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By: Bari Sobelson, MS, LMFT and Caitlyn Brown


It’s easy to get caught up in the holiday season and find yourself wishing you could buy the biggest, best, and most extravagant gifts for your loved ones. It’s also easy to convince yourself that material items can enhance relationships and solidify connections. Military families may be especially susceptible to falling into the spending trap because of the long periods of time spent away from each other.  But, what if you can give gifts to others without spending any money at all? Or, more realistically, spending less than you think you should. Below is a list of gift ideas created specifically with our military families in mind.


  • Snapchat Stories: Snapchat is commonly used amongst the millennials, but they aren’t the only ones. Snapchat is a great way to capture the moments that your deployed member may be missing out on. By creating a snapchat for your deployed member and for yourself, you can send your deployed member snap shots of pictures or up to 10second videos. You can also use snapchat to live chat or video message. All you need for Snapchat is an email address/phone number and a phone with apps. If both of you have Snapchat, you can also post videos/pictures to your story, which will appear for 24 hours. That way, if there is a major time difference, your significant other can view them on his or her own time that day. It also lets you see when and who has viewed the snapchat story (in case you have other friends that you want to see it).
  • Mail a hug: The US Postal Service allows us to mail a whole bunch of things that aren’t just boxed up. Send your deployed service member a hug! You can do this by taking a pillow (that hopefully one that smells like your house) and using felt, cutting out your children’s hands and sewing (or hot gluing) the hands to the pillow. Then you can write a message directly on the pillow using fabric pens. You can then send the pillow, unboxed, by placing the stamps directly onto the pillow with the address. It will look like a little huggable postcard.
  • Memory jar/ card deck memories, I love you’s: This can be done in a couple of different ways, with the main goal of just showing your loved one how much you care. The first idea, requires a jar of your choosing which you then fill with little pieces of paper with memories (like a Penseive if you’re a Harry Potter Fan) or reasons you love the person. Another way to do it, is by getting a deck of playing cards and writing on each of the 52 cards reasons you love the person or your favorite memories of the individual etc. Both the cards and jar can be easily portable and can be constant source of comfort for the individual, especially if he or she is about to be deployed or away for a while.
  • Avocado app: This app is used by couples to stay in touch. This private app allows you to share calendars, camera rolls/galleries, chats, etc.
  • Flash drives with videos and pictures: Fill a flash drive full of videos, pictures, movies or other things that they may enjoy. Flash drives allow you to pack a lot of information into one small mailable (and reusable) unit.
  • Coupon Books: This idea is an age-old classic! Make a coupon book for your loved ones full of chores, favors, etc. This doesn’t cost a thing! 


  • Groovebook: This is a great way to have tangible pictures in book-form straight from your phone! The cost is only $2.99 a month. Check out more details here:
  • Family puzzle: Puzzling with family members is an awesome way to bond and spend time, without competing or ruining relationships like board games can (looking at you, Monopoly). There are a couple of websites that allow you to make your own puzzles based on either a family picture ( or based on a GPS location (
  • MySocialBook: Create a bound copy of all the correspondences between your social media websites. This website allows you to create a hardbound copy of your Facebook timelines between you and your significant other, you and your family members or you and five friends. While social media is notorious for archiving every moment that we post, it can be difficult, daunting and vexing to have to sift through everything posted to find a post, picture or message.
  • Matching bracelets: These are a cute idea to keep the whole family connected. Spend time creating matching bracelets out of embroidery thread. There are a bunch of different designs that aren’t hard to make (just scan Pinterest) and you can always let your kids have a say in picking the colors, adding beads or depending on their age, making one of their own.
  • ShadowBox Keys: Shadowboxes are an appealing type of home décor for displaying pictures, tickets and other memorabilia. Display the keys from the many homes that you have shared. Many military families get so accustomed to moving that it becomes just a normal part of life, why not preserve some of the memories and honor the different places you have created into a home together?
  • Flat Daddies and Flat Mommies ( Have you heard of FatHeads? They are basically giant life-size stickers that you can decorate your walls with. Well, Flat Daddies and Flat Mommies are the military personalized version of Fatheads. You send in a picture of your mommy or daddy and you get a life-sized sticker of that individual. The FlatDaddies website also does some funding to provide free flat daddies to military families, but that funding may not always be available.

This list is not the end all be all of fun gifts, but we hope we provided a bunch of fun and creative ideas for you to explore as a family. We recognize that it is easy to get swept up in buying the newest or most popular item of the year, but these gift ideas carry the potential for an emotional value that far surpasses anything monetary. We welcome any other ideas that have been a success for you and your family or someone else you know. We hope you continue to enjoy this holiday season!

This post was written by Bari Sobelson and Caitlyn Brown of the OneOp Team. OneOp aims to support the development of professionals working with military families. Find out more about OneOp on our website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Blog Image: Photo from pixabay [Present by ParentRap December 27, 2015, CCO]