25 Best Non-materialistic Gift Ideas For A Small Budget

By Ray Arya •  Updated: 11/13/20 •  15 min read


*Disclosure: This article may have affiliate links, so I may receive a commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link.

For some, it can be tough to come up with gifts that are not things.

After all, it is tempting and much easier to visit the next mall and buy stuff.

Unfortunately, most of our material gifts don’t match the expectations and wishes of our gift receivers.

They end up getting regifted, replaced, donated, or unused and collecting dust in the closet.

As a consequence, we waste time, energy, and money, and that is not useful to anyone.

One of the best advantages of being a minimalist is learning to appreciate experiences more than things.

When it comes to gift-giving, I enjoy it when I get surprised with unique and thoughtful non-materialistic gifts like experiences or consumables, no matter how small.

And even better when they don’t cost a thing or at least not much.

Further, if you are wondering, what is a good gift for someone who already has everything, then you are in the right spot.

I thought of sharing 25 great non-materialistic gift ideas for a small budget to ease your quest for the right gift.

In This Post:


  1. Your time

  2. Experiences

  3. Outdoor date

  4. Photo Book with messages

  5. Personalized video

  6. Mindfulness app subscriptions

  7. Give up a bad habit

  8. Solve a problem

  9. Freedom from responsibility 

  10. Entry tickets

  11. Educational subscriptions

  12. Online courses and unique workshops

  13. Airbnb gift card

  14. Spotify gift card

  15. Charity donation on their behalf

  16. Global giving gift card

  17. A plant

  18. Gym membership

  19. Museum membership

  20. Consumable items

  21. Food delivery gift card

  22. Fresh food from the local market

  23. Baked goods

  24. Teaching a life skill

  25. DIY massage coupon

    Final Thoughts

25 Best Non-materialistic Gifts That You Can Afford

* In this article the gift-receiver is mentioned as ‘friend’ for simplification. Friend could also mean family member, colleague, or any of your acquaintances.

Your time

When thinking of gifts that aren’t physical things, time comes first into my mind.

After all, it is the asset that a minimalist values most.

That’s why giving time is probably the most thoughtful and beautiful gift you can give to someone.

There is no need to think of something complicated. Ask yourself what friend loves to do and join for a few hours or even a whole day.

Whether it’s a favorite sport, walking through the city, driving to the woods, or shopping at a local market, it doesn’t really matter as long as you spend some moments together.

A more fun way of giving your time is in the form of coupons, from which he can choose when to spend time with you.

Either way, your presence, and attention will get highly appreciated.


Wondering how you can give experiences instead of gifts?

Easy! It’s not things that your friend will remember most, but your memorable moments and experiences with each other.

So why not surprise your special someone with an extraordinary experience that will create unforgettable memories?

Give him cool activities like a road trip, a camping adventure, hiking, surfing, paintball, archery – to name a few.

These gifts do not take up space and clutter up their home. So they will love it.

But be sure to find out what he likes before booking, and he will reward you with a bright smile and love you for paying attention to his interests.

Outdoor date

Why not surprise your partner, brother, mother, or anyone with a date outdoors, like preparing a picnic in their favorite park?

Nowadays, we spend so much time indoors that enjoying the fresh air outside together is a perfect present to give.

Prepare a delicious meal, some coffee, a fruit salad, and a DIY birthday card with a lovely handwritten message as a topping!

Lay them in a picnic basket, and you are good to go.

To spice things up, you can bring some balloons or DIY garland to decorate the picnic location.

Alternatively, you could date your friend in an amusement park, if you want more action and laughter.

Both gifts don’t cost a fortune and will surely brighten up his day.

Photo Book with messages

One of the best gifts I got was a photo book with lovely pics and personal messages.

My wife bought a blank photo album and collected pictures of me with my closest friends, family, and colleagues.

She then asked them to handwrite a short message about why they treasured me as a human being and then sent it as a photo.

Combined in an album, it looked amazing and blew my mind on my birthday.

I had lots of tears and laughter, and the album will always remain special.

Now I am passing this idea to you. Sure, it will take time.

But trust me, your special friend will be delighted for ages.

Personalized video

If you have some video editing skills, you can easily create personal videos and give as a gift.

Now and then, I collect photos and videos of me and the person I want to surprise and make a 5, 10, or 30-minute film that portrays us on our vacation, wedding, short-trip, or any other adventure.

One of the non-materialistic gifts for my best friend was a short film of our US road trip in 2010.

We both thought that none of us would ever edit that video due to the sheer amount of footage.

But lately, I surprised him with it on his birthday.

And watching it together was as though we were in the US again, young and dumb, doing silly things, and having fun.

