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15 Gifts You Can Give a Loved One, Even If Medical Bills Mean Your Budget Is Tight

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If you are chronically ill and struggling with the holidays, you are not alone. It can be really difficult to get in that festive spirit if your illness is keeping you stuck at home and not feeling well. The holidays can also be very stressful, even for those who are healthy. There is often a great deal of pressure to find the perfect present(s) for each and every person in your life, and while it feels amazing to watch a loved one’s face light up when they unwrap your gift, buying multiple extravagant or expensive presents isn’t always possible.

For many with chronic illness, the cost of doctor appointments, medications, treatment and medical equipment doesn’t exactly leave a ton of wiggle room in the budget. Any unexpected medical expenses just before the holidays could easily deplete your shopping funds. But being short on cash certainly doesn’t rule out the possibility of giving your loved ones a memorable and heartfelt gift.

If you’re tight on money and low on energy this holiday season but are still looking for a way to give, fear not. We asked our Mighty community to share ideas for meaningful gifts you can give, even if illness and medical bills mean you’re on a tight budget. Here are their suggestions.

1. DIY Crafts

woman knitting
via littleny on Getty Images

For those of you who are crafty or enjoy making DIY gifts, you could use your skills to create something handmade and totally unique for your loved one.

“I crochet when I can! Those gifts are very special… tons of thought and love put into your items that you create!” – Danielle Merrill

“I made some peppermint bath salts today. Very easy, inexpensive and the smell was invigorating for me.” – Megan C. Douglas

“You can make a custom coloring book! Whatever their interest is you can usually find free coloring sheets online. Print them out, put them in a binder or even just a nice folder and [include] a pack of colored pencils.” – Alessandra Paola Duarte

For more DIY gift ideas and tutorials, check out “11 DIY Gifts That Are Perfect for People With Chronic Illnesses.”

2. Travel-Size Personal Care Products

personal care products burts bees

This travel-size kit will give your loved one a fun sample of some lotion, cream and chapstick – perfect for storing in their purse or backpack to keep their skin healthy and moisturized.

Buy the Burt’s Bees kit above from Amazon.

3. Food

chocolate chip cookie in a jar
via Add a Pinch

Cooking can be difficult for those with chronic illness, as it often requires a lot of energy and time spent on your feet. But, if you are really passionate about baking and have a favorite delicious but low-effort recipe, some homemade treats would likely be much appreciated and thoroughly enjoyed! Filling a mason jar with dry ingredients for cookies, brownies, hot chocolate, etc. is another idea that’s simple but still yummy.

“I’ve given jars and have filled them with the dry ingredients for cookies that I already had in the pantry, attached a few fun cookie cutters and some sprinkles (cost was about $3). I’ve done the same with dry ingredients for peppermint cocoa and attached candy canes and marshmallows. I make the jars pretty with a ribbon and voila!” – Kerri Tetford

“I bake cookies and make chocolates. Starting in early December I make a batch and freeze them when I have energy, then everyone gets a box of mixed cookies and candy.” – Cyn Brunelle

“One year I made specialty coffees. There are recipes online and I made mochas and other kinds with simple ingredients like instant coffee, powered creamer and powdered cocoa. I made four or five different kinds, put them in small glass jars, printed up an ingredient list and tied it with ribbon around the lid. A coffee sampler.” – Corey Hale

Find the recipe for the chocolate chip cookie mix above on Add a Pinch.

4. $5 Coffee Card

starbucks gift card and dunkin' donuts gift card

Buying food or drinks for someone can be difficult if you don’t know exactly what they like. A $5 gift card is small and can be sent electronically – so you don’t even need to leave your bed! Then your loved one has the ability to treat themselves to their favorite drink whenever they need a little pick-me-up.

“I always loved the idea of getting people a $5 coffee card (store of your choice, but being from Florida we have Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts). Put this gift card inside a greeting card and done. It’s easy and quick and allows the receiver to have a treat of their choice.” – Capri Sprazzle

Buy a $5 gift card for coffee from Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts.

5. Your Time

coupon for a movie night

While gift-giving can certainly be a fun and thoughtful way to remind someone how much you care, sometimes the best “gifts” aren’t found under the tree. Spending time with family and friends, making memories, having conversations that make you laugh or cry (or both)… those are some of the most precious gifts out there. If you still want something tangible to present to your friend, try giving them a little “coupon book” of things they can redeem, such as a morning chat over coffee or an evening spent playing board games.

“Time. There’s not enough of it these days and it means so much. Hang out, phone call, write letters. A heartfelt chat means more than any gift.” – Steph Friend 

“Your time, attention, friendship and love. If you feel the need for an actual gift, an at home movie night is wonderful – microwave popcorn and candies, cozy socks and Netflix.” – Carrie Anne Motsinger

“Just sitting with them with a warm hot chocolate [and] blanket and give them your time. It’s free. And also a hug. Free as well. A hug and an ear to listen goes a long way.” – Stacey Irving

Check out “16 Coupons to Give a Chronically Ill Friend” for more coupon ideas.

6. Handwritten Card

happy holidays greeting card

One of the best ways to let someone know how much they mean to you is to, well, tell them. A simple handwritten note may not be the flashiest present under the tree, but being open and honest with your friend about how important they are or why you admire them will certainly make them feel loved.

