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Gifts :Cheaper, Better, Faster- Tips and Tricks to Save You Time and Money Every Day

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Basket—blueberry theme
Fill a blue basket with a variety of blueberry products such as jam, muffin and
pancake mix, syrup, blueberry-scented candle, bath salts, room freshener, and
blue notepaper. Or make strawberry, lavender, peppermint, or other flavored
Basket—for someone who seems to have everything
Don’t know what to give someone—especially a senior citizen—who seems to
have everything they need and then some? Put together a basket filled with
consumable goodies such as teas, coffees, cookies and biscuits, chocolates, and
special baked and canned delicacies. Think about enclosing some snack foods
unavailable at most local grocery stores. These are especially appreciated.
Basket—for the breakfast lover
Fill a basket with homemade jelly, pancake mix, muffin mix, biscuit cutter,
honey, cinnamon sugar, mugs, gourmet coffee, crepe pan, favorite recipes, and
Basket—for the kitchen gourmet
Fill a basket with fresh herbs tied in a bundle, fresh spices, unique kitchen tools,
recipe cards, and jars of gourmet mustards and salsas.
Basket—for the letter writer
Fill a basket with an assortment of greeting cards, stamped postcards, stationery,
postage stamps, pens, pencils, return address labels, and a small calendar with
clever notations of significant dates.
Basket—for the mother of preschoolers
Fill a basket with activities (books and games) for the kids, coping manuals,
babysitting coupons for a night or weekend away from it all, bubble bath liquid,
and romantic novels.
Basket—for a picnic lover
Fill a basket with a tablecloth, napkins, plastic plates, utensils, wineglasses,
corkscrew, candleholders, candles, salt-and pepper shakers, plastic bags, and bug
Basket—for a pizza lover
Fill a basket with checkered napkins, a pizza stone, pizza recipes, special flour,
spices, a jar of pizza sauce, cheese, and a pizza cutter.
Bistro tray—from a cookie sheet
To turn a plain cookie sheet into a fancy bistro tray, glue on canceled foreign
stamps and/or domestic commemorative stamps. Add some unique food labels
or vintage recipe cards, if you can find them. Cover the entire tray, then apply
several coats of polyurethane varnish.
Books—new and used
Books make great gifts. But don’t limit yourself to shopping in the big bookstore
chains. Secondhand bookstores are less expensive and often have out-of-print
titles that can’t be found in the big chains. Also, these stores may sell old prints
or maps that you could frame for your family members or friends.
Boxes—as part of the gift
Cover gift boxes with appliqués, needlework, quilts, or embroidery with the
recipient’s name. These kinds of containers are especially appreciated because
they become part of the gift itself. Wrap the box and the lid separately, and the
gift box becomes an heirloom to be cherished for years to come.
Breakfast in bed
Purchase or find a wicker bed tray or other container to fill with fixings for
breakfast in bed—muffin mix, jams or jellies, coffee beans, and a copy of a
newspaper like the New York Times.
Calendar—with family photos
To make a calendar with special meaning for a family member, start with a fun
wall calendar from your local bank or another business. Select twelve family
photos, preferably ones commemorating such special occasions as birthdays, a
christening, or wedding. Make a color photocopy of each photo, the same size as
the illustrations on the calendar. Paste the photos on the month in which the
pictured occasion took place.
Calendar—with kids’ artwork
For all parents who collect hundreds of artwork papers every school year and
hate to throw them out, here’s an excellent gift suggestion: Select twelve of the
most precious pieces of your child’s artwork. You can either create your own
calendars by making color photocopies and putting together calendars, or
scanning the artwork and using websites like or This really makes a practical gift that is even more special
because of its sentiment. Grandparents, godparents, aunts, and uncles are always
delighted; the child is ecstatic with the gift, and the cost is minimal. Finish off
the calendar by attaching the child’s photograph and autograph.
Cards sent to hospitals
You never know for sure when someone will be going home from the hospital.
So if you send get-well cards to friends and family members who are
hospitalized, instead of placing your return address in the upper left-hand corner,
write the patient’s home address there. Then if the card must be returned to
sender from the hospital, the patient will still get it.
Chauffer or errand service
Set aside 2 hours a week to serve as chauffeur, escort, or errand runner for a
special person who doesn’t drive or doesn’t have time to get to the library,
grocery store, pharmacy, dry cleaner, post office.