You can get creative here, but it doesn’t have to be complicated.

An edited video including songs that accompanies its mood and a short message will do it.

Mindfulness app subscriptions

If you know someone who is struggling to concentrate, find peace, or fall asleep at night, you could suggest some apps that help to calm his mind.

Mindfulness apps like Headspace, Calm, or The Mindfulness App have helped millions of people to be more present.

For most people, learning how to meditate is hard. So why not help him out with these simple and affordable apps?

He will love you for showing him a way to clear his mind and reduce his stress levels.

Give up a bad habit

Want to make someone truly happy?

Think of something that bugs your partner, parent, or friend deeply.

A bad habit or even an addiction that he or she has been begging you to give up.

That addiction may be causing great harm to your health and simultaneously keep your loved one worried about you.

Show him how important he is for you by ditching that addiction once and for all.

May it be smoking, drinking, gambling, gaming, drugs, or even sugar.

Giving it up for someone shows strength of character and deep love.

Solve a problem

Another non-materialistic and very thoughtful way of gift-giving is solving a specific problem for someone.

Let’s say your friend’s computer or washing machine needs to repair. Or someone needs assistance with changing from a usual bank to a free online bank, but he can’t figure out how.

What about helping someone move his stuff from one place to another or helping him declutter his home, garage, or basement?

If you can help someone save money or time, then why not give that as a gift?

Find a skill or know-how that the other person desperately needs and put a bright smile on his face by making his life a little easier.

Freedom from responsibility

Alternatively, you can ask your special someone to give you a task to shuffle them free time.

Give a voucher for babysitting, dog sitting, or shopping grocery for a day, week, or even longer.

People who are very busy and continually complaining about their stressful life will love you for freeing them from time-consuming responsibilities.

That will be more worth to them than any material gift.

Entry tickets

A typical non-materialistic gift is an entry ticket to a zoo, cinema, waterpark, spa, or national park.

Or if your friend likes music or movies, then a concert ticket or a movie night out is also a great alternative to giving stuff.

Most of them cost below 30 dollars, and you can always make the tickets look more appealing by wrapping them in a DIY gift card with a heartwarming message.

You might be able to find great deals on Groupon as well.

Educational subscriptions

For people who can’t get enough of learning new things, I love the idea of giving educational subscriptions like Audible and Blinkist.

Audiobooks are a perfect alternative to physical books that reduce waste and clutter, and you can read or listen to the volumes anywhere and anytime on your phone.

And for those who like shortcuts, Blinkist is the right choice.

They offer you the core messages of thousands of non-fictional books in short 15-minute audiobooks called blinks.

Online courses and unique workshops

If your friend is eager to learn new skills, a perfect gift would be unique workshops, classes, or online courses.

Support him to learn a new instrument, cultivate a new hobby, or educate himself in the areas that interest him.

My favorite platforms, Skillshare and Udemy, offer various classes around business, design, tech, photography, writing, drawing, but also knitting, gardening, hair cutting, or cooking.

Give your friend a subscription on Skillshare and grant him access to all courses they have, or pick one specific class from Udemy to help him learn a new skill.

Airbnb gift card

Know somebody that travels a lot and loves staying at Airbnbs instead of hotel rooms? Then you can’t go wrong with a gift card from Airbnb.

You can get them from some US retail stores or buy them online, starting from 25 dollars.

Spice them up with one of their cool designs.

The great thing: your friend can use the gift card anytime and anywhere in the world.

Spotify gift card

Got someone who loves listening to podcasts or music and uses Spotify for free?

Then you know its downside of continually being distracted by annoying ads.

Why not buy your friend a Spotify subscription for 1, 3, or 6 months to allow him to enjoy his favorite volumes without disruption?

For a tight budget, you can already get one for 10 dollars.

Charity donation on their behalf

Make someone’s heart light up by donating to a charity near and dear to him. There are a few options you can give on his behalf.

Join a Facebook campaign if your friend started one. Or donate through the homepage of his favorite charity in honor of your friend.

You will then get an email card with the donation amount and his name on it that you can either forward or print out.

Alternatively, you can also bring a donation box to his party and collect money.

He will be delighted with your thoughtful gift, as you will not only make him happy but also people in need.

Being a spring member of my dearest organization Charity: Water, I genuinely appreciate it when someone donates on my behalf.

I see it as one of the greatest gifts for a minimalist like me.

Global giving gift card

If you don’t know which charity to choose, you can also buy a Global Giving gift card.

Global Giving is a nonprofit that finds donors for other nonprofits since 2002 and has helped raise over half a billion dollars since then.

Either buy them a gift card so they can redeem it to a project that matters to them.

Or, in case you do know their favorite charity, donate in their honor and send them a note.

