11 Brilliant Wedding Gifts That Won't Cost You Anything

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Most modern couples make it easy for you to pick out a wedding gift (thank you, wedding registries). But if you're going to disregard the preferred gift list, what you give has to be good. And you're in luck—because some of those gifts won't cost you a thing.

1. BONUS GIFT CARDS

Gift cards and cash are great gifts because they let couples enjoy a nice dinner out or pick up household needs that didn't make it onto the registry. But how do you get them without doling out greenbacks? Look for gift card deals and bonuses at places you already shop or dine (so long as it's a place the couple might also enjoy). In many cases, restaurants and stores will run promotions that give you free gift cards when you buy a pre-determined amount of gift cards. Stores such as Kohl's, Target, and Bed Bath & Beyond have all run similar promotions (and are also popular wedding registry destinations). If it's a store you already visit frequently, you can purchase gift cards to shop for everyday expenses, then wrap up the free bonus gift cards as wedding gifts.

2. FAMILY HEIRLOOMS

Weddings are the perfect time to pass on a family treasure. In most cases, these gifts don't cost a thing (except if it is in need of repair, restoration, or cleaning), but that doesn't make them cheap. In fact, marketing professor Utpal Dholakia suggests that heirlooms, like grandma's wedding ring, have more worth than a pricey crystal picture frame or kitchen appliance because of the emotional connection and significance that the item holds.

3. THE CLASSIC REGIFT

Single present wrapped in red on table.
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Regifting is never quite ideal, but in the right scenario, it’s not such a faux pas, especially if it’s an item the couple really needs or wants. But before you go digging through your closet or basement for the "perfect" wedding regift, you'll need to consider Emily Post's rules for appropriately passing on a present. The recycled gift shouldn't be personalized or handmade, should be brand new in original packaging, and something that the couple really would like. Oh, and don’t rewrap a gift that they gave you in the first place. That's just tacky.

4. WEDDING PREPARATION HELP

If you have useful wedding-prep skills, it might be worth exchanging some hard work in place of a wedding gift. In most cases, brides and grooms are stressed about the final cost of their big day (the national average came in around $35,000 last year) , but if your skills—such as floral design, dress alterations, or invitation design—can lower the cost, they'll likely be happier getting your help instead of a coffee maker. Of course, you'll have to work out the details in advance, but then again, that's one less gift you'll have to haul to the reception.

5. THE GIFT OF TRAVEL

Honeymoon registries have become a popular alternative to dishtowels and potholders. If you want to go for Guest of the Year, you can one-up the cash gift with airline miles. Instead of cashing in your unused miles or points for magazines, opt for gift flights or hotel stays instead. With some airlines, it’s cheaper to purchase tickets for the couple outright (avoiding mile transfer fees), so confer with them before the big day to make this gift come true. And don’t forget the important travel rule for the newly married: always use given names on tickets and any bookings that require matching ID, since any potential name-change paperwork won't be filed until after the happy couple gets home.

6. PET SITTING

Small dog sitting in a packed suitcase.
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Wedding planning is hectic and expensive, so help your favorite couple stress (and spend) a little less when it comes to making all of their final arrangements for their pets. Well in advance of the big day, offer to pet-sit when they leave town for their honeymoon—they're sure to stress less if they know the daily dog walking, mealtimes, and kitty cuddles are being attended to by a friend. But before you jump in, make sure you're a good match with the couple's beloved pet; putting high-energy pets in a low-energy environment, for example, won't make for a compatible (or enjoyable) experience.

7. CASH-BACK GIFT BUYING

You can use this hack to purchase something the couple has their hearts set on, and it still won’t cost you a dime. If your bank account or credit card offers cash-back on purchases, plan in advance to save up the rewards from everyday purchases to put toward a wedding gift. While you're technically exchanging money for a gift here, it's the equivalent of using a free gift card to pick up that wedding present. Some credit card companies even offer the option to put cash-back rewards toward discounted gift cards, which also works for stores the couple frequents.

8. HONEYMOON HOUSESITTING

Being away from home for an extended period of time can make anyone nervous, so ease the couple’s worries by offering to housesit while they drink margaritas on a tropical beach. Depending on their digs, you may be in charge of everything from picking up the mail on a daily stop-in to actually spending the night while caring for pets and plants. While this gift is free for you, it’s a big budget saver for brides and grooms: on average, housesitting can cost between $25 and $50 per day.

