LA Times 10/31/08 - LA Times
Pennywise: Tips for gift-giving on the cheap

Even with stock portfolios and the housing market in shambles, people are reluctant to give up gifting during the holidays. How can you keep up the holiday spirit while sticking to a budget? Some tips:

Keep a small notebook with details about friends and family so you can pick out gifts for them whenever you pass a clearance aisle or a sale rack.

Stores are packed this time of year with buy-one-get-one-free offers and seasonal sales. Take advantage of them to stock up on gifts. Then create a gift closet filled with your loot.

If your credit card has a rewards-points program, check how many you've earned. Sometimes you can redeem them for gift certificates or magazine subscriptions that you can give as gifts. If you have your own gift cards, try to exchange them for cash to buy presents.

Give gifts as a group, or for a group. Pitch in on a season pass to an amusement park to be split among all your friends, or join your siblings in sending your parents to a nice restaurant.

Make a personal coupon book with certificates that can be redeemed for free baby-sitting, car washes, a home-cooked meal or yard work.

A secondhand, “gently used” gift can be just as valuable as a new present. Give antiques or family heirlooms to younger generations, or visit garage sales for steep discounts on everything from books and DVDs to clothes.

At consignment stores or thrift shops, or even businesses like Play It Again Sports, you can trade in items you no longer need for cash or store credit while picking up good deals.

If you’re really up against the wall, trawl sites like Freecycle or Craiglist for items that people are giving away. Something might be a good fit for a buddy or relative.

Looking for good deals online? Try sites like, and, which compile coupons, discounts and other bargains around the Internet.

Finally, make this the year to discover your inner craftsman and send out a slew of homemade and handmade gifts. Some ideas:

Make care packages for college students and baskets with office supplies for work pals.

Bake some holiday-themed cookies, then put them in decorative tins from a discount store. Or make bath oils and salts or potpourri. Check the Internet for recipes.

Compile a basket for coffee lovers by throwing together ground coffees, half and half and mugs. Know a pasta aficionado? How about a basket with recipes, Parmesan cheese, strainers, pastas and sauces?

Put together a scrapbook with photos.

Rather than shell out $5 for an expensive card, make your own.

Dollar stores are good bets for cheap wrapping paper and gift bags.