7 Thoughtful Alternatives To Giving Store-Bought Gifts This Year

Let Christmas shopping be one thing you don't have to worry about this year.

Doesn’t it seem like the older you get, the more stressful the holidays become? There are gift lists and shopping budgets and the mad rush to get everything done on time. You may also be wondering how to show your love and gratitude this holiday season without spending much money.

The good news is that the best gifts often can’t be bought in a store anyway. Here’s what you can give instead.

1.  Write a letter.

In a world of text, email and DMs, the art of letter-writing is becoming lost. Yet anyone who’s received a heartfelt written note can tell you how special it made them feel.

As a particularly thoughtful gift, consider writing letters of gratitude to loved ones. Research has shown that expressing gratitude is linked to an increase in happiness for both the giver and receiver. Unfortunately, most of us do not always express our gratitude to the people in our lives, so this holiday season is a good opportunity to do so. 

Not sure where to start? Try describing one or two specific examples of ways the person made you grateful and how they affected your life positively. 

2. Create a scrapbook.

Turning shared memories into a tangible gift can be one of the most thoughtful ideas this holiday season. You can reminisce about when your children were little, relive an epic road trip or memorialize generations of family events in a scrapbook.

If you’re particularly creative, create a traditional scrapbook the old-fashioned way with physical prints and other materials. If you’d rather have your digital photos organized, use an online photo book service such as Walgreens, Shutterfly or Mixbook.

3. Make a video.

Most of us are feeling some degree of Zoom fatigue, so the prospect of spending another holiday awkwardly chatting through the family computer with far-flung family members might not be something to look forward to. However, we’re all still in need of human connection, especially around the holidays.

Take some of the pressure off and create a video that the recipient can view on their own time. Services such as VidDay allow you to collect videos and photos from various participants and then have them edited together. Encourage people to record heartfelt messages, list why they’re grateful for that person and tell funny stories for a memorable and touching gift.

4. Give the gift of your time.

Do you have a nifty skill you can teach? Are you a stellar tutor? Can you do grocery runs for someone who is immunocompromised? Now, more than ever, offering your time to help someone else can be the greatest gift. To add a creative touch, consider printing out a gift certificate or coupon for your service and delivering it with a card or note.

5. Transfer stock.

For a gift that will keep on giving over the years, consider giving a loved one shares of stock. You can actually gift existing stock that you own to someone else, according to Tiffany Welka, a financial advisor and accredited wealth management advisor at VFG Associates in Livonia, Michigan. The recipient benefits from any gains in the stock’s price.

“Giving the gift of stock may also provide benefits for the giver, particularly if the stock has appreciated in value, since the giver can avoid paying taxes on those earnings or gains,” Welka said.

6. Get crafty.

When it comes to gift-giving, it’s the thought that counts. But that doesn’t mean everyone wants janky macaroni art for Christmas. As long as you’re a somewhat talented crafter, consider making gifts this year.

Pam Merritt, crafts expert for Zulily, shared a few ideas:  

  • Holiday decorative baskets: If you have random baskets stored around the house, repurpose one for a holiday gift. You can spray paint it and then fill it with a rosemary tree, which makes a great gift for a neighbor, friend or teacher, Merritt said. You can also put things like blankets or throws in it, or make it functional and include face masks.

  • DIY ornaments: Merritt said a good craft kit should have everything you need for this project (though you may need to grab a pair of pliers from the toolbox). Plus, ornaments can be used in all sorts of ways, she added — yes, on a tree or wreath, but they can also look great on a wall or doorknob, or you can even make a few ornaments and put them on a bowl on a table. 

  • Handmade cards: Sometimes a nice card is the best gift of all. Create unique cards using stickers, felt, homemade gift tags and even wrapping paper. “It’s a great activity to bring the family together and give a gift that shows how much you care,” Merritt said.

7. Donate to a charity in their name.

Many people are struggling this year due to the pandemic. Instead of exchanging gifts, try donating to a cause in someone else’s name instead. For a personal touch, choose a charity that matches their interests or beliefs. Is there an animal lover in your life? Donate to a shelter. Did your loved one lose someone to cancer? Donate to the American Cancer Society. 