Christmas—Angel Tree program
Participate in an Angel Tree program at a local mall or church. Many charitable
organizations decorate a tree with slips of paper, each listing the name, age, sex,
and wish list of an underprivileged child. You select a name, purchase the gift,
and bring it back to the tree to be distributed in time for Christmas.
Christmas—cards as gifts
Make your holiday card the gift. Include a family picture, poem, story, original
song, or painting—anything of lasting significance.
Christmas—cookie-of-the-month club
Start your own Cookie-of-the-Month club (or Quarter for the less ambitious).
Bake one dozen cookies to include in the holiday gift, along with a card
announcing that your recipient will receive a dozen each month all year long.
This can be one of those gifts that’s easy to give but more difficult when it
comes to following through, so give cautiously.
Christmas—easy bath salts for kids to make
Kids can make bath salts as presents for a favorite teacher, a grandparent, or
friend. Mix 3 cups Epsom salts, 1 tablespoon glycerin (from the drugstore), a
few drops of food coloring, and a bit of cologne for scent. Put the salts in a
sealed container, such as a small jar with a screw top, and paint a holiday
message on the lid.
Christmas—gift tags from Christmas cards
Use Christmas cards from previous years to make gift tags. One side has the
design; the other side is blank. The same idea works nicely for children’s
birthday gift tags, using greeting cards recycled from previous occasions.
Christmas—inexpensive wrapping paper
Instead of buying expensive holiday wrapping paper, purchase a large roll of
white butcher paper and a bolt of red plaid ribbon from a florist supply store.
Christmas—multiple gifts from one candy recipe batch
A single recipe can be divided into several gifts. Simply arrange pieces of fudge
or toffee on pretty Christmas plates (paper is fine), and wrap them in plastic
wrap topped off with a pretty ribbon or embellishment.
Christmas—Santa Sacks
Make a Santa Sack for each of your children, or all members of the family for
that matter. Sew together two large panels of Christmas fabric (approximately 1
yard each) on three sides, add a drawstring to the top, and then attach a name
tag. Drop in the gifts from Santa, and place the sack under the tree. You can
explain that the elves are much too tired for wrapping after making all those
toys. These Santa Sacks can be reused every year, which will create a new
family tradition.
Claim check—for large or late items
If the gift is too cumbersome to wrap, didn’t show up in time, or didn’t quite get
finished, wrap a smaller box containing some kind of clue about the gift to come,
plus a claim check for redeeming it.
Coupons—IOU gifts
IOU gifts are often the most valuable and appreciated of all. Make up a coupon
that is redeemable for something you do well, and tuck it inside a meaningful
card. Examples: shuttle service to and from an airport, babysitting the kids so
Mom and Dad can have a day of fun, a day of general repair. Give what you do
best, and you will have given the best gift of all.
Coupons—IOU gifts and more suggestions
Here are some IOU gift suggestions . . . but the possibilities are endless!
• Two hours of silver polishing
• Six 1-hour computer lessons (great for a teen to give to a parent or
• The making and delivery of a dessert the next time you have company
(24-hour notice, please)
• One pair of mittens—you pick the yarn
• One complete car wash, wax, and thorough cleaning inside and out
• Total care and appropriate spoiling of your children for a whole weekend
so you can get away
• One I’ll-Teach-for-a-Day coupon to a homeschool mom, with a lesson
centered around your special talent or expertise
Coupons—organized as gifts
Don’t know what to do with all the coupons you can’t use? Clip neatly and
categorize them with gifts in mind. For instance, for the next baby shower, make
up a clever holder full of coupons for diapers, baby food, and other items for the
expectant mom. Provide a great coupon assortment for the newly married couple
to assist them in stocking their pantry. Have a friend or relative with a pet?
Enclose some good coupons for pet food or supplies in their next birthday card.
Always make sure the coupons haven’t expired.
Decorating gifts—candy topper
Tie a couple of pieces of a child’s favorite candy (wrapped in colored plastic
wrap) to the outside of a gift.
Decorating gifts—sponge painting
Snip sponges into fun shapes, then dab in poster paint and press in a decorative
pattern on the insides of those brown paper grocery bags, which you’ve cut open
to use as wrapping paper. This also works well for decorating cards and
Donate—old eyeglasses
Your old eyeglasses will put the world in focus for a person living in a
developing country. Don’t throw away someone’s chance for a clearer tomorrow.
Contact a local club to find a drop-off point. Or you can ship eyeglasses to Lions
Clubs International Headquarters, 300 West 22nd Street, Oak Brook, IL 60523.
