In Holiday Guide

Low-cost, heartfelt gifts are just a few dozen folds away.

Good, affordable gifts require thoughtfulness

You don't have to go Scrooge just because you're hurting for cash this holiday season. Instead, make "necessity is the mother of invention" your December mantra and pull together gifts that are inexpensive but personalized.

Start by making a list of everyone you want to give a gift. Next to their name, write their interests or inside jokes between the two of you. Once you have done this for everyone on your list, start at the top and start thinking of thoughtful, affordable ways you can ho-ho-honor these special folks.

For example, you and a friend had a great time earlier this year at a Mexican restaurant. You could give him or her a bag of El Rey lemon chips, a jar of El Rey salsa and an IOU for a margarita at the bar / restaurant where the fun took place. Kapish?

Keeping notes throughout the year is helpful, too. If you notice a friend likes a particular food item, note it. Let's say it's hot sauce. You can put together a collection of hot sauces in a basket for very little dinero. Is your friend a gum chewer? Pick out 10 packs of different packs of gum and toss 'em in a box or bag.

Otherwise, make a large batch of cookies and divide them into tins for a tasty, from-the-heart gift. But give a little thought to the recipe and consider making a more unique type of -- or a twist on -- the usual cookie. How about sugar cookies, but instead of using classic Christmassy cutters, use Halloween skulls decorated in reds and greens? How about a big batch of simple star-shaped cookies?

Rosettes -- crunchy, deep fried, flower-shaped cookies sprinkled with powdered sugar -- are an interesting choice, too. Few people make them and everyone seems to like these Norwegian classics. You will need special rosette irons, but they are relatively cheap to buy.

And don't underestimate the giving power of a mix CD. Yes, it has been done and done again (and yet again), but it's a great way to sample new or rediscover old music. Plus, it's a gift that reflects your personality, your tastes and your emotions. Some people have a theme for their holiday mixes or they pick songs released exclusively from this year or they just load it up with a bunch of tunes that strike their fancy in the moment.

On the subject of oldie-but-goodie cheap gifts, don't forget about the good ol' homemade gift certificates or time promise notes. If you have a "real" skill like massage therapy, these gift certificates translate into monetary value, but offering your time has value, too. Offer to babysit your friends kids on a Saturday night or invite him or her over for a meal featuring one of their favorite foods.

Low-dollar gift cards are a nice gesture, too. Five bucks at Alterra or Stone Creek or Anodyne spreads the holiday cheer and is a nice surprise in the wallet when January rolls around and holiday-bloated credit card bills come due. Ora few dollars for a gift card from a bagel shop works, too. Especially if you put it inside a handmade card or folded inside a piece of paper with a personalized message.

If you have the time and the patience, origami lends itself to a slew of low dollar, high value gift options. (YouTube has loads of how-to videos for origamy.) For just a few dollars and a few (hundred) paper folds, you can give cool mobiles (use real sticks), "crane chains," holiday stars, paper flowers, interesting boxes of all sizes and more.

And of course, there are endless handmade gift options, from knitted goodies for the yarn inclined to homemade beer or Bailey's. Usually, making gifts is a more affordable alternative to buying gifts, so considering going crafty. Anyone, yes anyone, can do it.

The bottom line on frugal gift giving is thoughtfulness. When the gift is truly personalized, the amount spent doesn't really matter.


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