7 simple gift ideas to take the stress out of your holiday

If you’re like most of us, stretching your dollar any farther will tear it to shreds. But don’t stress. A tough economy provides challenges, but also can stir your gifting ingenuity. With some planning and creativity, your holiday gifts can be personal, thoughtful, and even a little fabulous-all without breaking the bank.

To gift or not to gift?

That truly is the question. Start with your list. Can you pare it down to cut costs? A crucial review can determine if it’s time to eliminate gifting with some individuals. Who knows? They also could be feeling the crunch and welcome your idea to stop exchanging gifts, too.

Reuse, recycle and regift

“Green” the holiday and lose the stigma of the regift. Just be honest about it, please. If you know someone who would appreciate the ceramic horse you received from dear Aunt Martha, why not pass it along? Likewise, that funky scarf buried in your drawer could be loved and worn by your bohemian gal pal.

With original tags and packaging intact, all is forgiven if the thought is conveyed in a lovely note to the recipient. So, go ahead, reinvent the regift. It won’t cost a dime and you could make someone really happy.

Remember the old adage

As we all know, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. White elephant exchanges are great to swap unwanted, unused items. Blind auctions let individuals use imaginary money to outbid each other for gently used and unknown pre-wrapped items. What about a purse exchange? It’s always nice to get a “new” purse a friend is tired of while sprucing up your handbag wardrobe. A book swap is great for both casual and avid readers. Possibilities are endless based on interests and ages. These themed exchanges are fun treasure hunts and provide lots of laughs-a bonus stress reliever for this hectic time of year.

Host a party with a purpose

Do good with your gathering. Invite others to donate nonperishable items to help a local food pantry. Find out what items are desperately needed and have guests help by bringing canned soup for a “Souper Soiree” or jars of peanut butter and jelly for a “Nutty Good Time.” Animal lovers can collect pet food, chew toys and dog treats for donation to a pet shelter. Or maybe charge each guest an “admission fee” and then vote on what charity the donations will benefit. Make sure to ask your kids for their ideas as you reinforce the importance of helping others.

Picture perfect

A picture is worth a thousand words and, fortunately, only pennies per print. Make favorite photos your go-to gift this holiday. Recapture, rekindle and reunite with cherished people, vacations and memories. Be creative with enlargements, collages and color manipulation like sepia for a vintage look. In-store and online options offer endless possibilities. Add an inexpensive frame kids can embellish with items or writing for a unique, personalized gift and a lasting memory. Magnetic frames also can save table space and elicit a smile with every opening of the refrigerator door.

Exchange the cookie exchange

Love to cook? Even if you don’t, a meal exchange could offer some incentive. This fun idea has some investment on the front end, however, since you need to bring a homemade packaged entrée for EVERY person attending. (Now, stick with this and keep readingº) If 10 guests attend, you bring 10 packaged entrées. Your payoff is that each of the other guests also must do the same.

How it works: Prior to the event, the host will provide the number of guests attending and you’ll provide what you’re bringing to ensure no duplication. Each guest then prepares and packages, in their own home, entrées for that number. The trick is to keep it easy so you can make big batches without too much difficulty-think assembly line. Choose a family favorite, personal specialty or any soups, stews, lasagna, etc., that freeze well. Package meals (dollar store containers are great) and label with entrée and your names, number of servings (4-6 recommended) and reheating instructions. Don’t forget to include a recipe card, too.

Arrive at the party with your completed packages, swap with other guests, and go home with a variety of meals. Just the remedy for nights when you can’t even think about preparing dinner for the family.

The $5 challenge and other simple ideas

If gifting is unavoidable, suggest a grab bag exchange or the $5 challenge, where the goal is to find the most relevant gift for the person whose name you choose. Dollar stores and dollar departments at retailers make this fun and easy. It’s amazing what nice and useful things can be found to suit someone’s personality.

Other simple solutions include favorite candy, writing journals and creative coupons for services like “Free babysitting” or “Good for one escape with a walk and a latte,” etc.

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