Read more about the need for eyeglasses at
Donate—to food banks
When a local merchant has a two-for-one special on canned or other
nonperishable foods you intend to purchase, keep one of the items for yourself
and give the free one to a food bank or charitable organization. Passing this kind
of savings to someone else in need is an effective way you can give back even if
you are on a limited income.
Flowers—forcing narcissus paperwhites bulbs
Force bulbs so you can give a beautiful blooming plant of narcissus paperwhites.
Fill a shallow container with rocks or decorative pebbles and add water until it
reaches just below the surface. Set the bulbs on the rocks, adding more to hold
the bulbs upright. Set the container next to a window away from direct heat. As
the leaves appear, rotate the container so the bulbs will grow evenly. The flowers
will bloom in 4 to 6 weeks and will last 2 weeks at room temperature. (The bulbs
can’t be repotted.)
Flowers—order directly and locally
Before you call a local florist or a national floral-delivery company to arrange
for an out-of-area delivery, think about this: These services end up involving all
kinds of middlemen, which means extra fees and surcharges for phone calls and
delivery. They usually have minimums of about $40, and you’re never sure what
your recipient will get because you don’t speak with the person who will actually
create the arrangement. You can skip past all of these extra people by making
one call to a florist in the neighborhood where your recipient lives. You’ll get
three times the bouquet and service for the money by dealing directly.
Food—presented in special containers
Present your edibles in special containers: an interesting bottle, a nostalgic candy
box, a pretty jar.
Food—repackaged in unique containers
Even if you don’t cook or bake, you can still give wonderful, inexpensive gifts
of food. Buy quantities of nuts, fancy cookies, fresh coffee blends, candies, and
dried fruits. Repackage these into small, unique containers you’ve been
collecting all year.
Food—snacks in inexpensive containers
Snack foods can be presented in a small tin or Chinese take-out container. If you
don’t tell, no one will have to know just how easy and inexpensive these
delicious gifts really are.
Food—sweets from your kitchen
• Cinnamon crunch. Ingredients: 1⁄3 cup granulated white sugar, 1¼
teaspoon cinnamon, ¼ cup (4 tablespoons) butter or margarine, 4 cups Corn
Chex, Rice Chex, or Crispix cereal or 3 cups bran or Wheat Chex. Mix
sugar and cinnamon, and set aside. Melt butter or margarine in large skillet.
Add cereal and mix well. Heat over medium heat, stirring until coated (5 to
6 minutes). Sprinkle half of the sugar mixture over the cereal, and continue
stirring until well coated. Sprinkle with remaining sugar mixture and heat
several more minutes. Spread on a layer of paper towels to cool. Yield: 3 to
4 cups. This recipe multiplies well if you have a large enough skillet.
• Holiday fudge. Combine in a large mixing bowl and set aside: 1 6-ounce
package semisweet chocolate morsels, 1 cup chopped walnuts, 1 teaspoon
vanilla, ½ cup (1 stick) butter or margarine. Combine in a saucepan: 12
large marshmallows, 2 cups granulated sugar, 1 6-ounce can evaporated
milk. Bring ingredients in saucepan to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil
exactly 6 minutes (time this carefully) and remove from stove. Immediately
pour this hot mixture over ingredients in the bowl. Stir to combine, and then
beat by hand for exactly 20 minutes. (I cheat and use my electric mixer at
the lowest setting.) Pour into a lightly buttered 8-inch square glass dish.
Sprinkle a few ground nuts on top and refrigerate to harden. Cut into
• Homemade English toffee. Ingredients: 2 cups sliced almonds, 2 cups
milk chocolate morsels, 1 cup butter chilled and cut into bits, 1½ cups light
brown sugar, firmly packed. Preheat oven to 325ºF. Spread almonds on
baking sheet and toast in preheated oven, stirring occasionally until lightly
browned, about 5 minutes. Allow to cool (and I mean very cool—even cold
so the nuts don’t melt the chocolate). Chop the chocolate morsels by hand
or in a food processor, pulsing on and off until they are coarse. Transfer to a
medium-size mixing bowl. In the same processor bowl, coarsely chop the
toasted almonds. Add to chocolate morsels. Toss to combine. Spread half of
mixture evenly over bottom of a well-greased 13-by 9-inch baking pan. In a
heavy medium saucepan, bring butter and brown sugar to a boil, stirring
constantly over medium heat. Cook 5 to 7 minutes, or until syrup is light
golden-brown and just reaches the hard-crack stage (300ºF on a candy
thermometer). At that point, a bit of syrup when dropped into a bowl of ice
water should separate into hard, brittle threads. Pour hot syrup evenly over
nut mixture. Top with remaining nut mixture, smoothing and pressing down
gently with a spatula. Refrigerate until toffee is set and chocolate is firm,
about 1½ hours. Cut into squares or break into irregularly shaped pieces.