“Handmade cards and gifts go a long way. A lot of people with chronic pain and sickness may find the task of making something like that difficult to manage, but if you’re able, you’d be surprised how much people love them. A handmade card with a long personal note in it may seem ‘not enough’ to the person giving it, but the receivers really appreciate it.” – Christa Noel Harkins

“Write a meaningfully worded card. Sometimes words are so healing and mean much more than a materialistic store-bought gift.” – Jenny Williams Sarver

“I like writing so I enjoy writing letters or cards in which I share memories and/or ways I have been influenced by the things I admire in the person.” – Judi DeJager

Buy snowman holiday cards from Amazon.

7. Handheld Scalp Massager

scalp massager

If you’re looking for a small, fun gift, these scalp massagers are simple but feel like magic. Perfect for relieving some stress or helping your friend relax before bed.

Buy the massager above from Amazon.

8. Framed Photos or Scrapbook

photo frame

Printing out pictures is a wonderful way to remind your loved one of a special memory you have shared. You could frame a photo, make a collage, put together a photo album, or even get creative and make a scrapbook that revolves around a particular trip or event.

“I like to do printed photos of special memories. You could just print a few and put them in a card with a handwritten note. Or frame one really special one. Or do a small album.” – Erin Southerland

“There are frequently coupon codes for free photo books or canvases. I encourage my young adult kids to get me these as you only pay shipping. For gifts to my own parents, they appreciate collages of the grandchildren or framed photos.” – Julie Graves Riley

“A special photo in a frame. It’s an inexpensive way to showcase a great memory.” – Stacie League

Buy the photo frame above from Amazon.

9. Candle

scented candle

If your friend is OK with fragrance, a scented candle makes a fantastic gift. It’s a surefire way to make their home feel extra warm and cozy.

Buy the candle above from Amazon.

10. Books

wonder by r.j. palacio and turtles all the way down by john green

If you have a friend who’s a major bookworm, they would undoubtedly love to have a new book to dive into. Whether it’s a popular bestseller or something offbeat you found on the $1 rack, a book can provide hours of entertainment.

“As someone who is predominantly bedbound, with little money to spare, I buy most of my gifts on Book Depository. The fact that that they have free worldwide shipping, and that I can get books that are popular for under $10 means I can feel more like I am participating in the gift giving process, particularly as I am not overly crafty.” – Anna Galdorcræft

Buy “Wonder” by R. J. Palacio on Amazon. Buy “Turtles All the Way Down” by John Green on Amazon.

11. Send Cards to Those in the Hospital

illustrated card with a heart

If you are looking for a way to give to others facing difficult medical battles this holiday season, for just the cost of postage, you could send letters to people who are in the hospital receiving care over the holidays.

Download a card template from The Mighty: Snowman cardgood vibes card, and restful holiday card.

12. Mug

merry and bright mug

Mugs are a super fun gift just about anyone can use to enjoy a nice cup of coffee, tea or hot chocolate. You can make it personalized by finding a design that includes your friend’s favorite color or quote. And, if you’re feeling ambitious, you could even fill the mug with some small candies or treats.

Buy the mug above from Amazon.

13. Fun Socks

socks that say 'if you can read this please bring more wine'

A person can never have too many socks – especially if they’re fuzzy and festive. They’re the perfect way to stay warm, comfy and fashionable – and who knows, if you give them the socks featured above, maybe your friend will get some wine brought to them as well!

Buy the socks above from Amazon.

14. Ornament

christmas tree ornaments
via TGIF – This Grandma Is Fun! Pinterest

Depending on how crafty you’re feeling, you could either make a DIY ornament or find one online or at the store that you think would be perfect for your friend. You could even turn ornament-gifting into a yearly tradition, giving one that represents a big moment or life event for your friend from the previous year. Soon, decorating the tree each year will be a fun way to reminisce on special memories.

“I believe a handmade ornament can be a very special gift. Inexpensive and a very personal gift. Plus they can be used each year and it is a good way of remembering someone special.” – Tony Casey 

“I make homemade ornaments every year… always a hit. Buy clear glass ornaments after Christmas. Fill with whatever reflects that specific person or memories from that year. They have always been appreciated and well-loved by all my friends and family. Plus, I have all year to make them. Each gift usually about $2 or less yet priceless to my gift getter.” – Isay Grogloth

“Making wooden ornaments (sticks and glue… I am not safe around power tools!) and handmade bird seed ornaments (thinking of maybe selling these at some of the craft fairs next year).” – Tamara Webster

Find instructions for making the ornament above on TGIF – This Grandma Is Fun!

15. Make a Donation in Their Name

logos of the humane society international, doctors without borders and patient advocate foundation

While making a donation does require you to spend some money, it is a great way to “give” to a loved one while also helping someone in need. If you have a big family or group of friends, making a single donation on behalf of them all means no hunting for individual gifts – a good option for those who are low on time or energy. Choose a cause your loved ones are passionate about and give whatever you are able. Remember: no amount is too small to make a difference.

“Too many family members to buy gifts for. I make a family donation to a pet organization. I print info from the org, with pictures, and put it into inexpensive cards. We’re a big pet family, so it goes over well.” – Pamela Diane Sanders

Donate to Humane Society International, Doctors Without Borders, Patient Advocate Foundation, or another organization your loved one is passionate about.

Originally published: December 7, 2017
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