When I was little and didn't have any money, my mom would help me come up with ways to give my time instead. For instance, one year I filled an envelope with little paper "certificates" for my dad. On each certificate were things like, "bring in the newspaper," "clean the bathroom," “take out the trash,” etc. Of course, I hoped all year long that Dad would never redeem any of them (who likes cleaning the bathroom?!) but it sure solved my cash problem!

As an adult, I've discovered new ways to reinvent this old idea of giving vouchers. They’ve really helped my family get closer—and if you’re on a gift budget this holiday season like me, then these 5 tips will really come in handy! Whether your goal is to refocus gift-giving on charity, dial back on giving material presents, stick to a specific gift budget, teach kids about saving, get closer to loved ones, or all of the above, these creative ideas will have you covered!

1. Give a price-specific voucher.

The goal here is to shop the after-holiday savings and score a great deal. This strategy can be especially effective for gifts that traditionally go on sale at the end of the year and for big-ticket items like electronics.

  • What to do: With a price-specific voucher, you simply state that when the desired gift is a certain dollar amount or less (alternative: when the item goes on sale) you will purchase it for the recipient.
  • Example: I used this with my son when he wanted a specific tablet that’s normally $250. Since I don’t like paying full price, I made a voucher that stated when the item he wanted was $175 or less I would purchase the tablet for him. This helped him realize the importance of finding bargain prices, and it saved me a little money too!

2. Give a voucher with an extra incentive.

Here, you use voucher #1 with a twist. This is an especially great gift idea to teach young kids about how waiting for sales and using coupons can pay off.

  • What to do: Say your child wants a new video game that currently costs $60. Your voucher states you will shop for the item when the holidays are over and purchase it when the price is $50 or less.
  • The incentive: In the voucher, you state that your child can spend the extra $10 on another gift or that you will give the money to them to start a savings account.

3. Give a voucher for your time.

With this idea, your gift is essentially "free," minus the value of your personal time.

  • What to do: You can offer one specific time gift, such as an afternoon practicing T-ball (for a child) or an evening of using the family car (for a teen). Or you could do what I did as a child—pack an envelope with several time gifts, such as cleaning the kitchen, running errands, or whatever your recipient would appreciate most (these are great for elderly loved ones who find it hard to complete such tasks).

4. Give a voucher for service.

This idea can help to refocus the holiday on gratitude and giving back—and it can help a family who feels overburdened by material gift giving to slowly cut back each year.

  • What to do: Give an increment of your time (say 30 or 60 minutes) in volunteer service for each recipient on your list. So if you have 10 people you want to give gifts to, you could send each a holiday card with a note saying you have donated a specific amount of your time to a charity in their honor.
  • An alternative: If you have a particular loved one who is very involved in a certain charity, you can offer a voucher that says you’ll go with them to volunteer for a specific amount of time or on a regular basis.

5. Bonus tip: give vouchers in a fun way!

Vouchers and gift certificates are easy gifts to give to other adults. But for kids—especially kids who have enjoyed opening gifts in years past—adjusting to a “gift for later” concept can be more challenging. Here are some ideas to make vouchers fun for kids.

  • Organize a "voucher gift hunt" by hiding vouchers around the house. Provide helpful clues along with some little sweet treats or prizes as they get "warmer" (be sure to note where you hid them!).
  • Make one voucher a blank and let the child fill it in (be sure to set parameters you can live with here!).
  • Make sure all family gift giving is voucher-based so children do not feel singled-out or left out of opening actual presents. Then sit down and take turns reading out your vouchers as a family.
  • Fill stockings with small treats and little gifts so that kids also have something to open, explore, and share when friends ask them what they got.
  • Create a theme for each child that includes a wrapped present and a voucher. For example, you could give the voucher for something less tangible, like violin lessons, and then make the main wrapped gift the violin.


5 Voucher Gift Ideas to Lighten Your Holiday Budget