Store in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
Yield: 20 large pieces.
Food—with your own label
Personalize your food gift with your own label: Millie’s Chutney or Minerva’s
Cookies sounds very special.
Food—with your own label and more
Personalize food gifts with your own decorated label, for example, “Marilyn’s
Chutney” or “Cathy’s Cookies.” Attach your recipe and other instructions to the
gift with ribbon, raffia, or tasseled cord. Add a spoon or spreader for chutneys or
flavored butters.
Gadgets and widgets—from hardware and home improvement
Check out hardware and home-improvement stores for all kinds of gadgets and
widgets. For the home chef try an 18-inch length of 17⁄8-inch wooden dowel for
a professional-style rolling pin, a large unglazed terra-cotta tile for a pizza and
baking stone, and a new 1½-inch paintbrush for a pastry brush. A collection of
screws, cup hooks, small tools, and so on all packed in a small toolbox is perfect
for the homeowner. Stroll the aisles and you’ll get all kinds of great ideas,
including unusual wrapping materials such as wire and painter’s tape. Let your
mind wander. You’ll be quite a hit.
Gift for a college student—product refunds
When you have everything you need to qualify for a product refund or rebate,
fill out the coupon with the name and address of your favorite college student.
The refund check will arrive in the student’s mailbox, made payable to him or
her. Who doesn’t love a little surprise now and again?
Gift for a college student or single—laundry time
Make or purchase an oversize laundry bag with the recipient’s name on the front.
Fill with detergent, fabric softener, bleach, and a roll of quarters. Add a couple of
magazines for the laundry-room wait. Great for a college student or single.
Gift for a garden or plant lover—watering can
Make a beautiful watering can for a plant or garden lover on your gift list. Either
buy a new watering can or give an old one a face-lift. You’ll need some selfadhesive-
backed shelf paper or covering and a pair of scissors. Cut the covering
into a strip to wrap around the handle, another for the spout, then larger pieces
for the can itself. Peel away the backing and carefully wrap the can completely.
The end result: a watering can that’s pretty enough to be used as a vase.
Gift for the homebound—birdbath
Brighten the life of a person who’s confined to home. Set a low, shallow pedestal
birdbath near a window. Plant a ring of flowers around the base, and change it
seasonally. In winter, a wreath of holly with red berries would be like a living
Christmas card. Give the new bird-watcher a wild-bird guide, notebook, and pen
for recording sightings.
Gift for the homebound—DVDs
When a friend or family member is recuperating from an extensive illness, more
flowers and balloons may not truly reflect your concern. Instead, rent several
DVDs to cheer the patient. Just don’t forget to return them in a day or two.
Gift for a hostess—herb bouquet or special herb salad dressing
A bunch of herbs tied together with a ribbon makes a welcome gift for any
hostess. Or fill a slender bottle with cider vinegar and your favorite herbs. In a
few weeks you’ll have a flavored vinegar to enhance anyone’s salad dressings or
Gift for a kid—beginner stamp collector kits
The United States Postal Service offers beginner stamp-collector kits for
children. They are very inexpensive and geared for the young philatelist. Visit
your local post office or go to and click on “Shop” for more
Gift for a kid—take your pick!
• Give books, books on tape, and downloadable books, which are always
welcome gifts for kids of all ages. Ask a librarian or an elementary school
teacher for recommendations.
• Give a unique book-of-the-month. Either write and design the book
yourself or buy an inexpensive one that reflects the appropriate holiday or
season or child’s interest.
• Cover a shoe box with pretty wrapping paper inside and out for a young
girl who loves to play dress-up. Fill it with inexpensive makeup and
costume jewelry.
• Find an old suitcase and fill it with secondhand dress-up clothes such as
shawls, dresses, hats of all kinds, veils, pocketbooks, and high heels.
• Make a homemade balance beam with proper supports for an aspiring
gymnast. Make sure you start with sturdy material and sand and finish the
surface so it is very smooth.
• Give a small child an appliance box with doors and windows cut out and
decorated to look like a house, castle, office, or school. This idea is in
accordance with the rule that says the bigger and more expensive the toy,
the more likely the child will want to play with the box it came in.
• Start a child on a life of savings with a piggy bank and starter money.
