton Abbey, righteously saving the family legacy, or whatever else you might be into.

2. Homemade Body Scrubs

If you possess some normal kitchen items like a glass jar, brown sugar, and olive oil, you might as well slap a sign on your door that says “Bath and Body Works.” ‘Cause guess what, friend — that’s a body scrub. Safflower oil and table salt? Body scrub. Coconut oil and ground coffee? Body scrub. Bacon grease and ground chili peppers? The restorative qualities of animal fat with a full-body tingle.

3. Candle-in-Wine-Bottle

Give the gift of feeling like you’re in a family-style Italian restaurant called Pinocchio’s by making your very own candle-in-wine-bottle. Step one: Drink a bottle of wine. Step two: Stick a tapered candle in that bottle. Instant ambience — with a great buzz!

4. Hard Tack

If you have some flour in your cabinet and potable water from the tap, you’ve got all the ingredients for hard tack. Mix indeterminate amounts of both until you have a workable dough, then bake at 350 degrees for approximately 20 minutes (or until golden brown). The result will be a rock-hard, bland biscuit, perfect sustenance for a long sea voyage.

5. Naturally-Inspired Center Pieces

If you live in a nature-full area, scope around outdoors for some sticks, pinecones, or branches to make an attractive centerpiece for any holiday table. Let the woods be your inspiration! Note: Check your findings for insects like ticks and termites, or lyme-disease and an eaten holiday table will be side effects of your present.

6. Origami Ornaments

Everyone loves getting Christmas ornaments, because they have so many different uses. Right? When I was nine I made origami ornaments for my entire extended family, and it was a big hit. Looking back, I think the fact that I was nine might have had something to do with it. You can get away with giving some really crappy gifts when you’re nine. I think I gave my brother a plate that I drew on that year.

7. A Handmade Picture Frame

Let’s take a step back from Instagram, and give a Forevergram: grab a picture frame, some buttons or other crap, and start hot-gluing the sh*t out of it. Put a photo in the frame of you and your kin or acquaintance. If in fact all your photos are only on Instagram, and you’ve quite forgotten how to go about procuring a physical photograph, put in a photo of a celebrity from a magazine, or a receipt.

8. A Re-gift

If a gift comes your way early this season, and you’re pretty sure that it’s going to be a scarf that’s not your style or a useless thing like makeup, don’t even bother unwrapping — give that stuff away to another sucker. Or a dear, dear colleague of yours. It’ll be a surprise for both of you!

9. Tarot Card or Palm Reading

You don’t have to be clairvoyant to give someone an amazingly accurate reading — just employ a few of these truisms commonly used by psychics and pick-up artists alike:

"You were born with unconditional love, but that unconditional love was found to have conditions."

"At some point in your life, you had an experience in which you were asked to become an adult before you were ready, and it was difficult."

"You are smarter than you let on. In certain situations, you know exactly what to say, but you don't say it. Then you kick yourself later for not saying it."

"Sometimes you lock yourself up and try to act cool, and you tend not to let people into your life."

So true.

10. A knitted object

Do you have some knitting needles? Or arms, or fingers? Some yarn lying around? A sweater you might could unravel to turn into yarn? Then knit something! I know what you might be thinking at this point: “But gee, I’ve never knit anything before.” No problem, it’s so easy to learn. Here’s how to make an afghan. You’ll need #7 needles and 64 ounces of worsted weight yarn. Cast on 14 stitches, then knit ten, knit two together, slipstitch, purl seven, and front post triple crochet. Voilà, a beautiful afghan for a friend or loved one, that you can make even the night before if you’re willing to stay up all of Christmas Eve.

If knitting isn’t you’re style, and you have some popsicle sticks (just eat some popsicles), you can make some God’s Eyes. I frickin’ love God’s Eyes.

11. Office Supplies

If you work in a conventional office setting, you have a boon: the stock cabinet. We all need post-its, paperclips, pens, and three-hole punches. Slip in during a coffee break and fill up your pockets. Everyone’s giving staplers this year, but what about the staples to fill them? That’s where you come in.

12. A Poem/Song/Screenplay/Novella

Choose your genre, some key characters and plots, and then go from there. A science fiction novella where your dad is written as the suave, James Bond-esque main character fighting to end global warming at an environmental non-profit? Priceless. Just make sure you yourself own the rights.

13. Return Something That You’ve Borrowed

Sometimes I borrow things for extended periods of time from people, especially my family. What does ownership mean, anyways, between kith and kin? It’s like how I never bring a toothbrush home, because I’ll know there will be some family ones lying around. I’ve borrowed a great leather jacket from my brother (we should maybe do a “who wore it best?” on that one to see who can actually claim it as theirs, but that’s just my opinion) — and I’m thinking this year about giving it back to him. Thinking about it.

14. Your Box-in-a-Box

Let’s not forget this classic, inspired by SNL heartthrobs J.T. and Andy Samburg. For you ladies, slip into some cardboard to give a special someone “Box-in-a-box”!

Images: Giphy (17), sully213/flickr