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Dec 202013
 December 20, 2013  Posted by  Expired
Make budget-friendly gifts shine by wrapping them beautifully.

Budget-friendly last-minute gifts can shine – if they’re chosen thoughtfully and presented beautifully.

This year, with almost everyone plugged into some device or other, portable rechargers are a good bet. Amazon has many options, starting at around $5. Amazon ships orders totaling more than $35 for free, so I usually try to bundle my purchases to reach that amount.

  • Amazon also has the Panasonic earbuds that the editors at Cnet described as the best  you can get for under $10. Friends or relatives who are still using really cheap earbuds will appreciate the upgrade.
  • For cooks and foodies, you’ll find several varieties of exotic sea salts in bulk packages, with the French or Himalayan starting at about $5 a pound. Get some pretty jars from your nearest dollar store, fill them with the salts, then wrap with pretty ribbons and perhaps a nice ornament, and you have a gift that I would welcome.
  • For friends who don’t cook, follow the lead of one of my family members and bake some Toll House chocolate-chip cookies using Nestle’s chocolate chips and the classic recipe that has been around for decades. These are incredibly easy to make – I started baking them in grade school – and when they’re packaged in attractive tins or boxes (again from the dollar store), they make delicious gifts.
  • Another semi-homemade gift that packs a punch is a pretty tin or box (yes, the dollar store) of brownies, made from a Ghirardelli Brownie mix (several varieties available). I discovered these exceptional mixes several years ago and found the brownies richer and better tasting than the ones available in local bakeries. Currently the mixes are selling in my area for about $2 a box — so this makes a really budget-friendly gift, especially compared with some of the brownies selling online for about $50 for two dozen.
  • For friends who love all things organic, I shop at Trader Joe’s, where organic oils (coconut, walnut, etc.) sell  for as little as $5.99.
  • Useful and welcome gifts can be found in your local drugstore.  Dermatologist-recommended Neutrogena products like the bath and shower gels sell for under $10 and are appropriate for both men and women.
  • Lips take a beating this time of year, so if you have friends who are constantly re-applying lip balm, they may be using a brand that actually dries lips. Surprise them with highly-rated  Beecology’s  Lemon Lavender All Natural Beeswax Lip Balm (as low as $3) . Right now, the company is offering a variety five-pack in a decorative tin for just $10.99.
  • Another excellent lip balm is Smith’s Rosebud Salve, which you can find at various retailers for between $2-$4. Choose a few varieties, pop them into a decorative container or a mug (dollar store, naturally) and wrap with shiny paper.
  • A final suggestion for anyone who has a holly tree in the backyard (or in the backyard of a generous neighbor): Buy a pretty  vase (you know where to find those) or choose one from your own stock, if you do as I do and buy these throughout the year from garage sales. Fill with holly, wrap the neck of the vase with gorgeous ribbon – and you’ll have a gift that anyone would be proud to display.

As I mentioned earlier, presentation is key in making a small or budget-friendly gift shine. I learned this years ago from a friend whose gifts were always inexpensive but beautifully wrapped. Take the time to make everything pop, whether it be with eye-catching ribbon, a sprig of holly, an inexpensive ornament or some other personal touch, and your gifts will be noticed and remembered, whatever the price.

Lillian Africano

Lilllian Africano is the editor-in-chief of, cruise editor at JAX FAX, senior editor at Elegant Accents and executive editor at She also blogs on and She formerly served as a freelance editor and writer at AOL Travel and is the author of 16 books, including three best-selling novels (under the pseudonym “Jessica March”). She co-authored the 9th edition of Off the Beaten Track Guide to New York, as well as You Know You’re in New Jersey When… and two editions of The Insiders Guide to the Jersey Shore. Lillian is president-elect of the Society of American Travel Writers and past president of the International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association. Find her on Google +.

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