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Before you spend your money on the latest over-priced trendy gadgets, why not take the time and really think about a gift that has "special" meaning. Something that will remind that person just how much they mean to you.

It's that time of year again. Time for traveling, decorating, holiday parties, family, friends, relatives and of course. . . . shopping.

How many of you simply whip out the credit card and start charging every gift you can find, only to dread the day when your statement arrives in the mail?

Or are you one of the few that saves a little every month in order to cover the holiday expenses when they come around?

Before you spend your money on the latest over-priced trendy gadgets, why not take the time and really think about a gift that has "special" meaning. Something that will remind that person just how much they mean to you.

Sending a yearly "wrap-up" letter to your family, friends and relatives is a great way to save time and money. Instead of buying expensive Hallmark cards and writing individual letters to everyone on your list, design your own holiday letter.

When writing a "wrap-up" letter, remember this is the perfect time to inform friends and relatives what's been happening in your family's life over the past year. Even if something important happened in your life back in February or March, some of your acquaintances might not have heard about it, so let them know.

After writing a rough draft, use your computer (or a friends) to help produce an attractive letter. You'll find that programs such as Microsoft Publisher walk you through step by step so you will have a beautifully designed letter in an hour or two.

Not only will this save you A LOT of time (remember how long it took last year to write individual letters to each and everyone on your list?), but you will be sending an attractive, informative holiday letter which really describes what's been happening in your family's life.


Sit down and take the time to think about what each person on your list would like to receive. Of course everyone would love to get tickets for a seven day Caribbean cruise, but very few of us can afford to spend that kind of money on a present.

Here are a few ideas to get you thinking of all the possible gifts that can be easily put together without the need to spend much money.

Know of anyone entering college? Put together a "care package". Fill it with all the basic necessities a college student might need (or want). Cookies, snacks, toiletries, wool socks, a new college student "manual", etc... Anything you think a young 18-21 year old student could use while away at school.

Do one of your relatives work in an office? Put together an "office pack". The key is in the presentation. Find a suitable container and pack it with office supplies, personalized pens or coffee mugs, magazines, far side calendar, crossword puzzle book, etc.

Have you seen the decorative basket assortments that are sold around the holidays? You'll generally find them in malls from such chains as Hickory Farms or Sees Candies. Why pay $30-$50 for a basket of "goodies" that probably only costs about $5-$10 to put together? Put the basket together yourself, save a fortune, and even add a bit more creativity.

You can find baskets (straw usually works best) at any discount store or yard/garage sales. Then, simply line the bottom with a decorative cloth (ie: colored bandana, checked cloth, etc...), organize the appropriate items and trim/wrap with holiday decorations.

You can find all types of holiday arts & crafts ideas in books at your local library or on the Internet. The possibilities are endless. Here are a few basket ideas to get you thinking:

Coffee Lovers Basket
Assortment of coffees, mugs, stirrers, creme assortments, Sunday comics,

Cookie Basket
Homemade cookie variety, chocolate/fudge toppings, funny napkins, cocoa mixes

Traditional Jelly Basket
Small jars of homemade jelly, muffin/cornbread mix, spatula, butter & knife

Sweet Tooth Basket
Brownies, cookies, small jars of candy, cocoa mix, peanut brittle, chocolates

Pasta Lovers Basket
Jars of various pastas and sauces, Parmesan cheese, pasta ladle, strainer

Fire Starter Basket
Pinecones, long stick matches, starter blocks, candle scents/oils, ash shovel

Brownie/Candy Jars
An attractive gift, perfect for friends, co-workers, and neighbors. A nice large sized jar filled with either brownies or candies. Attach ribbons or bows to the lid and decorate with puffy paint or simply glue colored pasta shells around the jar. Again, be creative.

Homemade Decorative Cookies
Great teacher or babysitter gifts. Buy a cookie cut out pattern, add some colorful icing and a few ribbons with a nice card is a special holiday gift.

Framed Collage
Perfect for any occasion, great for friends or loved ones. Gather pictures of the person you're making the collage for. Look for pictures of various places you've both been and fun times you've shared. Once you have your pictures, cut and organize them to make an attractive display. Glue them in place, decorate the frame and you have a gift that's a lasting memory. How can you put a price on that?

Homemade Ornaments
Get a recipe for a hardening clay from any holiday crafts book. A childs' foot or hand imprint creatively decorated make excellent gifts for grandparents or relatives. This is something special that you can only give once. Your kids will quickly grow up.

Family/Children Portraits
An 8X10 of the family/kids is a perfect gift for grandparents or distant relatives you might not get to see very often. You can even make a holiday frame for it. Look for low prices at JC Pennys or Sears stores (or the equivalent).

Magazine Subscription
Who doesn't like to read magazines? Reasonably priced, magazine subscriptions make excellent gifts. Find out what magazines or interests they have and then every time your friend receives another issue, they'll think of you.

All too often, the holidays seem to come and go in a flicker of an eye leaving us wondering if we even had a celebration at all. Take the time to visit with others whom you do not get to see very often. Spend time with the elderly in your family. Start a 'tradition' within your family that everyone, including the kids, can participate in. These will become your cherished memories that NO gift can ever replace.

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