Last-Minute, Low-Cost Holiday Gifts

I was walking past my local thrift store last week when a delicate china tea cup and saucer, with an old-fashioned flower pattern, caught my eye. They were probably part of a tea set once, but now they'd ended up alone on a shelf in the window, gathering dust.

I have a friend who is an avid tea drinker and I thought she'd enjoy having the cup and saucer for her desk at work. Sure, the cup holds way less than the ginormous mugs we're used to these days. But I believe she'd appreciate the lovely lines of the porcelain (made in England), and enjoy having a nice cup of tea in such a pretty cup during a hectic day.

So for $1.99, plus tax, I walked out with the tea cup and saucer. I added a box of her favorite tea and for less than $10, I had a pretty thoughtful present for a good friend.

Who says you have to spend a lot of money to be a thoughtful gift giver? Here are 10 ideas for last minute, low-cost holiday gifts that might impress your friends and family -- and spare you some holiday shopping pain. 

A game – the old-fashioned kind. Forget the computer, video games, and tablet apps.There’s a lot to be said for just hanging out and playing a board game. Fortunately, many games can be had for less than $20, including Monopoly ($13), Scrabble ($15), Battleship ($15) and Parcheesi ($18) and Economy Backgammon ($7.52 at Amazon.) Then add a coupon, offering to host a game match sometime in 2014.  

A stack of books, wrapped in brown paper and tied up with string. Most thrift shops offer paperbacks for $1 or less and hardbacks for $2. That’s the easy part. The trickier part is making the right picks for that special someone. While I can't help you there, I've found that a mix of fiction and non-fiction works well. A bookmark makes a nice add on. And while you can't wrap it, you can beam an e-book (via email link) directly to a friend, which makes a lovely surprise.

Treats. How about a jar of organic honey ($12-$14), a pound of specialty coffee ($10 to $16), or Godiva hot chocolate mix ($15)? There are lots of inexpensive treats you can buy for family and friends. Personally, I'm always happy to get the honey and a box of Turkish Delight, with pistachios.

A holiday drink. A decent bottle of wine or champagne, easily found for less than $20, is an easy way to go. If you want to get fancy, consider a special bottle of port (Grahams Six Grapes is a favorite), vodka or gin (which can be used to spike the egg nog), scotch or brandy. Then throw in some of your favorite drink recipes  — and a jigger ($5 or less at many stores). 

For the cook who has everything. I have one word: ebelskievers. These are a type of Danish donut that you can fill with cream or fruit preserves or just about anything else. The only thing is you need a special pan to make them. Fortunately, you can pick up an ebelskiever pan for less than $20. And there are recipes galore to be found on the Internet.

A magazine subscription, the paper kind. Who says paper is dead? A one-year subscription to many print magazines can be had for less than $20. It’s the gift that keeps on giving throughout the next 12 months. What magazines are worth getting on paper? I’m a fan of National Geographic.

Socks. Yes, socks. Foot coverings may not sound like an impressive gift, but a fun pair of patterned socks socks can make a great holiday gift -- if you take the time to pick a pair that matches the personality of the person to whom you’re giving them. Think Argyles and hiking socks. For the outdoors-minded, get comfy wool socks from SmartWool or WoolRich.

BPA-free water bottle. For about $15, give that special someone a water bottle that’s free of potentially harmful ingredients. And then remind them to stay hydrated!

Rudolph, Santa and Frosty. The original Christmas animated classics featuring Rudolph the Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman and Santa Claus (Comin’ to town) are compiled into one DVD. It's worth it -- if only to journey to the Island of Misfit Toys with Rudolph, Hermey, the misfit elf who wants to be a dentist, and Yukon Cornelius!  

Make something. If you have some time and want to give something homemade, go to for DIY project ideas. The Altoids survival tins are always popular. -- Connie Guglielmo


Missed last week's issue? Here you go:

In Search of a Sane Holiday Season

If you liked this story, you might also like:
Holiday Wish List: Thinking Outside the Gift-Wrapped Box
5 Toys Every Grown Up Should Have
20 Great Wines to Bring to a Party (Or, Inexpensive Wines That Taste Better Than They Should

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