Give Gifts Without Spending A Penny

Iím not a shopper. Itís just not my thing. So when I heard that Black Friday sales were starting at midnight the night of Thanksgiving this year, I wanted to puke. Like puh-lease retailers. Can I at least digest my turkey before you start cramming STUFF I DONíT NEED down my throat?

This weekend, my daughter Siena and I went to the craft store to buy the materials to decorate glass ornaments so she could give them away as holiday presents. This was the first time this year that Iíve ventured into the mall, so I had forgotten that going to a mall in December on a Saturday is just asking for a headache.

When we finally weaved through the traffic and finally got lucky enough to have someone pull out in front of us so we could park the car, the commercialism of the season wafted over me like bad perfume.

At the craft store, Siena was running around like a maniac, asking me to buy everything she could get her hot little hands on, and shoppers were filling up carts with more and more STUFF. I even found myself tempted to buy things I didnít need. After all, those scented candles were 3 for $10.

And then, in the middle of the chaos, I had a thought.

What if we all just decided enough is enough and said a big fat NO to the madness?

What Do You Want For Christmas?

When Mom called to ask me what Siena wanted for Christmas, I said, ďBallet classes.Ē

Mom said, ďBut what can I buy at the store? What can I wrap up and put under the tree?Ē

I said, ďBallet shoes.Ē

That seemed to satisfy her – or so I thought. Then I heard from a friend that Mom couldnít resist going out and buying lots of plastic toys so Siena would have dozens of presents to open on Christmas morning – toys Siena never plays with. What Siena really loves is drawing and knitting and singing and dancing. The toys wind up getting donated to Goodwill.

You Can’t Buy Happiness

What hole are we trying to fill by buying all this stuff? What are we really teaching our children? Has our unbridled capitalism just gone too far? Whatís at the root of all this?

When I was a med student, I had a friend whose parents were very wealthy, and she often asked me to go to the mall with her. One day, we scoured the whole mall and she couldnít find anything she wanted. She burst into tears.

When I asked her what was wrong, she said, ďIíve already bought everything I want. Thereís nothing left to buy.Ē

When do we say enough is enough, that weíre happy with what we have and seek only new experiences, new precious moments with those we love, new adventures, not new consumer electronic goods or new Manolo Blahniks?

Give The Gifts Of Experiences, Time, and Love This Holiday Season

So hereís the crazy idea that came to me while standing in line at the craft store, surrounded by plastic poinsettas.

What if we all draw a line in the sand and commit to buying no gifts?

Now donít freak out. I donít mean you wonít be giving. Just not something you bought at the mall. . .

10 Ways To Give Without Shopping At The Mall

  1. Make presents. Collect objects in nature and make your child a fairy house. Make a painting. Make candles out of beeswax. Make salt scrubs out of sea salt and aromatherapy oils. Homemade gifts are always full of love.
  2. Gift experiences. Give someone a kayaking trip. Or a hot air balloon ride. Or a spa day. Or a picnic on the beach that you make for them and deliver.
  3. Give the gift of your time. Offer to babysit for a friend so she can go out on a date night. Offer to just lovingly listen for a whole hour. Give someone a massage.† Donate your expertise to someone you love. Make coupons that promise to deliver your time in the form of a service someone values. Volunteer to serve a charity and gift your service to someone you love.
  4. Recycle gifts. Regift things you donít need or want. Youíll declutter your home and avoid the mall at the same time!
  5. Donate to a charity in someoneís name. My fave is† Whatís yours?
  6. Give food. Give flavored olive oil you prepare at home. Make raw chocolate and put it in pretty bags. Give jelly you canned or soup you cooked up or a jar of sweet nuts.
  7. Gift love. Write love letters to those you care about. Write one to your Mom. One to your child. One to your lover. One to your boss. One to your employee. I swear itíll be the most meaningful present that person receives this season.
  8. Give nature. Give the gift of bounty from your garden, blossoms from your yard, a favorite stone from the beach, or plant clippings or starter plants someone can plant.
  9. Give memories. Make a scrapbook of photos or create a photo book online. Write your own story about the experiences.
  10. Give growth. Offer someone the gift of a personal growth workshop, a†coaching session, a self-help book that you loved and no longer need to keep, or a personal retreat for recharging.

Stay Healthy This Holiday Season

While some of these gifts still cost money, many of these gifts will cost you nothing, and all of them will keep you out of the mall. Not only will avoiding the mall help you stay financially healthy this holiday season; it will also help you avoid ramping up your stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which have damaging effects on the body.

Instead, gift giving the way Iíve suggested allows you to exercise your creativity muscle, generates more love and intimacy, and helps you give back to others and the planet in healthy ways. Studies show that when you express yourself creatively, you stimulate the amygdala in the brain, which releases endorphins and other feel-good neurotransmitters. It also improves your immune function, helps you fight infection and cancer, relieves pain, activates the autonomic nervous system, lowers your heart rate, decreases your blood pressure, slows down your breathing, balances hormone levels, lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and improves sleep.

So why not commit to being more healthy this holiday season, while saying NO to consumerism and commercial madness?

Are You On Board?

Will you take the challenge? Share your ideas and stories here.

Giving creatively,


Lissa Rankin, MD: Founder of†,†Pink Medicine Revolutionary,†motivational speaker, and author of†Whatís Up Down There? Questions Youíd Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend and Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide To Creating Fine Art With Wax.

Learn more about†Lissa Rankin here.


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Rachel H.
Rachel H.3 years ago

I don't understand why you didn't suggest yarn and drawing paper for your mom.

Jessie Dijkstra
Jessie Dijkstra3 years ago

some good ideas thanks

Daisy M.
P M.3 years ago

We definitely need to be less consumer driven. I make many gifts & give gifts of food. I don't spend spend spend especially at Christmas. Seems the reason for Christmas is just to buy things. NOT!

Kamryn M.
Kay M.3 years ago


Jutta N.
Past Member 3 years ago

Especially love making/getting handmade gifts
TY for article

Barbara L.
Barbara L.3 years ago

Please, let's uncouple gift-giving from charity. Make charitable donations to those groups you find worthy. Give or don't give gifts to loved ones. Don't put someone else's name on a donation of your choosing and call it a gift! This practice isn't just smarmy, it's dishonest and patronizing at best, passive aggressive at worst. If there's no joy in gift-giving, don't do it! Just don't do something else and call it gift giving.

Carlin D.
Carlin D.3 years ago

Such great ideas! Thank you! :) I was worried about what I was going to do for my family and friends this Christmas and now I'm feeling much better. I knew I didn't want to support "big box" stores like Wal-Mart or go to the mall, and this helps me with some great ideas. Thanks again!

Barb H.
Barb Hansen3 years ago


Penny C.
Penny C.3 years ago

Great ideas.

Katia Ibarra
Katia Ibarra3 years ago

I totally agree with what is said in this article ... enough to buy things that actually we do not need.