Thursday, December 16, 2010

Top 3 Cheap Gifts

The Topic: Gift giving—cheapskate-style, by guest blogger Elizabeth Castoria

The Dish: This time of year, money is like a cute puppy you see on the street, there one minute and gone the next. Saving a couple bucks here and there always adds up, and around the holidays it's especially important to add to—not just subtract from—your bank account. There are only a few things that bring out my childlike joy like seeing a towering pile of presents on Christmas morning, but having a checking account that's in the black is definitely one of them. (Especially since the "child" part of that childlike joy was oh so long ago!) Here are a few great gifts that are cheap, easy to find, and fitting for anyone on your list.

1. Books. But wait, you think. Books are definitely expensive, especially if you're buying more than one! That might be true if you happen to be buying the newest hardcover coffee table book, but instead of heading to the bookstore, stay home. That's right—books you already own can easily be gifts! Maybe there's a cookbook in your collection that doesn't get used as often as the others. Gift it to your newly vegan neighbor! Blammo. One recipient down, and your total cost is a big fat $0. If you want to get flashy, hit up your local used bookstore for reduced-price finds.

2. Magazine subscriptions! OK, it's possible that my totally biased love for magazines is showing through here, but lists fantastic subscription deals to big titles. Plus, with magazines, whomever you give them to gets an issue every month (or so) for the rest of the year, which basically means that you've given them a dozen presents in one. Great ROI? Check. And, you know, certain magazines (cough, cough, like VegNews!) offer subscription discounts during the holidays.

3. Accessories. The perfect scarf, necklace, enormous cuff, or dashing hat can really take an outfit from blah to brilliant. Stocking up on chic little items at your favorite discount store, or hitting up Savvy Abby's fave, Forever 21, means getting bulk for your buck. And really, who doesn't want to add a little shine to the lives of their giftees? As our super-shiny January+February cover gal Kris Carr says, "Dress your personality and for god's sake, accessorize. A life without trinkets is tragic."

The Final Word: If you want to go even cheaper than these goodies, check out Colleen Holland's highly excellent DIY gift ideas. Remember: shopping in your own home never hurt anyone, magazines keep giving all year long, and smart little accessories add instant shine without costing a mint. If anyone needs me between now and Christmas, I'll be wrapping boxes containing individual earrings (more boxes for the big pile! Same price!) in pages torn out of magazines (instant wrapping paper!). Happy holidays!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Top 5 DIY Vegan Holiday Gifts

The Topic: DIY holiday gifts, by guest blogger Colleen Holland

The Dish: In my family, there's no question as to who inherited the crafty gene. For as long as I can remember, my gift-giving style has always been more Martha then Macy's—that is, my sister is much more likely to receive a set of handmade note cards than a brand-new handbag (although for the super crafty, this can be made, too). My mom loves to tell the story of me at five years old on Valentine's Day. I had made heart-shaped cards for the entire neighborhood and then set off down the street to give them out. When I returned, my basket was filled with wads of cash; I had sold the cards instead of giving them away. That phase has thankfully passed, but I still love nothing more than turning my kitchen and dining room into an around-the-clock workshop this time of year. Need some inspiration for your own homemade gifts? Read on for my top 5 favorites:

1. Boxes of Vegan Cookies
Okay, so this isn't totally original, but it tops my list every year. I pick up a few dozen colorful Chinese take-out containers, line with tissue paper, and fill with fudge, Mexican wedding cookies, and peppermint bark. I then give them out to fellow VN staffers, my hair dresser, my yoga instructor, my postal gal, my neighbors (free of charge), and whoever else has touched my life this year. Cookies also look great in metal tins or white boxes tied with brightly colored ribbon.

2. Note Card Sets
I could spend hours in paper and art stores, especially when I am on a mission. I always keep my eye open for really interesting wrapping paper that I can use in my signature note cards. I can't tell you how many friends have received these over the years! I start with a heavy stock of paper (corrugated or flat) and cut into note card size (I prefer smaller note cards at 5.5 x 4, folded). Using some spray adhesive, I affix a cut-out of wrapping paper (say an old French luggage tag) against a slightly larger cut-out of heavier, colored paper, and then affix the entire piece to the front of the note card. Purchase some recycled envelopes to go with the cards, tie a ribbon around the entire batch, and voila! Gifts for all.

3. Note Pads
Back when Kinko's first hit the scene, I was in absolute heaven. Not only did they have loads of crafting supplies all available in one handy spot, they had oversized work tables and binding/mounting services that opened up a world of possibility for homemade gifts. As long as I made a few copies here and there, I felt comfortable staying all night long. So I would rent their computers (didn't have my own back then) and create a 4.25 x 11 template in Pagemaker (this was pre-Quark and InDesign) using really cool fonts and clip art. I would then make copies on quality paper and have Kinko's bind the top of the note pad so it looked like the real deal. One year, my dad got a note pad with his name in block letters at the bottom and an old-fashioned type writer at the top. Looking back, I have no idea why I chose the type writer, but I liked it at the time.

4. Bath Salts & Sugar Scrubs
I am no expert in either of these crafts, but tubs of sweet-smelling bath salts and sugar scrubs make wonderful gifts. Last year, I made Savvy Abby's family recipe for lavender-rosemary scrub, purchased a few glass jars, and designed my own custom labels. Place in a pretty bag or tie with a bow, and you have gifts for all the spa-treatment lovers in your life.

5. Fresh Herb Bouquets
Are you a gardener, or have access to some overgrown rosemary or thyme? A bundle of fresh herbs makes a lovely gift for neighbors or the host of a party you're attending. Simply cut long stems of your favorite herbs, wrap in parchment or kraft paper, and tie with a pretty bow. I always like to include a gift tag that lists the herbs I'm giving, and you could even write a vegan recipe on the back that uses one of the herbs.

The Final Word: Do-it-yourself holiday gifts is not only way more fun than navigating insane malls and crowded parking lots, but you'll also save a small fortune. Plus, I like to think that people appreciate the thoughtfulness that goes along with anything made from scratch, especially during this age of mad consumption. Have more ideas for DIY vegan gifts? We want to know! Happy holidays to all.