It may not be as fun as opening presents under the tree, but opting out of gift-giving to make a donation instead is one of the most selfless things you can do this holiday season. Plus, your money will go a lot further in the hands of someone who truly needs it.  

Before You Go

32 Gifts For Kids That'll Win You Favorite Aunt/Uncle Status
Pokemon 25th Anniversary Celebrations Elite Trainer Box(01 of 31)
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They'll get 10 Pokémon TCG: Celebrations four-card booster packs, five additional Pokémon TCG booster packs, one special foil card featuring Greninja, 65 card sleeves featuring the Pokémon 25 logo and lightning tail design, 45 Pokémon TCG Energy cards, a player’s guide to the Celebrations expansion and a Pokémon TCG rulebook.

Promising reviews: "This is the only gift my nephew asked for for Christmas and when he opened it, he was the happiest kid and kept thanking me." — MsBrittany15

"It was a gift for my nephew and he said it's one of the best gifts he's received this year!!" — Yollie Leung
(credit: Amazon)
A flying orb that'll easily steal the show on Christmas(02 of 31)
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Promising review: "I have always prided myself on being the aunt that gives the best gift and this year I'm positive I'll win again! I bought these for my niece and nephew ages 12 and 6. I thought i would try them out one night when my daughter (age 22) was visiting. Her exact words were, 'where were these when I was a kid!?!?' They fascinate my 22-year-old daughter so I can't wait to see my niece and nephews faces when they open it on Christmas and I can officially declare myself kids gift giving champion again! Highly recommend. Great price!" — Kelli Burlingame (credit: www.amazon.com)
A 21-piece Disney princess dress-up trunk(03 of 31)
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They'll get a keepsake storage with four tops, three skirts, three bracelets, three rings, a necklace, sticker sheet, choker, three headbands and a tiara. The costumes fit sizes 4–6x. Recommended for age 3+.

Promising review: "This is a great dress up set. As such, I had little expectation that the material quality would be that of the one dress I purchased for my niece that cost as much, alone, for this entire trunk. Now that we have expectations addressed, let's talk about what you get. There's four outfits that are separate tops and skirts so they can dress up as the character or potentially mix and match. There are accessories by way of bracelets, headbands, and rings. My niece loved it. She started trying it out immediately and I kept my award for best uncle and all around best gifter." — oldwalt
(credit: Amazon)
A so cool blaster dart game(04 of 31)
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The set includes one electronic shooting target, two foam dart blasters, 20 foam darts, one USB power cable and one sticker pack. It's also compatible with other foam blaster brands like Nerf!

Promising review: "I bought this for my nephews who are seven and four and they absolutely LOVE it! Their mom has texted me two days in a row that the kids can't get enough of it! I highly recommend!" — SJones
(credit: Walmart)
An air fort(05 of 31)
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AirFort is a California-based small business that specializes in mess-free inflatable forts that blow up in less than 30 seconds. Attach this to a floor fan and let the family fun begin! It's easy to store, too! Your fort comes with a carrying bag (only the size of a folded pair of jeans!) that it fits into when folded up.

Promising review: "I got this for my nieces and nephews, and we had a blast with it! I want to get one for my own house or over my bed! Super easy to use and incredibly roomy on the inside. Huge upgrade to the couch pillow forts we had to make as kids! Kids from ages 4–14 enjoyed playing with it, so I call that a win! And, several adults hung out inside for a while, my sister’s husband even took a nap inside! Great value for fun, and folds down and takes up no space when not in use. Perfect!" — Jason
(credit: www.amazon.com)
A marble run set(06 of 31)
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Promising review: "This is a really neat toy that has provided literally hours and hours of enjoyment for my 4-year-old nephew (and me!). The pieces fit well together, it is very sturdy and stands up well even on carpet. There are an infinite number of ways to build these runs, and this toy never gets boring. Highly recommended." — Becca (credit: www.amazon.com)
A splash-proof kids smartwatch(07 of 31)
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Oh! And there's even a Monster Detector game that creates an AR experience where they can hunt down monsters in their everyday life!

