With the holidays coming up, and the economy dragging down, many gift-givers are fretting about the cost of presents. There's no need to worry, though, as long as you're willing to be a bit creative. Here are a few ways to give a meaningful, valuable gift for next to nothing.
Give away your frequent-flier miles: You can't do much better than giving someone a vacation. If you've racked up enough frequent-flier points, you might be able to do so for free. Swap your miles for a ticket to a destination you know your family member or friend will enjoy, or transfer your points into their frequent-flier account. You usually need at least 25,000 miles for a round-trip ticket. If you don't have that many, you can still offer what you've got as a down payment on a future vacation. Or use your points to pay for a hotel room at a vacation destination within driving distance.
Make a mix CD: A customized mix of some of your favorite songs is a quick and easy gift. Introduce the recipient to a group or artist you think they'll like. Select specific tracks by theme, time period or genre.
Brew beer or make wine: This one takes a small initial investment and some time but once you're equipped to make your own beer or wine, you won't have to worry about gifts for most of your friends. Just send them a bottle. Receiving a sample of your homemade libations will be more meaningful than getting a store-bought bottle -- even one with a big price tag. To get started, pick up a beer or wine-making kit ($50-$200).
Offer your professional skills: Whether you're an accountant, a plumber, a writer or a business person, chances are you've got a skill or two that could be turned into a gift. Make a coupon good for a few hours of your services. Hand-write your offer on fancy paper or print up something official-looking on your computer.
Compile a recipe book: Gather your favorite recipes and present them in an attractive format. If you're computer savvy, you might use publishing software such as Adobe's (ADBE) - Get Report InDesign ( ADBE). Microsoft ( MSFT) (MSFT) - Get Report offers a tutorial on using its programs to make a cookbook. Once you've designed it, get copies made at your local copy shop, or upload your files to a print-on-demand service such as Lulu.com. Or go old-school and put copies of your recipes into a scrapbook or three-ring binder.
(ADBE) - Get Report (MSFT) - Get ReportPass along a family heirloom: If you've been planning to give a beloved possession to a loved one, consider doing so now. And if you don't think you have any heirlooms, take another look around your home. You might be surprised by the number of objects you own that hold deep sentimental value to family members or friends. You could give away a painting, jewelry or an old picture. Look for items that might hold practical value, such as a piece of antique furniture or an article of vintage clothing.
(ADBE) - Get Report (MSFT) - Get ReportCreate art: Gift-giving provides an opportunity to share your artistic skills. Write a poem, paint a picture or perform a song -- or just copy a favorite poem onto nice paper in your best handwriting. Loved ones may remember your gift far more dearly than any gift certificate or expensive electronic gadget.
(ADBE) - Get Report (MSFT) - Get ReportPass along a book: Scan your bookshelves for a book your friend or family member might enjoy, and write a thoughtful note inside the cover. Try to select a volume that's in good shape and that has some character. First editions make especially good gifts and are often quite valuable.
(ADBE) - Get Report (MSFT) - Get ReportCook something tasty: Make cookies or candy for someone with a sweet tooth. For a more health-oriented recipient, bake a loaf of bread or a batch of granola. You could also make a coupon that says you'll cook dinner on a date of the recipient's choosing. Allrecipes.com offers an array of recipes for food gifts.