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20 last-minute (and cheap) gift ideas
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To make an herb present personal, copy down a recipe including the herb and give it with the present. Oregano, basil, rosemary, parsley and thyme mix well in most Italian dishes, so something as simple as, "Add this to pasta sauce, lasagna or use for topping pizza," would do.

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Many varieties of potted ivy can be found at these same stores. Ivy is inexpensive, pretty and incredibly easy to keep alive.

Cut flowers make wonderful gifts too -- and there's no reason to buy expensive vases if your cabinets are overflowing with vases you never use. Clean one up, stuff it with a $10 bouquet of flowers from the grocery store, tie a ribbon around it and give it away.

Tool of a lifetime
The gift that will be used a thousand times is the key-chain tool. While its size is tiny, its usefulness is huge. These things open boxes, remove splinters, tighten the little screws on eyeglasses, cut stray threads from sweaters and open soda cans without breaking your nails. Leatherman makes one called a Micro Tool and Swiss Army has several versions. They sell for less than $40 and can be found at camping stores, army surplus stores, hardware stores, Sears and Sharper Image.

Gift baskets
Everyone loves gift baskets but buying them pre-assembled is really expensive. If you've got an extra basket in the closet, use it. If not, you can get one for about $3 at a craft store. The contents of each these baskets can be found at your local grocery and movie rental store.

  • Movie basket: movie rental gift card + box of microwave popcorn + six pack of coke + Twizzlers
    Cost: about $25, depending on the amount of the gift card

  • Relax basket: mug + variety box of tea + small box of cookies + bath salts + loofa + face mask
    Cost: $27

  • Romantic basket: set of inexpensive champagne or wine glasses + bottle of champagne or wine + small box of chocolates + CD of romantic music
    Cost: about $35 depending on the bottle

  • Car care basket: chamois + car wax + car soap + new car scent can + spray nozzle to attach to hose (you can use a bucket instead of a basket)
    Cost: $25

Stuff the bottom of the basket with colored tissue paper before you put the presents in so it looks festive. Tie a ribbon around the tallest item in the basket and attach a card.

What's in your closet?
Do you have little gifts stashed away in the closet that you meant to give out last year, the year before or the year before that? Look in your hiding places for what you've got put away that you can give away.

You could also give away the wedding presents you never use or the presents you got last year that you don't want. Warning: Not only should you be careful that this gift is not given to the person that gave it to you, you must be careful it doesn't go to anyone remotely associated to the original gift giver. For example, "Why, Marge! I gave a lamp just like that to Mike last year. Where did you get it?"

Bankrate.com's corrections policy -- Updated: Sept. 21, 2005
 
 
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