A plant

Got a plant lover among your friends? Then giving a plant might be just the perfect gift.

While giving a bouquet is always touching, picking the right plant for his home shows more effort.

Plus, a plant lasts longer, and your friend can enjoy its calming effect and better oxygenation at home for a longer time.

Another thoughtful non-materialistic gift that can benefit their life are microgreens.

Those are vegetable greens that not only look great as decoration but above all can be harvested to eat.

They come with various health benefits as they are rich in nutrients. And they can be grown in your home all year round.

Gym membership

A perfect gift for fitness lovers would be a Classpass gift card.

Classpass allows your friend to try thousands of popular workouts in either on-demand fitness classes online, nearby classes in a local studio, or live stream classes.

The pass includes over a million different courses, including yoga, high-intensity training, Crossfit, and martial arts, and more.

The best thing: you can use it around the globe!

Museum membership

Surprise your museum geek who loves to spend his time on a journey through centuries or millions of years of human history with a museum season membership.

It is a perfect experiential gift that he can use anytime and as often as he wants for at least a year.

Check out the NARM (North American Reciprocal Museum Association) website for nationwide museum membership offers.

Consumable items

We minimalists suggest to buy only things that you need and add value to your life. So why not give items that your friend can consume, may it be food or beverage.

If your friend is a coffee victim like me, why not give him beans of his favorite coffee brand or anything coffee-related that he can use when he runs short on it.

Got a friend who loves trying experimental chocolate? Go and surprise him with an extraordinary bar that he may not have heard of yet.

What about nuts and dried fruits? It’s almost impossible to go wrong with those.

Find out what your friend loves to eat or drink and put a smile on his face by serving his needs.

If you are not so sure what to buy, you can always give him a gift card from his go-to coffee shop or favorite food store or boutique.

Food delivery gift card

Is your friend one of those who never finds time to cook or just hates it?

Then he has a favorite food delivery service he cannot live without, for sure.

And he will surely love getting a free order from his near and dear delivery service.

Choose from the top suppliers like Hello Fresh, Sun Basket, or Home Chef, and get your gift card.

Fresh food from the local market

The next thoughtful and also beautiful gift is a basket full of fresh food from the market.

Fill it with your friend’s favorite vegetables, fruits, nuts, and flowers. Make it look nice and sweet, and he will love you for that.

He will also appreciate your time and effort you put into choosing the right products for him.

Plus, since the gift includes consumable items, nothing gets wasted.

Baked goods

Got some baking skills? Why not surprise your friend with a fresh-baked cake, apple strudel, or muffins. Again, you can get creative here.

It could be anything from sweet treats to quiche lorraine, or even a self-made pizza.

You know your friend better, so choose ingredients that he doesn’t only like but truly loves.

Top it with a nice decoration and candles, and he’ll enjoy every single bite.

Teaching a life skill

One of the most genuine gifts you can give to anyone is passing over one of your life skills.

And this can be anything from a hobby to sports, becoming a DIYer, mindful activities like meditation or yoga, learning how to cook the best minestrone, figuring out how to invest in the stock market, or learning to make a simple household budget if your friend struggles with finances.

Anything that will help your friend become better in a field that he is interested in which you can improve his skills.

True, it will take time and effort. But if you love your friend and want to contribute to elevating his life by helping him learn more, there most probably is no better gift than that.

DIY massage coupon

Last but not least comes my wife’s favorite gift ever.

She’s a massage freak and loves to get pampered anywhere and anytime. One birthday, I made a DIY massage voucher that included a whole range of various massages with different time limits. Of course, I was the masseur!

I used some old hard papers and wrote ‘free foot massage for 30 minutes’ here, ‘20 minutes back massage’ there until I got a bunch of 50 vouchers.

It didn’t cost me anything but had a ton lot of value in it.

Now the vouchers are used, and she begs me now and then to make a new one. So trust me, you can’t go wrong with this! 😉

Final thoughts

I hope you like the list of unique and affordable gifts that are not things and don’t cost much, mostly only your time.

No matter what you buy or plan, I am sure that it will brighten up the day of your loved ones.

I encourage you to cultivate a habit of making time and put more effort into what you give as a present in the future.

Avoid wasting money, time, and energy by researching what would truly benefit your friend.

In most cases, even the smallest things will put a smile on his face.

Got more non-stuff ideas? Feel free to add them below! 🙂

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Ray Arya

Ray is a frugal minimalist who loves to travel and live in his self-converted camper van. He writes about the benefits of downsizing, decluttering, saving money, building wealth, and the freedom that results from the power of less. Minimalray.com is for everyone who seeks a meaningful life and is committed to contentment.

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