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Cheap Gift Ideas for Older Adults

Updated on September 20, 2012
It's not always easy to find a gift that an older person will truly appreciate.
It's not always easy to find a gift that an older person will truly appreciate. | Source

There comes at least one time every year — Christmas, Chanukah, Grandma's birthday — that you have to buy an older adult a gift. What do you buy for someone who has lived through seven or eight decades of life and has already accumulated everything he or she needs?

The ideal gift should be useful, so it doesn't gather dust or create clutter in a small living space, and it should be inexpensive. Don't spend a ton of money on fancy presents for older adults who may not be interested in the latest technology! Small, thoughtful items will have a greater impact, because they show you really know what the gift recipient is all about.

Whether your great-grandparents are celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary or you have to get a Secret Santa present for the old guy who works down the hall from you, the perfect cheap present is out there. I'll help you find it.

Sometimes the cheapest gifts are the most meaningful, at least from little kids. This is a "family portrait" my son did when he was 4 as a gift for  his great-grandmother.
Sometimes the cheapest gifts are the most meaningful, at least from little kids. This is a "family portrait" my son did when he was 4 as a gift for his great-grandmother. | Source
Sargent Art 66-5524 Acrylic Paint Set, 24-Count
Sargent Art 66-5524 Acrylic Paint Set, 24-Count
Buy a set of cheap acrylic paints and let your children make a present their grandparents will treasure.

Handmade Gifts for Grandma (or Grandpa)

This option works best if you're very young or very crafty.

A child who wants to make an inexpensive gift for their grandparents or great-grandparents has tons of options.

  • Hand-decorated picture frame (e.g., tissue paper mosaic, decoupage, or painted macaroni shapes) holding a picture of the child
  • A handwritten and illustrated story or poem by the child
  • An abstract painting (This is a little messy, but great for preschoolers. Buy a cheap canvas and some acrylic paints in colors the gift recipients will find appealing, and let your child have some fun with fingers or brushes.)
  • A handwritten letter detailing the things the child likes to do with her grandma (or other gift recipient), or why she loves her

If you're already in your teens or older, I'm sorry to tell you that a macaroni picture frame will no longer cut it. However, if you have some craft skills, you can make beautiful gifts for very little money.

  • Knit or crochet a scarf. (For five dollars worth of yarn and a little time, you can make a gift for your grandfather that is actually useful!)
  • Make jewelry for your grandma or great-aunt. (Some seniors no longer wear dangly earrings, so a beaded necklace or bracelet might be a better bet. Look for semi-precious stones and jewelry findings on sale at the craft store.)
  • Sew a reusable tote bag for grocery shopping. Make sure the handles are attached well, and consider monogramming it or hand-embroidering a small design to make it personal.

How to Make Affordable Gift Baskets

If you need a larger present that is still budget-friendly, put together a gift basket.

  1. Choose a theme and buy several small items that go together. (The more items, the more special it feels, even if the gift consists of half a dozen items costing just five bucks apiece.)
  2. Arrange them artfully in a basket (bonus points if the basket is useful, like a tackle box for a fisherman).
  3. Wrap with cellophane and curly ribbon. The presentation will make the gift look much more expensive than it really was.

PrideSports Golf Club Cleaning Brush , Black
PrideSports Golf Club Cleaning Brush , Black
Keep your elderly relatives active with inexpensive but useful sports equipment.

Cheap Gifts for Active Seniors

Not every older adult is ready for a nursing home (thank goodness!). There are plenty of active seniors still working, playing sports, traveling, and enjoying their hobbies into their 80s and beyond. If the person you need a gift for fits into this category, here are some suggestions.

For sporty seniors: Find out what sport they play or what type of exercise they enjoy. Then find a small accessory that will improve their game or make it easier for them to remain active. For instance, a golf ball cleaning brush makes a perfect inexpensive stocking stuffer or present for an office gift exchange for the dedicated golfer. Similarly, for a tennis enthusiast, a ball holder is both useful and cheap. The trick is to buy something the gift recipient can actually use, rather than something that will clutter up their house.

For working seniors: If you need to buy a gift for an older person who still commutes to an office, why not an audiobook? Find out what she likes, and then pick up a thriller, romance, mystery, or non-fiction lecture that she will enjoy. For a semi-retired person who maintains an office in his home, why not pick up a few funny office supplies? A desk organizer in the shape of a person on the toilet may not be something anyone actually needs, but it could bring a smile to his face each day.

For older travelers: Pick up some small accessories that make traveling easier. Seniors who travel probably aren't willing to wear the same pair of filthy pants four times in one week, so why not some laundry soap sheets for doing a quick wash in the hotel sink? Novelty luggage tags, a fancy eye mask, or a passport wallet are all cheap, useful gifts.

Unger Professional 36" Nifty Nabber Reacher Grabber Tool and Trash Picker
Unger Professional 36" Nifty Nabber Reacher Grabber Tool and Trash Picker
This handy, inexpensive tool can make life easier for seniors.

Inexpensive Gifts for Homebound Seniors

One of the kindest gifts you can give an older adult who is homebound or has limited mobility is the gift of your time.

  • Visit someone who doesn't get out much. Bring the fixings for a nice meal, and cook it at their home, so you can chat while you cook. Don't forget to clean up when you're done, and leave the leftovers neatly packaged for meals later in the week. If the person you're visiting has trouble making ends meet, bring a few extra groceries to leave behind. The total cost is less than $25 and a few hours of time, but the value of your gift is priceless.
  • Buy a board game and make several dates to play it. This gives you a purpose for visiting, and gives the recipient of your gift something to look forward to (beyond the fun of the game itself.)

If you live far away or already spend a significant amount of time with your homebound friend or relative, try to buy a useful gift. The last thing someone living in a small apartment or assisted living facility needs is clutter!

  • Help keep an older adult's mind sharp by giving him a book of games or puzzles. Sudoku and crossword puzzles are perennial favorites, but there are books of trivia games, word searches, and other types of games that can be lots of fun, too.
  • Buy an inexpensive item that will make her life easier or safer. A pick-up tool with a three-foot reach can help an older adult safely pull down cans from an upper cabinet without having to get on a step-stool, or it can help her get socks from the bottom drawer without having to bend over.


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