Promising reviews: "This was a Christmas present for my nephew and he is one HAPPY kid. He’s six and autistic so I wasn’t sure about the ease of use for him. I showed him all the features and he handled it like a pro. He won’t take it off!" — Nosieray

"Let's just say that I totally suck at gift giving. But from a friend's suggestion, I bought one of these as a Christmas gift for my 10-year-old niece. She absolutely loves it! Now I need to figure out how to do this every year. 🤔." — G. Glass
(credit: www.amazon.com)
A Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza card game(08 of 31)
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To play, pass out all of the cards to players and have everyone keep their pile face down. Everyone takes turns putting a card in the middle while saying "taco," "cat," "goat," "cheese," and "pizza," in that order. If the picture on the card that's placed down matched the word that's been said, everyone races to slap the center pile of cards and whoever slaps the pile last has to add the center pile to their personal pile. Oh! And there's also "narwhal" where everyone makes a unicorn horn with their hands clapped together above their heads, "gorilla" where everyone bangs on their chest like a gorilla and "groundhog" where everyone has to knock on the table. Whoever does the motion last picks up the center pile. Whoever runs out of cards first wins! You can play with three to eight players and the *recommended* age is 8 and up.

Promising reviews: "Bought this game for my 8-year-old niece for her birthday. We ALL were in hysterics while playing this!! Age ranging from 5–73!! Our hands were sore, but the fun was worth it!!" — Tx. Cowgirl

"Can’t wait to be the cool aunt next Christmas when I give this fun game as a gift." — Carrie Lynn
(credit: Amazon)
A shark bath bomb(09 of 31)
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Soft Skin Bubbly Sins is a small biz based in Collins, Georgia.

Promising review: "Love these!! Got them as a gift for a 'Jaws' fan! They smell amazing and they were so carefully packaged!" — chiacurl
(credit: Soft Skins Bubbly Sins / Etsy)
A Craft-tastic "Make a Fox Friend" kit(10 of 31)
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Promising review: "I got one of these for my little niece and her mother said she wished she could have one for herself. It's just darling." — Hammerhead (credit: Amazon)
A splurge-y rechargeable laser tag set(11 of 31)
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This set includes four rechargeable laser guns, four rechargeable vests, and one charging station. You can play approximately eight games per charge. The little LCD screens on the vest keep count of how many lives you have and the vest vibrates when you get shot/tagged. You can play with up to four teams and have to eliminate your enemies to win the game. Recommended for ages 8+.

Promising review: "I am the aunt of five nephews (ages 3, 4, 8, 11, 21) and mother of a 3-year-old boy. I was hesitant to purchase this item as the price is a bit steep. It came almost fully charged so my 11-year-old nephew and I were able to test out it immediately. Upon opening the package the guns and vests were securely encased in foam. My nephew thought the looked great. Instruction were quick and easy to read and understand. We powered up the vest, then the gun as instructed — everything synced nicely. When the gun spoke my nephew's mind was completely blown.🤯 I strapped a vest to my nephew when my 3-year-old son came in the room so of course I had to suit him up as well. Guns and vest were light weight and size went well on the 11-year-old as well as the 3-year-old. So easy to use my 3-year-old had no problem reloaded and shooting. The accuracy and distance for gun to target IS GREAT! My son and nephew and myself had such a great time with this set, I got online and purchase another four-player set! I'm the aunt that brings activities to the parties...bounce house, splash pads, tunnels, trampoline, bumper body suits, so when its time to throw a party for the kids; no need to rent anything!! This laser tag set is a FREAKIN' FANTASTIC addition to my collection." — Rebeccah Walker
(credit: Amazon)
A construction-themed folding play set(12 of 31)
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Promising review:"This is one of our favorite toys to take on the road. Encourages lots of creative play, we add additional figurines for more creativity. Recently gifted to our 4-year-old nephew for Christmas and the kids played with it for hours at their table. Low mess. Can easily sweep up what ends up outside the box." — christina A.
(credit: Amazon)
A kids' selfie camera(13 of 31)
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Promising reviews: "I bought this for my 5-year-old niece. She shrieked with excitement when receiving. A+ in my book! Thanks" — XxohsolovelyxX

"Best Auntie Award. I bought this for my 4-year-old nephew and he LOVES it! Says it’s his fave Christmas gift. He uses it all the time, especially for selfies! It has games, video, and a selfie mode! I didn’t even know it had all this when I got it. It’s definitely worth the price! Amazing little camera." — Christa
(credit: www.amazon.com)
A 190-piece solar-powered DIY robot kit(14 of 31)
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The kit includes 190 pieces, a solar panel and detailed instructions.

