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Cheap but chic holiday gifts

Here's a little holiday cheer: You don't have to give your family and friends ornaments made out of dryer lint or knickknacks from your local dollar store just so you can stay on budget this holiday season.

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With a little forethought and a bit of creativity, you can avoid going into debt and give great gifts that won't seem the least bit cheap.

Make a gift list, and check it twice
As uncreative as it might initially sound, a detailed gift list is really your best weapon in the cheap-but-chic holiday game.

"Decide ahead of time what your overall holiday gift budget will be -- don't forget teacher gifts and tips -- then list all of your gift recipients and break your budget down person by person," says Ellie Kay, author of several money-saving books, including "The Debt Diet."

If you start with just a lump-sum gift budget, it might initially seem like a generous cache. You might even be tempted to spend a little more than usual on a few of your gifts. But Kay suggests that if you assign a dollar value to each person -- say, $40 for each child, $20 for each teacher and so on -- you may quickly realize that you don't have quite as much wiggle room as you initially thought.

Limit the number of kids' gifts
Face it: Children usually open their first three or four gifts with glee and then start mindlessly rushing through the unwrapping process. The last gifts never have quite the impact of the first few. Take advantage of this natural phenomenon and give your own kids and pint-size relatives fewer gifts.

Some families use the biblical "three gifts of the Magi" as a reason to limit children's gifts to three apiece, but you can create a gift limit for your own family according to your budget or tradition. Whatever number you choose, stick to it! Don't run out the night before the holiday to get "just one more" present so the gift pile will seem more plentiful.

Make inexpensive gifts more memorable
Robyn Spizman, author of "Make it Memorable" and other gift-giving books, suggests rethinking the way you buy presents. "When you're buying, put your budget aside temporarily," she says. "Don't focus on saving money; focus on being thoughtful."

Another way to think of it: A gift that doesn't reflect the recipient's taste and interests is wasteful, even if it is expensive. On the other hand, a gift that is carefully chosen just for your friend or family member can feel priceless to them, even if it cost only $20, she says.

How can you pick a memorable gift?

"Ask questions or do a little observation," says Spizman. "If you're buying for a woman, notice what she wears. Does she like bright colors or subdued tones? That will give you a clue about the colors of candles or little accessories she might like."

Another important clue: "Does she wear silver jewelry or gold tones? Most women wear one or the other, so if you get her a charm bracelet or a brooch, you need to make sure it matches her other jewelry," says Spizman.

 
 
Next: Best places to shop 'chic but cheap' online ...
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