9. PRO-BONO SERVICES

If you're an accountant, lawyer, or have some other kind of professional specialty or skill, consider giving free services as a wedding gift. You can offer to help the couple through the name change process, write their joint will or prenup, give them financial advice, or even just give them a couple of months worth of haircuts (but only if you're a professional stylist—we don't recommend this for just anyone with a pair of scissors and a trimmer!). You can create a gift certificate and deliver it with a card on the wedding day, and follow up afterward to see when they'd like to schedule an appointment (but note: if they decline your services because they already have a financial advisor, for example, then you need to graciously congratulate them again and send a gift).

10. SOMETHING GREEN

Large colorful potted plant.
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Thinking of a gift for a green-thumbed couple? Consider sharing your favorite plant or a starter garden kit. If you're already a gardener, you can compile seeds from your existing stash, get seedlings growing, or transplant a portion of your favorite plant into a new pot. Just remember that this gift needs to be delivered after the wedding, avoiding the chance that the couple comes home to dead plants.

11. POST-HONEYMOON MEALS

Getting back into the flow of everyday life is a little strange after such a big event, so help the couple out by stocking their freezer with post-honeymoon meals. You can host a meal-making shower in lieu of a bridal shower, getting other friends and family (and their specialty recipes) in on the gift. Even better, consider coordinating with their honeymoon housesitter to drop off some early freezer meals that the couple will have ready for when they get home jetlagged. Chances are, they'll really appreciate the thoughtfulness of your gift—which is really the best kind of gift to give, regardless of cost.

7 Quick Tips for Disinfecting Your Home the Smart Way

Frequent cleaning of high-traffic areas can reduce the spread of illness in your home.
Frequent cleaning of high-traffic areas can reduce the spread of illness in your home.
BrianAJackson/iStock via Getty Images

With many people spending more time—or virtually all of their time—indoors, it’s natural for thoughts to turn to how to best clean surfaces that might help minimize the risk of spreading illness. Although researchers believe respiratory droplets are the primary way coronavirus is transmitted, preliminary data, which is not yet peer-reviewed, suggests the virus may remain on some surfaces for hours or days.

While scrubbing isn't a complex process, there are nonetheless some areas of your home you might be neglecting. Here’s how to best approach a household scrub, as well as identify and disinfect some common germ hot spots.

1. Pay attention to high-touch surfaces and clean them frequently.

High-touch surfaces are exactly what they sound like: Areas in the home that get handled and touched regularly. Think doorknobs, light switches, appliance handles, toilet handles, faucets, and remotes. And don’t forget laptops, keyboards, desks, and phones.

2. Don't just do a quick wipe down. Get the entire surface.

Taking a disinfecting wipe to the keyhole of a doorknob isn’t going to do you much good—it's important to really scrub all high-touch surfaces. Make sure you get every available surface area, including the plate behind the knob where fingers and hands often brush against it. When cleaning remotes, make sure you don't just scrub the buttons, but the space between them as well.

3. You can use soap and water.

While products claiming to kill 99.9 percent of germs are best in this scenario, there's another option if you're having a hard time tracking down those supplies—simply mix some dish soap in water. It won’t kill organisms, but it can remove them from the surface. (And while soap and water can work for high-touch surfaces throughout the home, you shouldn't use the solution on electronics like your remote or keyboard.)

If you’re looking to kill germs, diluted bleach (four teaspoons to one quart of water) and 70 percent alcohol solutions work well. But it's important to note that bleach and other cleaners can harm certain surfaces. So be sure to do your research and make sure the product you're using won't cause any damage before you start scrubbing.

4. Take laundry precautions.

If you’re trying to be extra-vigilant about the spread of germs in the house, you should consider washing clothes at the highest possible temperature and disinfecting laundry bins. It’s also advisable to use disposable laundry bags.

5. Remove your shoes before entering the house.

This step is more preventative, but it’s a simple way to keep from tracking in contaminants. Remove your shoes before going inside and leave them near the door. It's also a good idea to clean floor surfaces with disinfecting mop cloths, but be sure anything you use is safe for the finished surface. Cleaners like bleach can discolor certain materials.

6. Don't forget to clean your car.

Even people vigilant about cleaning their home can neglect their car interior. Since you’re constantly touching virtually every surface, be sure to wipe everything down regularly, including the steering wheel and door handles. If you have a leather interior, there are auto wipes available for those surfaces. And before you go wipe down any touchscreens, be sure to check your owner’s manual to see if they require any special microfiber cloth.