Promising review: "My nephew is really into putting things together, so I bought this STEM project for him. The second I showed it to him his eyes lit up and he got to work. This is very educational. Pieces are built well and the project goes together well. He loved the final result. Would def buy again for another kid who is into this kind of thing!" — Richard Hammond
(credit: www.amazon.com)
A box of 24 sparkly rings for your ultra fabulous mini bestie(15 of 31)
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Promising review: "I always struggle with buying presents for my great nieces. I bought this for my 4-year-old niece. This was her favorite gift, above all of the expensive toys she received from her parents and grandparents. A few days after Christmas, she sat right next to me on the couch, laying her head against my arm. She said that she got a box of rings and they're at home. And you gave them to me. I got a kiss and she stayed right there for the rest of the night. It was my favorite part of the holidays!" — Edith V. (credit: Amazon)
And a Disney Princess necklace activity set(16 of 31)
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Promising review: "My 5-year-old niece loves making necklaces. She jumped on this gift right away and proceeded to make necklaces for her parents, siblings, aunts, and uncles over the course of the weekend when we saw her. Super cute. For the cheap price, it was a no-brainer." — Kelly & Fam
(credit: Amazon)
A Silly Poopy's Hide & Seek game(17 of 31)
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Two AA batteries are included but funky smells are not. The recommended age is 3 and older.

Promising reviews: "This was a big hit as a Christmas present to my 5-year-old granddaughter. What child doesn't like the word 'poop' and what child doesn't like any sort of hide 'n' seek. Us adults even like it. It's fun, it's silly, and I'm glad I purchased it." — Feisty49

"I kind of got this as a joke for my 3-year-old nephew. It was actually one of the highlights of Christmas. He and my 5-year-old niece are still obsessed and playing with it weeks later." — Sara
(credit: www.amazon.com)
A Kids Adventure Challenge book(18 of 31)
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So what kinds of adventures will they go on, right? Well, the challenges range from team hide and seek balloon popping games, to creating their own dance parties with glow in the dark painted shirts, to painting rocks! Challenges can be indoors, outdoors, active, messy, involve food — whatever their vibe is that day, there will be something fun to choose from. (credit: The Adventure Challenge)
A bag of reindeer farts cotton candy(19 of 31)
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Promising reviews: "I bought these for my nephews to put in their stockings and they both laughed until they made themselves sick. They also enjoyed the cotton candy inside." — Phil Skaggs

"My nephews and I have an ongoing thing about farts. When I saw this on Amazon I knew I had to buy it for them. Being Christmas time I opted for Reindeer Farts. Super cute packaging and it brought so much laughter." — Regz15
(credit: Amazon)
A durable indoor/outdoor ride-on "Up & Down" roller coaster(20 of 31)
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It's recommended for ages 2–5 years although, truthfully, I've seen a 70-year-old ride down this bad boy, just sayin'.

Promising reviews: "Loved it! My 2-year-old nephew just loved it. It was a hit at his second birthday party. The adults could not get enough of watching the children rolling down the slide." — Dawn Nicole Starks

"Gifted this to my nephew and he loves it! He's only one, but he's able to climb up the stairs, sit on the seat, and take it for a ride. When they try to put it away, he gets upset 😂. Great gift!" — Jess G.
(credit: Amazon)
An interactive purse pet with 25 sounds and reactions(21 of 31)
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It comes with three AAA batteries.

Promising review: "Got this purse for my niece and she loved it. It is such a cute gift!!! The eyeballs move and everything. Just recommend getting batteries with this gift. You will need them :) But it is a perfect size to put anything in there!" — Kalie
(credit: Amazon)
A hot chocolate bomb(22 of 31)
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Big Bear Chocolates is a Spokane, Washington–based small biz that specializes in chocolate caramel apples, fresh fudge and more mouthwatering treats. These little yummies are made with gourmet chocolate and stuffed with marshmallows and chocolate chips. They're handmade in a certified commercial kitchen and come individually wrapped and tied with a bow. Instructions are also included!

