Shopping for Holidays: Tips for Buying Gifts on a budget

Holidays on a budget can be lots of fun — with these inexpensive, creative and personal gifts.

Holiday Shopping ListSome people say holidays on a budget are only half the fun.

I completely disagree.

While it’s certainly not more fun to have less money, giving personal and sincere gifts that cost you less than $15 can sometimes be easier than finding expensive presents that have as much meaning for both (s)he who gives and (s)he who receives.

Among my favorite holidays gifts ever came from my high school friend Sarah. At school in late November she made sure to have at least one picture taken (on her camera) of herself and a friend. In December, she simply developed the photos, bought each of her friends a 3 x 5 inch frame, and for probably less than $6 per person was able to give each of her close friends a framed photo I’m sure we all still have.

Frames of all kinds can turn almost any souvenir of a memorable experience into a personal present. If you attended a concert, play or ballgame with a friend and still have the program, a 5 x 7 or 8 x 10 inch frame (basic wood and silver-plate styles are almost always less than $10) can make the paper keepsake permanent. Ticket stubs rubber-cemented onto a simple cut of background paper can look phenomenal in a small frame, as can a collage of words and images that have meaning for you and your friend.

If your friends are the types of people who would rather collect souvenirs than display them, you could decorate wood boxes for them to hold their keepsakes in. Unfinished wood boxes are available at any craft store or comprehensive stationery store for $3 to $10, depending on the size of the box. Paint, brushes, stencils and protective lacquers are sold at craft and art stores, and a whole set of supplies shouldn’t cost more than $10. (Decorating boxes is most cost effective if you plan to do a few using the same materials.)

I personally like to eat more than I like to cook, so I always appreciate some baking done on my behalf. If you have time and a kitchen, for about $1.50 per dozen you could bake some ginger cookies or cappuccino brownies. Add another dollar per recipient for presentation (a foil tray or colored cellophane with ribbon) and you’ve still got a cost-conscious gift that any friend would enjoy and appreciate.

If you have tons of friends you feel compelled to “give to” this year, maybe you need to go even lower-budget. Ever tried making cards? This is probably only a good idea if you have both a lot of free time and a fair amount of artistic inclination. I have a friend who sends fantastic line-drawings on cotton rag paper each year, and my collection of these cards is among my most treasured possessions. She probably spends no more than $2 per person on paper, ink and postage combined. But her gifts are priceless.

Unfortunately, for many students finals period is the worst time of year to try to think about creating gifts. If you must buy, you can still do so affordably and without even spending time in stores.

Budget shopperIf you’re over 21, and you have at least 12 friends you would otherwise need to shop for, why not buy a case of wine for around $60? You’ll save money buying in bulk, you’ll save time by making just one shopping trip, and all you need to do for wrapping is grab a roll of ribbon — very simple, sophisticated and adult. Online you can buy French Merlot for as little as $4 per bottle.

Online shopping can be great if you’re chained to your computer while you churn out term papers. My online shopping list this year includes a Lands’ End polartec scarf, classic games like Dominoes and Mancala and candles from the Yankee Candle Company.

I also plan to give my friends some books, because that means I get to hang out in bookstores (thereby avoiding the most egregious examples of holiday consumption madness) while I shop. Antique stores sell some fantastic old volumes, and many are under $10 (price depends on rarity and condition of the book). Book outlets like Publisher’s Warehouse sell perfectly good unused books for drastically slashed prices. These are bad places to shop if you’re looking for specific or recently-published books, but they are great if you just want to surprise your friends with random volumes that complement their interests.

I’m looking to give a friend a toaster ($11.98 at Sears) this year because I’m enchanted by mine. Bagel-width slots, eight toasting settings and all the breakfast I can eat. Bliss, every day.

One last gift suggestion: if you broke something that belonged to a friend, this is the time of year to replace it gracefully. You’ll surely be forgiven.

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