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Shel Horowitz's Monthly Frugal Fun Tip

Frugal Gift Ideas

I know, I promised you I'd do cheap airfares this month. But I decided cheap gift-giving would be quite a bit more timely. Here, then, is the first half of the section on "Skinflint Gifts from The Penny-Pinching Hedonist: How to Live Like Royalty with a Peasant's Pocketbook (we'll save the second half for next December's column). A bit longer than usual, but if it saves you a hundred dollars or so this month, I trust you won't mind!

It's such a wonderful feeling to give a gift that really sings to the person who receives it -- just the right thing for just the right person. Gifts of love are always remembered long after gifts of money are spent and forgotten. And it's even more satisfying if you know it was a bargain as well.

There are thousands of choices for appropriate and inexpensive gifts, and all require a clear sense of what kind of person the recipient is. Here are a few idea starters.

Gift Baskets

You've seen commercial gift baskets -- what a laughable exercise in spendthriftery! Tiny little portions of awkward foods in a great big package, and at a great big price. But the idea of a gift assortment is solid, and it's easy to make your own customized one. A cool new idea I have seen is seasonal fruit baskets. These are not the cheapest, but quite nice for special occasions.

One of the nicest wedding presents we received was from a dear friend of mine, a single mother raising three kids on a very tight budget. She'd gotten some clean jars and filled them -- knowing my wife and I both love to cook -- with exotic spices. There were three different kinds of paprika, including one as strong as cayenne, a jar of mixed peppercorns, freshly ground curry -- we were in heaven!

We in turn gave another couple a gift of mace, saffron, tandoori powder, organic coffee beans, Belgian chocolate, and cashew fruit. Everything except the coffee and the cashew fruit was culled and repackaged from our own personal surplus. They spent a good fifteen minutes oohing, aahing, and sniffing while they fantasized about the great delicacies they would prepare with these ingredients.

Consider ethnic-themed gift baskets:

… Mediterranean: Sun-dried tomatoes, extra-virgin olive oil, falafel mix, stuffed grape leaves.

… Oriental: 5-spice powder, shitake and straw mushrooms, rice vinegar, fresh ginger root, several kinds of noodles, dumpling skins.

… Mexican: Salsa, cilantro, black olives, tortillas, and a supermarket coupon for sour cream.

… Indian: Biryani paste, ghee, pappadums, tamarind, cinnamon.

For packaging, use flea-market tea tins, small jars with the labels steamed off, or whatever you have around. Pack the whole thing in an inexpensive basket or even a shoebox (hand-decorate it for an extra-special touch). Labels are easy to make with a calligraphy pen or a computer.

Hobby Help:

When someone has a major hobby, there's never such thing as too much. Give a computer user a box of blank floppy disks, a gift of time at on on-line service, or an inexpensive but valuable piece of software. Get a train nut a yard-sale HO locomotive or a subscription to a glossy steam railroad magazine. Buy an assortment of quality film for a camera buff, or perhaps a set of special effects filters. Pastels, paints, and elegant paper are always in order for the artist in your life. Get a sport player or craftsperson a gift certificate for an hour's tutorial from a local expert.

Obviously, if you know someone who collects knick-knacks on an animal theme, you'll never lack for what to buy: slippers, coffee cups, post cards, trashy novels, candy dishes and lots more, children's rubber toys, all in the shape of or bearing a picture of a frog, pig, unicorn, cat, or whatever.

Coupons for Services

We covered these back in chapter 4; they're just as applicable for gifts to others.

Kitchen Creativity

Is there anything as sweet to the soul as homemade food? Consider jams and jellies, brownies, breads, infused oils or vinegars, garden-fresh herbs, or even casseroles. Many interesting dishes are easy and inexpensive to prepare.

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Preview Shel Horowitz's Penny Pinching Hedonist: How to Live Like Royalty with a Peasant's Pocketbook a 280-page e-book that shows you how to save a big pile of money on travel, dining, entertainment, recreation, and all sorts of other fun.
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