These 5 Free Gift Ideas Can Help You Stay Connected to Friends and Family (And Keep You on Budget!)

published Apr 24, 2022
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woman handing gift to senior woman, maybe her mother. There is a glass of wine on the coffee table in front of them
Credit: gpointstudio/Getty Images

Right now, I’m smack dab in the middle of wedding planning, which translates to feelings of, “Sure, I’m deeply in love…but also remarkably stressed and perilously broke!” Since I’m up to my ears in save the dates, registries, and table assignments, I can barely keep track of everything going on outside my growing nuptial to-do list — which, for me, is a problem

My love language is gift giving. More than anything, I relish in making my friends and family members feel extra special on their birthdays, during holidays, and just because. Given the extraordinary amount of planning I’ve got going on, though, I’ve felt myself losing track of these gift-giving occasions.

As a solution, I’m compromising: I’ve decided to reserve as much cash as possible for the wedding by making no-spend gifts for my loved ones. And since my laptop and all of its organizing splendor is currently anchored to my body, my gifts will be tech-focused. For those interested in saving some money and using your organizing habits for good, here are five no-spend, tech-focused gift ideas for family and friends.

Teach a Friend to Fish with Loom Tutorials

This one is specifically for all the tech-challenged people in your life who call again and again asking to be walked through a computer task. Loom is a video messaging tool that allows users to record both their computer screen and themselves for a personalized walk-through of incalculable tasks. Think of all of the ways you utilize your computer and how you can instruct the uninitiated on how to perform these functions on their own.

In the case of my mom, Cathy Mags, my gift to her is a Loom tutorial that explains how to mail merge addresses into mailing labels for all of the bridal showers and holiday cards she sends. I can also use it to show my dad, Apartment Therapy super-fan Stewart Mags, how to create custom playlists on Spotify. This will allow him to stop listening exclusively to Blues Traveler (I hope?) and expand his horizons! 

Having a loved one take time to walk you through a new process is a lot more meaningful than watching YouTube tutorials that might not get to the heart of your personalized use of a particular tool. Show someone you care by spending time imparting a helpful skill.

Say Cheese with Shared Photo Albums

I love when my phone lights up because my brother-in-law-to-be has updated our shared family album with more pictures of our darling ring bearer, his son Crosby. These little notifications make far-away family feel closer, and gives my fiance and I the opportunity to feel like we’re right there watching our nephew grow. 

Setting up a shared photo album among family or friend groups is a creative way to stay connected and keep memories in one place for safekeeping. It’s almost like having an Instagram for just four or five people, which I think is the ideal way to use social media. There are plenty of ways to get your loved ones connected on a shared photo album. I prefer good ol’ Apple Photos, which makes this process incredibly simple. 

Create the Building Blocks with Notion

I’m a newfound Notion groupie. I look for any and every reason to utilize this incredibly customizable project planning and note-taking tool loved by Gen Z. You can use it for virtually everything! To use Notion or other organizational tools (like Google Drive or spreadsheets) as a gift, take a moment to consider what’s going on in that person’s life that could use a solution. Eliminating the mental and often emotional burden of planning and sorting is a huge gift, especially for folks with a lot going on.

Is your friend planning a big move? Build them a comprehensive checklist! Is your family member working on some major life improvements? Make them a custom habit-tracker! Is your uncle getting really into cryptocurrency? First of all, good luck pal! Create a page that links to information and helps them track their own investments. Not to be a walking, talking, free advertisement for Notion, but they have plenty of free templates to help jump start your gift-building.

Set the Mood with Pinterest

I’ll tell you what I could use right now: A closet reset. If a friend of mine created a Pinterest mood board for my new look to help inform a capsule wardrobe, I’d be so grateful (praying my friends are reading this)! This is what I’m talking about, people: If your loved one is in need of a little inspiration, give them that gift through your outside perspective. 

Since I’m a writer for Apartment Therapy, my friends often ask for pointers on arranging gallery walls, styling new apartments, or corralling clutter. Creating and presenting Pinterest boards is a resourceful way to give your loved ones the gift of your creative eye. Plus, receiving a customized mood or inspiration board always feels a little like I’m getting a massage or having my fortune told — it’s fun, makes me feel pampered, and is a major value-add to my life.  

Credit: Getty Images / Luis Alvarez

Score Your Friend’s Day with Playlists

No offense to you or me, but this suggestion is simple: Building playlists is incredibly easy, and probably the most fun. Do you have a friend running a marathon? A family member embarking on a cross-country road trip? Is your sister going through the worst breakup of her life? Make them a playlist! 

Receiving a highly-specific curated gift like a playlist has a bit of an ASMR effect on me. Ask your loved one how they’d like to spice up their day, and plan their musical score accordingly. There are countless ways you can set up and share a playlist for a pal, but Spotify is my go-to. Brainstorm unique ideas, and the more specific they are, the better. For instance, my “Limited Too” playlist includes all songs that remind me of being a kiddo at birthday parties in the mid-to-late ‘90s. It’s been a real hit among my friends, and now it’s my free gift to you!