Promising review: "We got these as a fun extra stocking stuffer for the littles in our family for Christmas, they loved them. Tasted delicious and it was great watching the kids 'Ooo' and 'Ahh' while they watched the chocolate melt and the marshmallows pop to the surface. Great quality and will definitely order again in the future." — Rebecca
(credit: Big Bear Chocolates / Etsy)
An affordable drone(23 of 31)
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Promising review: "I've purchased this drone for two nephews on their birthdays and they both loved them. The drones actually fly and keep the kids excited. This toy has made me the 'coolest aunt ever.'" — Teatime
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An interactive Squeakee The Balloon Dino(24 of 31)
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BuzzFeed contributing writer Kit Stone said, "Last year, I got the super-popular Squeakee balloon dog. It was a HUGE hit with my nephews. I'm even more excited for this new Squeakee because every kid wishes they could have a pet dinosaur, and now they can!" (credit: www.amazon.com)
Or a set of 12 large dinosaur toys(25 of 31)
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Promising review: "These dinosaur toys are a fantastic value! This gift should keep me in good standing as the favorite aunt. My nephews and nieces love these dinosaur toys! They are educational, interesting and It's astonishing to hear them identify each dinosaur and pronounce the names. The large number of dinosaurs allows the four kids to play together. Each child has plenty of toys to play with. The colorful box is quite attractive and will make it easy to store all the toys." — Dr. Susan Murphy (credit: Amazon)
A screaming goat figure(26 of 31)
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He also comes with a little book of equally delightful goat facts. If you'd like one that's a bit more festive you can grab this screaming goat wearing a Christmas sweater!

Promising review: "Gave this as a gift to my niece, she loves it. Her parents however, are ready to kill me, as they constantly hear her setting off the goat and laughing. So, kids love it! And if you want to get back at the adult parents in some way, well, this certainly could do the trick! It's just all fun and games!" — Tailgate
(credit: Amazon)
A Baby Yoda Bluetooth speaker(27 of 31)
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Promising review: "I bought this for my niece since she's a big Star Wars and Mandalorian fan and she loved it! I'm not sure about the battery life but the sound is good and I know she carries it with her everywhere. I think it's an awesome gift for kids, tweens, and teens." — Samay
(credit: www.amazon.com)
An inexpensive Pop2Play foldable indoor slide(28 of 31)
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The slide's capable of holding up to 50 pounds.

Promising review: "I bought this for my 3-year-old nephew and he has not stopped going down the slide since i took it out of the box for him! It is so easy to assemble and just as easy to flatten and store when you're done using it. I highly recommend!" — Michael Y
(credit: www.amazon.com)
An ultra plush personalized name blanket(29 of 31)
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Sugar House Swaddles is a Salt Lake, Utah–based small biz that specializes in personalized baby blankets. Don't forget to add your notes in the personalization box or comment section when placing your order!

Promising review: "I’m a multi-time repeat customer! I love to buy custom baby blankets for all my newborn nieces, nephews, and friends baby gifts! Great shop, you will not be dissatisfied!" — Meagen Wiekamp
(credit: Sugar House Swaddles / Etsy)
A sturdy and inflatable "Bouncy Pals" hopping toy(30 of 31)
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Promising reviews: "This was a hit at my 1-year-old niece's birthday party this weekend! She loved it, the adults loved it, and the other kids wanted it! It was easy to inflate and fun to watch her bounce around!" — Felisha

"Purchased this for my niece as a Christmas gift. She loves it! Screams whenever anyone tries to put it away or take her off it haha!" — Elizabeth
(credit: www.amazon.com)
An adorable 3D-printed foam soap dispenser attachment(31 of 31)
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Mouse Delights 3D is a Las Vegas, Nevada based small biz that specializes in Disney-inspired 3D-printed accessories.

Promising review: "I got these for my niece and nephew and they love them!" — Heather
(credit: Mouse Delights 3D/Etsy)
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