7. Give your debit cards a wipe.

It’s a good idea to disinfect credit or debit cards that follow you around on shopping excursions. As with all high-touch objects, be sure to wipe them down every day.

[h/t New York Times]

15 Facts About John Brown, the Real-Life Abolitionist at the Center of The Good Lord Bird

John Brown, circa 1846.
John Brown, circa 1846.
Augustus Washington/Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Abolitionist John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry on October 16, 1859, was meant to start an armed slave revolt, and ultimately end slavery. Though Brown succeeded in taking over the federal armory, the revolt never came to pass—and Brown paid for the escapade with his life.

In the more than 160 years since that raid, John Brown has been called a hero, a madman, a martyr, and a terrorist. Now Showtime is exploring his legacy with an adaption of James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird. Like the novel it’s based on, the miniseries—which stars Ethan Hawke—will cover the exploits of Brown and his allies. Here's what you should know about John Brown before you watch.

1. John Brown was born into an abolitionist family on May 9, 1800.

John Brown was born to Owen and Ruth Mills Brown in Torrington, Connecticut, on May 9, 1800. After his family relocated to Hudson, Ohio (where John was raised), their new home would become an Underground Railroad station. Owen would go on to co-found the Western Reserve Anti-Slavery Society and was a trustee at the Oberlin Collegiate Institute, one of the first American colleges to admit black (and female) students.

2. John Brown declared bankruptcy at age 42.

At 16, Brown went to school with the hope of becoming a minister, but eventually left the school and, like his father, became a tanner. He also dabbled in surveying, canal-building, and the wool trade. In 1835, he bought land in northeastern Ohio. Thanks partly the financial panic of 1837, Brown couldn’t satisfy his creditors and had to declare bankruptcy in 1842. He later tried peddling American wool abroad in Europe, where he was forced to sell it at severely reduced prices. This opened the door for multiple lawsuits when Brown returned to America.

3. John Brown's Pennsylvania home was a stop on the Underground Railroad.

The John Brown Tannery Site in Pennsylvania
The John Brown Tannery Site in Pennsylvania.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Sometime around 1825, Brown moved himself and his family to Guys Mills, Pennsylvania, where he set up a tannery and built a house and a barn with a hidden room that was used by slaves on the run. Brown reportedly helped 2500 slaves during his time in Pennsylvania; the building was destroyed in 1907 [PDF], but the site, which is now a museum that is open to the public, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Brown moved his family back to Ohio in 1836.

4. After Elijah Lovejoy's murder, John Brown pledged to end slavery.

Elijah Lovejoy was a journalist and the editor of the St. Louis/Alton Observer, a staunchly anti-slavery newspaper. His editorials enraged those who defended slavery, and in 1837, Lovejoy was killed when a mob attacked the newspaper’s headquarters.

The incident lit a fire under Brown. When he was told about Lovejoy’s murder at an abolitionist prayer meeting in Hudson, Brown—a deeply religious man—stood up and raised his right hand, saying “Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery."

5. John Brown moved to the Kansas Territory after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

In 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which decreed that it would be the people of Kansas and Nebraska who would decide if their territories would be free states or slave states. New England abolitionists hoping to convert the Kansas Territory into a Free State moved there in droves and founded the city of Lawrence. By the end of 1855, John Brown had also relocated to Kansas, along with six of his sons and his son-in-law. Opposing the newcomers were slavery supporters who had also arrived in large numbers.

6. John Brown’s supporters killed five pro-slavery men at the 1856 Pottawatomie Massacre.

A John Brown mural by John Steuart Curry
A John Brown mural by John Steuart Curry.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

On May 21, 1856, Lawrence was sacked by pro-slavery forces. The next day, Charles Sumner, an anti-slavery Senator from Massachusetts, was beaten with a cane by Representative Preston Brooks on the Senate floor until he lost consciousness. (A few days earlier, Sumner had insulted Democratic senators Stephen Douglas and Andrew Butler in his "Crime Against Kansas" speech; Brooks was a representative from Butler’s state of South Carolina.)

In response to those events, Brown led a group of abolitionists into a pro-slavery settlement by the Pottawatomie Creek on the night of May 24. On Brown’s orders, five slavery sympathizers were forced out of their houses and killed with broadswords.

Newspapers across the country denounced the attack—and John Brown in particular. But that didn't dissuade him: Before his final departure from Kansas in 1859, Brown participated in many other battles across the region. He lost a son, Frederick Brown, in the fighting.

