A frugal Noël: Follow these tips to fill your Santa bag without emptying your wallet
Literature is filled with gift-giving mishaps. Remember O. Henry's "Gift of the Magi"? A woman of scant means cuts off and sells her hair to buy her beau a watch and he, equally poor, sells his wrists (I think) to buy her a hairbrush I'm not sure; I never finished it.
The point is, it's possible to warm the hearts of your friends and loved ones at Christmastime without spending an arm and a leg (or a wrist).
With the help of online readers, here are some low-cost strategies for holiday gift-giving:
Personal gifts: Readers suggested that tree ornaments make a thoughtful, inexpensive present. "I love giving and getting Hallmark ornaments, especially dated (2011) ones," a commenter posted to Facebook. "They are relatively inexpensive, but they will last forever and I will always have memories of the person who gave it to me."
Another low-cost idea is gifting a song that means something to you or your recipient from an online music store such as iTunes, or sending a custom ringtone that will play when you call. For around a buck, they'll think of you every time they hear it. The same goes for iPhone or Android apps for the technophiles on your list.
Websites can provide great deals, too. For $10, you can purchase $25 dollar gift certificates for many local and nationwide restaurants at restaurant.com (the site often runs specials that drop the cost of those certificates to just $2 or $3).
And if you can't find a suitable gift at the dollar store - a great place to purchase low-cost gift basket and kitchen items - you can always buy your gift wrap there.
Draw names: Speaking of secret Santa, lots of families (especially larger ones) cut down on gift expenses by writing each family member's name on a slip of paper and drawing them out of a bag (seriously, who besides Santa wears a hat anymore?) for a one-on-one gift exchange. This way, each person has only one gift to buy, maxing out at a set dollar amount ($25 was the limit for one Twitter follower, whose family of 10 draws names each year).
Is this strategy for you? Even though the holiday shopping season starts just after Independence Day now, the time you would have spent chasing down a dozen adequate gifts can now be put toward finding one perfect present. And time saved can be spent celebrating in the company of your loved ones.
White Elephant: No, this isn't a slam on Santa's fitness level. It's a combination of re-gifting and secret Santa. A number of wrapped gifts matching the number of participants is placed beneath the Christmas tree; often these are re-gifted or gag gifts. The first person (turn order is determined at random, usually by drawing numbered slips of paper) selects a present and opens it. The next person can either open an unwrapped present or "steal" the gift opened by the previous person (who then gets to open a new gift). Play proceeds until the lucky, last person gets to select any of the previously opened gifts or take the last unwrapped present.
"We did White Elephant last year," wrote one Facebook friend. "The spending limit was $20. It was fun, too." The gifts included a UT fleece blanket, a Swiss Army knife, a George Foreman grill and basket of soaps and lotions.
"It's all about the fun of the game - not what you end up with," she wrote.
If your family is prone to flare-ups, fighting and other types of buckling under holiday stress, this might not be the best gifting scheme for you.
Re-gift: What goes around, comes around - especially if you're re-gifting a lazy Susan. "I go back through the gifts I've received through the year, and decide what I can re-gift. Shhhhhh ..." wrote a Facebook friend who responded to a solicitation for this story.
You might not appreciate those Handerpants you got for your birthday (they're fingerless gloves that look like tighty whiteys, $12; BookPeople, 603 N. Lamar Blvd.) but your brother-in-law who's always getting into fist fights? No one's going to risk getting chin music from a guy with undies on his mitts.
Remember to remove price tags from and re-wrap any items you're re-gifting. Most importantly, be careful - re-gifting to the original giver is a certain way to wind up on Santa's naughty list.
And that fruitcake you got in the office secret Santa? Throw it out. Nobody likes fruitcake.
Make it: A lot of Facebook friends and Twitter followers suggested this low-cost strategy as their favorite. Gift baskets with lots of small items - an inexpensive but more upscale version of the stockings left out for Santa - were a popular suggestion. What to fill them with? Our style writer, Courtney Sebesta, says Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue are especially generous with samples for shoppers.
Other favorite items among social media responders were soaps, candles and kitchen items. "I love giving homemade baskets with a theme, like bath-time, movie night, etc." one friend wrote. Another said she enjoyed making and giving jewelry items as gifts. Handmade yarn items such as scarves, caps and blankets are at the top of the list. Our Knittin' Kitten blogger Etienne Lepine recommends the book "One Skein" by Leigh Radford and the website ravelry.com (registration required) as good places to get started.
Not handy? Are you a knit-wit? Check out "Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People" by Amy Sedaris ($15.99; Grand Central Publishing). The New York Times best-seller is chock full of inexpensive ideas including macaroni art, crafts that involve sausages and - I'll let you figure this one out for yourself - "fornicrafting." For items that need feathers, Sedaris even reveals the most expedient method for getting them from a bird.
Bake it: Nothing says "Ho, ho, ho" like something made with dough, dough, dough. Cookies, cakes, brownies, pies … yummy baked goods are always popular, as long as they're not fruitcake (see "re-gift," below). Need some ideas for food gifts? Visit austin360.com/food to learn how to make truffles, infused vodka and more.
Gift it, thrift it: Have you heard that old joke about the guy who couldn't afford $10 to have his sport coat cleaned? He donated it to a resale charity and, a week later after they'd dry cleaned it and put it on a rack, he went back in and bought it for $5.
Online opinions differ as to the appropriateness of thrift store or vintage store shopping for the holidays, but the truth is that, for a certain hipster segment of your gift list, thrift shop chic is in. Vintage stores even run holiday specials just like their full-price counterparts. Frock On Vintage (3016 Guadalupe St.), for example, is in the midst of its 12 Days of Deals Holiday Bonanza.