A few years ago, three of my best friends had a combined 21st birthday party. At the time, I didn't have much money and couldn't think of a worthwhile present in my limited budget. I decided instead to invest my time into creating a personalised drawing for each of them. That way, I could demonstrate their importance to me without breaking the bank or wasting my money on something they didn't really want. If 'time is money' then it wasn't really the cheap option (though, in a more literal sense, it was a cheap option).
I brainstormed ideas about each of them - interests, hobbies, music, sports, and so on - to develop pieces of each person's picture. I wove these pieces together using some general structural elements (e.g. arrows) and miscellaneous objects to make each image cohesive. As an extra touch, I also made the pieces fit together when arranged in series (not perfectly aligned below).
Much to my relief, their response to the pieces was very positive. They were actually received better than I could remember any gift I had given before! I figured there must be something to this, probably along the lines of it's the thought that counts (not how much you spend). I continued creating artworks for my friends' birthdays, with varying degrees of personalisation. It was the perfect solution - it was inexpensive, highly enjoyable, and showed I was putting time and effort into the gift.
I think the emphasis modern society places on money is a shame. While I'm not of the opinion that the entire financial system is a charade, it certainly has its problems (greed, waste, inequality, unnecessary suffering). One that I think is the most unfortunate is the degree to which money is often seen as intrinsically coupled to value. Just because something's more expensive to make or buy doesn't make it better! Buying and owning things of greater expense has come to be seen as a symbol of status, but many real millionaires are rich because they live simply and below their means.
Unfortunately, with other commitments to work around it's impossible to make one for every friend in a year. Even the few shown here weren't all finished within one year. I'm still working on them though!
"All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up."