• Make a simplified map of the town in which the child lives. Highlight the
location of significant landmarks: child’s school, place of worship, parents’
workplaces, the zoo, and library.
• Buy or make a bird feeder with a supply of birdseed.
• Piggyback on a proven hit with coupons. Kids love to create little books
with “coupons” in them for their siblings, good for things like one night’s
dish washing or a kiss and hug. Parents can give reverse coupons to their
kids also—good for exemptions from making their beds, setting the table,
and so on.
• Purchase a ticket to a favorite sporting event or for a ride on a real train
(accompanied by an adult, of course).
• Give an embroidery piece, thread, needles, and hoop, and a certificate for
lessons from the giver.
• Buy a magazine subscription.
• Make a one-of-a-kind puzzle. Mount an enlarged photo of yourself or
some family occasion onto a piece of foam board (available at stationery or
art supply store). Cover the photo with a piece of tracing paper and lightly
draw a jigsaw pattern, making as many or few pieces as would be
appropriate for the age of the recipient. Using a utility knife, carefully cut
through the tissue paper, photo, and board along the puzzle lines. Separate
the pieces and place in a gift box.
• Make a preschooler puzzle. Lay a strip of masking tape on a table, sticky
side up. Press about 10 Popsicle sticks (or wooden tongue depressors) side
by side, evenly across the tape. Draw a picture and write the child’s name
on the sticks. Then remove the tape and shuffle the sticks to make a great
• Surprise a budding artist with an artist’s box, starting with a clear storage
box (12 quarts is a good size). Write the child’s name on it and fill it with
plain white paper, construction paper, crayons, colored pencils, glue, tape, a
ruler, plastic stencils, and a pencil sharpener.
• If parents approve, help a child adopt a kitten or puppy from the local
animal shelter. Include the necessary equipment, such as a food dish, litter
box and litter, toy, and a collar.
• Begin a collection of Christmas tree ornaments for a child. Then add to it
every year.
Gift for a mom—a dinner each month
Offer a piping hot and ready-to-eat casserole to an overworked mom once a
month. Ask her to specify her busiest evening.
Gift for a new mom—beauty makeover and babysitting
Make an appointment for a beauty makeover for a new mother (haircut, facial,
and manicure) at a local beauty college. Volunteer to take care of the baby.
Gift for a new neighbor—welcome map
When newcomers arrive in your neighborhood, welcome them with a useful gift:
a neighborhood map. Include such hot spots as the dry cleaner, schools,
churches, grocery stores, and so on. It’s helpful to see the location of places in
relation to the others.
Gift for a parent—overnight child care
Offer to keep children overnight once a month or once a quarter to give parents a
break. Arrange to pick them up midafternoon so their parents can prepare for the
evening together.
Gift for a senior—take your pick!
• Give date-a-month coupons to elderly parents. A man setting aside time to
spend with his mother or an adult daughter taking her dad out once a month
is a lovely gesture. Some months your evening together might include a
movie, other times just dinner and time to talk and listen.
• Donate your services as chauffeur to an otherwise homebound senior or
offer to do their food or gift shopping.
• Take Grandma or Grandpa on a “movie date” at their house. Rent a movie
or take one out of the library. Take along drinks and popcorn. Great gift for
a teen to give.
• Give a book on CD to a senior citizen whose eyes are failing. Wrap with a
small headset and CD player. Lend them your CDs and drive them to the
library for more.
• Present a pretty box with a variety of different-occasion greeting cards, a
pen, and a roll of stamps for someone who is housebound.
• Make a photo album for grandparents, filled with pictures of baby’s
typical day—morning bath, breakfast, taking a walk, playing, greeting
Daddy, being rocked to sleep. Update photos throughout the year as baby
grows and the days are more eventful. A movie with baby as the star is also
a terrific gift.
Gift for a teacher—photo and story
Help your child create a “teacher feature” for a Christmas or end-of-the-year gift.
Paste a drawing or a photo of the teacher on a large sheet of paper, then have the
child write a lively newspaper-type action story about the teacher, complete with
photo caption.
Gift for a teenager—take your pick!
• Create Night-on-the-Town certificates for fast food, a movie, and ice
cream or coffee.
• Make an appointment for a beauty makeover at a local beauty college.
Prices are typically inexpensive and all work done by students is highly
supervised. Stick with temporary work such as a hairstyle, manicure,
pedicure, and facial and stay away from a haircut, perm, and hair color.
• Give a calligraphy pen and instruction book.