7. John Brown led a party of liberated slaves all the way from Missouri to Michigan.

In December 1858, John Brown crossed the Kansas border and entered the slave state of Missouri. Once there, he and his allies freed 11 slaves and led them all the way to Detroit, Michigan, covering a distance of more than 1000 miles. (One of the liberated women gave birth en route.) Brown’s men had killed a slaveholder during their Missouri raid, so President James Buchanan put a $250 bounty on the famed abolitionist. That didn’t stop Brown, who got to watch the people he’d helped free board a ferry and slip away into Canada.

8. John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry was meant to instigate a nationwide slave uprising.

On October 16, 1859, Brown and 18 men—including five African Americans—seized control of a U.S. armory in the Jefferson County, Virginia (today part of West Virginia) town of Harpers Ferry. The facility had around 100,000 weapons stockpiled there by the late 1850s. Brown hoped his actions would inspire a large-scale slave rebellion, with enslaved peoples rushing to collect free guns, but the insurrection never came.

9. Robert E. Lee played a part in John Brown’s arrest.

Artist Thomas Hovenden depicts John Brown after his capture.
Artist Thomas Hovenden depicts John Brown after his capture.
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

Shortly after Brown took Harpers Ferry, the area was surrounded by local militias. On the orders of President Buchanan, Brevet Colonel Robert E. Lee entered the fray with a detachment of U.S. Marines. The combined might of regional and federal forces proved too much for Brown, who was captured in the Harpers Ferry engine house on October 18, 1859. Ten of Brown's men died, including two more of his sons.

10. John Brown was put on trial a week after his capture.

After his capture, Brown—along with Aaron Stevens, Edwin Coppoc, Shields Green, and John Copeland—was put on trial. When asked if the defendants had counsel, Brown responded:

"Virginians, I did not ask for any quarter at the time I was taken. I did not ask to have my life spared. The Governor of the State of Virginia tendered me his assurance that I should have a fair trial: but, under no circumstances whatever will I be able to have a fair trial. If you seek my blood, you can have it at any moment, without this mockery of a trial. I have had no counsel: I have not been able to advise with anyone ... I am ready for my fate. I do not ask a trial. I beg for no mockery of a trial—no insult—nothing but that which conscience gives, or cowardice would drive you to practice. I ask again to be excused from the mockery of a trial."

Brown would go on to plead not guilty. Just days later, he was found “guilty of treason, and conspiring and advising with slaves and others to rebel, and murder in the first degree” and was sentenced to hang.

11. John Brown made a grim prophecy on the morning of his death.

On the morning of December 2, 1859, Brown passed his jailor a note that read, “I … am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away, but with blood.” He was hanged later that day.

12. Victor Hugo defended John Brown.

Victor Hugo—the author of Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, who was also an abolitionist—penned an open letter on John Brown’s behalf in 1859. Desperate to see him pardoned, Hugo wrote, “I fall on my knees, weeping before the great starry banner of the New World … I implore the illustrious American Republic, sister of the French Republic, to see to the safety of the universal moral law, to save John Brown.” Hugo’s appeals were of no use. The letter was dated December 2—the day Brown was hanged.

13. Abraham Lincoln commented on John Brown's death.

Abraham Lincoln, who was then in Kansas, said, “Old John Brown has been executed for treason against a State. We cannot object, even though he agreed with us in thinking slavery wrong. That cannot excuse violence, bloodshed and treason. It could avail him nothing that he might think himself right.”

14. John Brown was buried in North Elba, New York.

John Brown's gravesite in New York
John Brown's gravesite in New York.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In 1849, Brown had purchased 244 acres of property from Gerrit Smith, a wealthy abolitionist, in North Elba, New York. The property was near Timbuctoo, a 120,000-acre settlement that Smith had started in 1846 to give African American families the property they needed in order to vote (at that time, state law required black residents to own $250 worth of property to cast a vote). Brown had promised Smith that he would assist his new neighbors in cultivating the mountainous terrain.

When Brown was executed, his family interred the body at their North Elba farm—which is now a New York State Historic Site.

15. The tribute song "John Brown's Body" shares its melody with “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

It didn’t take long for Brown to become a martyr. Early in the 1860s, the basic melody of “Say Brothers Will You Meet Us,” a popular camp hymn, was fitted with new lyrics about the slain abolitionist. Titled “John Brown’s Body,” the song spread like wildfire in the north—despite having some lines that were deemed unsavory. Julia Ward Howe took the melody and gave it yet another set of lyrics. Thus was born “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” a Union marching anthem that's still widely known today.

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