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Cheap but chic holiday gifts
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Another good strategy is to get a woman something that matches her eye color, whether it's a simple scarf or a pretty pair of mittens. "People always look good in -- and therefore appreciate -- items that set off their eyes," Spizman says.

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Also, pay attention to what your recipient values. A family that travels a lot might appreciate a few new car games. A writer might enjoy a beautiful pen or pack of stationery. A humanitarian might appreciate a donation to a nonprofit organization such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation in his or her name. "Again, the idea is to show the person that you paid attention to them," says Spizman. "That's what is going to make them feel really treasured -- no matter how inexpensive that gift might be."

If you need a little help thinking of meaningful gifts, try Find Gift, Red Envelope or personalized gifts at Lillian Vernon.

Shop smarter online
You probably already know you can find great deals by comparison shopping for everything from books to sporting goods on the Internet. A few good sites include My Simon, NexTag and PriceGrabber. Many online retailers offer discounted or free shipping around the holidays, which makes them even better bargain sites than many local retailers.

Before you hit the "checkout" button at your favorite online store, open a separate Internet browser window and doublecheck sites like ShoppersResource, DealHunting, Couponhut and Savester. Those sites publish special coupon codes for free gifts, free shipping and other discounts at hundreds of online retailers.

Wrap it creatively
You can make even the most inexpensive gifts stand out from the crowd with a little clever packaging. For a teacher, Spizman suggests filling a small box with stickers (teachers use tons of them and often pay for them out of pocket) and including a note like, "Thanks for sticking with my daughter this year!"

For a friend, a $10 gift card to his favorite morning coffee shop can seem very intentional (and less cheap) when you add a note like: "When it comes to being a friend, you're a perfect '10'!"

If you're not a word person, a little visual oomph can make smaller gifts seem special. Consider a selection of green tea and a mug wrapped in a Chinese-language newspaper with a red ribbon. Or use an inexpensive map and bungee cord to wrap a hiking book. "When you put a little effort into the presentation, your gift automatically looks more expensive," says Spizman.

Try a few of these cheap-but-chic tricks and you'll end up with your own holiday gift, too: no post-holiday debt hanging over you as you ring in the New Year.

Teri Cettina is a freelance writer in Oregon.

Bankrate.com's corrections policy -- Updated: Nov. 9, 2006
 
 
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