• Put together an address book with names, phone numbers, addresses,
birthdays, and anniversary dates of family and friends.
• Get parental permission first, then give a pretty drawstring pouch to the
soon-to-be-teen filled with lip gloss, clear nail polish, bubble bath liquid,
dusting powder, and light scent.
Gift for a woman—emergency workplace kit
Give a working woman’s emergency kit: a small Swiss Army knife, a good lint
roller (a pet-hair remover from a pet store is the best bargain), an assortment of
safety pins, needles, thread, Kiwi Shine Wipes (instant shoe shines), double-stick
tape to fix hems in a hurry, small scissors, a glue stick (better than clear nail
polish for arresting a hosiery run), antistatic spray, several pencil erasers (the
tiny eraser end from a pencil makes a dandy temporary replacement for the back
piece of a pierced earring). Put everything in a small, compact container such as
a pretty box or fabric bag.
Gift for the whole family—take your pick!
• Subscription to the family’s hometown newspaper
• Two decks of cards and a book of card games
• The hottest new board game on the market
• A 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle
• Croquet set
• Badminton set
• Gift certificate to a local pizza parlor
• Subscription to a magazine that reflects the family’s interests—travel or
skiing—or to National Geographic, Smithsonian, Air and Space.
• Food dehydrator
• Ice cream maker
• Binoculars
• Charitable donation made in the name of the family
• DVD movie
• Computer game
• Bird feeder and supply of birdseed
Gift for you and your spouse—“everything” gift
Buy an “everything” present for the two of you that covers the year’s worth of
gifts (birthday, anniversary, Christmas, and so on). Not only does this free your
time, but you’re not purchasing items you neither need nor want just to be
buying a gift. And the fringe benefit? The money you’ll then have available at
Christmastime and throughout the year can be used to help those less fortunate,
pay down debt, or save for retirement, just to name a few opportunities.
Gift list—save with business card records
Avoid returning unwanted gifts (or pretending you like them) from your spouse
or immediate family members by keeping an ongoing record of the things you
would like, along with the specific details. Through the year as you see items of
particular interest, pick up the store’s business card and write the details on the
back of it: red cardigan sweater, brass buttons, wool blend, size 8, $49.98. These
cards serve as a practical gift list to make gift giving a positive experience for
both the giver and receiver.
Gift stash—for hurried and free gifting
Create a gift box in a closet or cupboard into which you can put any free samples
you receive, door prizes you win, and gifts you don’t like but somebody else
might. Always be on the lookout for things to add to your box. When you need a
present in a hurry or don’t have the cash to buy one, go directly to the gift box,
and chances are you’ll find just the right thing.
Perhaps you have something that a friend or relative has long admired and
enjoyed. If you’re tired of dusting it, give it as a gift for a special occasion. Be
careful though. Not everyone is sure to cherish your possessions the way you
think they should, so be confident you have a perfect match before you wrap up
that Ming vase or special possession.
Mug—drink mixes and a book
Fill a nice or comical mug with flavored coffee, tea, or hot chocolate mix. Wrap
it along with a suitable book.
Mug—with candy
A simple mug or teacup and saucer (either antique or new) can be a wonderful
gift when filled with special candies. Wrap in a piece of clear cellophane gift
paper gathered at the top and tied with a lavish bow.
Pet care
Offer to care for a pet during a vacation.
Photos—framed copies
Before spending a lot of money for enlargements and reprints of color
photographs, consider making color photocopies at your local stationery or
quick-print shop. For example, an 8-by 10-inch color copy enlargement costs
less than the price of a color-print enlargement. The paper is not as sturdy, but
once a photocopy is framed or mounted, it is very difficult to detect any
difference. Framed photos make great gifts.
Everyone has a box or two of old family photographs. For a special vintage
touch, choose a black-and-white photo that has a special meaning for the
recipient. You can frame it in its original form or have a photocopy enlargement
made at the quick-print shop. An inexpensive black or silver frame will turn this
treasure into an heirloom.
Foolproof recipes are always welcome gifts. Make a pretty little notebook and
copy (by hand or photocopy) twenty of your favorite recipes. Add a personal
note, if you like.
Recipe—favorite family dessert
Write down a favorite family dessert recipe and place it along with all the
required ingredients in an appropriate new baking or serving dish. Wrap
everything and top with a big bow.
Shipping and packaging—addressing
Enclose a piece of paper inside the box on which you’ve written the address of
the recipient and yours as the return. Use a waterproof marker if you write the
recipient’s name directly on the box. And the US Postal Service says address
labels should be legible from 30 inches away. That’s about an arm’s length.
Shipping and packaging—antistatic for Styrofoam “peanuts”
If you use Styrofoam “peanuts” as a packing cushion, first spritz them with an
antistatic spray.
Shipping and packaging—diapers for baby gift padding
If you need to send a fragile gift for the new baby who lives far away, pack the
breakable object in a box of disposable diapers. The soft padding will keep the
gift well protected, the packing material will be as usable as the gift, and you
won’t have to worry about finding a suitable box.
Shipping and packaging—mark it fragile
Mark “Fragile” in three different places on packages that contain breakables:
above the address, below the postage, and on the reverse side.
Shipping and packaging—padded envelopes
Make your own padded envelopes. Start with several layers of paper grocery
bags and cut to the size you need. Sew three sides of the bag on your sewing
machine using a zigzag or decorative stitch. Once stitched, trim close to the
stitching. Address, fill, and then sew the fourth side closed and trim to match.
You can make great-looking parcels in just minutes that will please your
recipient, and you’ll save a lot of money.
Shipping and packaging—paper tubes
Cut empty wrapping-paper tubes to line a box you are mailing. They cushion the
contents, but add little weight.
Shipping and packaging—plastic bags
Surround dishes, glassware, and other fragile items that you’re sending as gifts
with plastic air pillows by filling resealable plastic bags with air and sealing.
Shipping and packaging—recyclables
When you need to pad a package, recycle wherever possible. Instead of bubble
wrap and Styrofoam, use newspaper. If someone you know has a paper shredder,
ask for a bagful of shreddings. Or use stale air-popped (not buttered) popcorn
and include a note instructing the recipient to leave the popcorn out for the birds
or other wildlife.
Shopping to save—at art supply and stationery stores
Search art supply stores for stationery items (mine sells lovely writing papers by
the sheet, ounce, or pound—and matching envelopes), imported brushes ideal
for makeup, fine writing instruments at reasonable prices, photo albums, and all
kinds of wonderful portfolios. Chalk, crayons, pads of modeling clay, and
packets of construction paper make terrific gifts for kids who will always be
attracted to the simple things.
Shopping to save—at office supply stores
Search office supply stores for memo books, calendars, pens, and pencils. An
appreciated gift for anyone would be a nice box with a lid (or any other kind of
unique container, even a wastebasket) full of those items you need around the
house but can never seem to locate: colored paper clips, staples, clear tape,
labels, write-on-anything pen (Sharpie is the best), coin wrappers, index cards,
and yellow sticky notes, or any combination thereof. Great idea: yellow pads or
any kind of writing paper and a personalized rubber stamp. Rubber stamps are
fairly cheap and can be ordered from an office supply store.
Shopping to save—in unique places
Unique places for shopping for gifts include military surplus outlets, marine
supply stores, garden centers, health food stores, damaged-freight outlets,
restaurant supply stores, antique stores, and museum and gallery gift shops.
Shopping to save—on make-your-own stationery supplies
You can avoid spending if you get into the habit of making your own cards,
stationery, postcards, gift bags, and so on. You can purchase paper and envelopes
in bulk, then use the paper cutter at the local copy shop to cut it to the sizes you
need. With a few carefully chosen rubber stamps and colored markers, anyone
can make beautiful and unique cards and stationery for personal use or to give as
gifts. Use postcards whenever possible. This way you’ll not only save the cost of
the envelope, but you’ll save on postage too.
Subscription—large-print newspaper
A great gift for a senior or someone with impaired vision is a subscription to the
New York Times large-print edition. This edition is published weekly and
provides a summary of the week’s news. Cost is up to $3.30 per week,
depending on the method of shipping. To order go to and click on “Select a Subscription.”
Go to a magazine stand and select a magazine you know someone would enjoy,
maybe because of a hobby or a secret desire to sail or skydive. Wrap the current
copy of the magazine with a note saying, “Look forward to this all next year!”
Be sure to mail in the subscription card with a check.
Wood for sharing
Share a cord of firewood with a neighbor. Announce the gift in a card tucked
between several logs wrapped with a wide ribbon. If possible, stack the wood
between your properties.
Wrapping—box lids
If you use a plain-colored box, wrap only the lid. It saves paper and makes the
gift easier to open. If the box is not plain colored, wrap the box and lid
separately. It’s easier to open and allows the box to be reused.
Wrapping—construction paper decorating
Wrap a gift in plain white paper and decorate with curved shapes cut from red,
yellow, and blue scraps of construction paper or other colored paper. Use a glue
stick to attach them.
Wrapping—large baby shower gift
Wrap a large baby shower present in a crib sheet or baby blanket, and secure
with colorful diaper pins. Attach a rattle too.
Wrapping—organization, flower shipping boxes
Ask a nearby flower shop for their shipping boxes from long-stem roses. The
boxes are the perfect length to store wrapping paper rolls, and you will be
recycling boxes that usually get broken down and discarded.
Wrapping—organization, paper caddy
Store rolls of wrapping paper in the legs of old pantyhose. This will prevent your
paper from getting wrinkled and torn between uses, and you won’t run the risk of
ruining any of the paper by having to tape the rolls.
Wrapping—organization, paper-towel holder
Store rolls of tape and ribbon on a paper-towel holder.
Wrapping—paper tablecloth for oversize gifts
Don’t waste time and expensive wrapping paper trying to cover an oversize
package with regular-size wrapping paper. Instead, buy a colorful paper
tablecloth. It works great, and you’ll have enough paper to wrap a refrigerator—
depending of course on the size of the refrigerator—for just a couple of bucks.
Wrapping—paper, brown
Brown paper is not just for mailing packages. Dressed up with stickers, doilies,
fancy ribbon, and such, it’s a wonderfully inexpensive way to wrap gifts. You
can either purchase craft paper in a roll or recycle brown grocery bags. Cut them
open and lightly iron them on the nonprinted side. (A very light misting with
spray starch will help iron out stubborn wrinkles and folds.)
Wrapping—paper, cutting
A coupon-clipping tool works beautifully to cut wrapping paper quickly.
Wrapping—paper, kids’ artwork
Save your kids’ drawings and use them to wrap gifts. Tape several together if the
package is large. This will especially be a big hit with grandparents.
Wrapping—paper, matched with the gift and recipient
Find paper that’s appropriate for the gift or recipient. For example, wrap a
cookbook with pages from a beautiful food magazine or use sheet music for a
music lover’s package.
Wrapping—paper, removing creases and wrinkles
To remove creases from folded or wrinkled wrapping paper, lightly press them
out with your iron set on the lowest setting. Don’t steam the paper. For persistent
wrinkles, spray the wrong side lightly with spray starch. (Not recommended for
waxed or foil papers.)
Wrapping—ribbon alternatives
Visit a decorator fabric shop, upholstery supply store, or sewing supply store and
look for braids, cords, tiebacks, fringes, and tassels to use instead of ribbon. Bolt
ends are often sold as remnants at just a fraction of their retail price.
Wrapping—ribbon from paper
Cut strips of wrapping paper and curl it with the edge of a scissors blade the
same way you would curling ribbon. This requires a gentle touch so the paper
ribbon does not tear, but the final effect is really nice.
Wrapping—with garbage bag
If time is short or gift wrapping is especially difficult, use a white plastic garbage
bag (two, if they are too transparent) tied with a great big bow. With presents, as
with people, it’s what’s inside that counts!
Wrapping—with glue stick
Instead of using clear tape to wrap gifts, keep a glue stick handy for sealing
packages. Costs less, dries fast, and looks great for professional “no-tape” ends
and seams.
Wrapping—with handkerchief
Wrap odd-shaped small packages in a handkerchief.
Wrapping—with lunch bags
Purchase pastel and brightly colored paper lunch bags to decorate and use for
gift bags. Wrap the gift in tissue and place it in the bag. Fold the top of the bag
down and punch two holes through the layers. Thread a ribbon through the
holes, then tie a bow or add curly ribbon.
Wrapping—with scarf
Place a gift box diagonally on a square scarf and tie opposite corners together at
the top. Tie again with gold cord or ribbon.
Wrapping—with shoe boxes
Turn ordinary shoe boxes into colorful gift boxes. Use a utility knife to cut
simple designs like stars on the sides and top of the box. Paint the box with
brightly colored acrylic paint. Wrap the gift in tissue paper of a contrasting color,
and let it show through the cutouts.
Wrapping—with spray paint on carton
If the gift is really large, don’t waste yards and yards of pricey paper. Just spraypaint
the carton and add a bow.
Wrapping—with unique materials suited to the gift
Use a road map to wrap up a gift for the traveler. Wrap a woman’s present in a
piece of fabric or a pretty scarf. Tape together several weeks’ worth of
newspaper crossword puzzles for that crossword aficionado in your life. The
Sunday comics make great wrapping, especially for kids and teenagers.

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