Stretching your holiday dollar

Dire economic times make it harder than ever to buy appropriate gifts for friends and relatives, but you can still make Christmas merry for one and all. It just takes a little creativity.

Here are some tips for scrounging up gifts:

“Re-gift” items from previous holidays. You never used that waffle-maker Aunt Marge sent you. Might as well send it to someone who could make use of it (or who has more kitchen cabinet space than you do). But make sure you don’t send it to the Aunt Marge by mistake. She’ll remember. Trust me.

Thrift stores offer potential gifts at a fraction of retail prices. So what if the items have a few dings and scratches? Nothing a can of spray paint won’t fix.

You can’t use spray paint on clothes without a lengthy explanation. If you make gifts of used clothing, you must call them “vintage.”

Really old items can be offered as gifts as long as you specify that they are “collectible.” The items will appear more valuable if they bear a famous celebrity’s autograph, which you can accomplish with an inexpensive Sharpie.

Why not turn to Mother Nature? Live plants make wonderful gifts until they die, and floral arrangements are always welcome. You can make beautiful autumnal centerpieces from the colorful leaves currently littering your yard. Even inert items such as acorns, pine cones and rocks can be offered as unique gifts. Remember to spray-paint them first.

Another do-it-yourself gift is food. People love getting food at the holidays, particularly tons of sweets and baked goods. Nothing says “Merry Christmas” like a diabetic coma.

If you’re careful handling books, you can offer them as gifts without mentioning that they’ve been used. If the recipient notices turned-down corners, etc., respond that the book has been “pre-read.” Library books are out, however. There’s no explaining away the “Shasta Public Libraries” stamp.

Batteries always make good gifts for the kiddies. Someone (probably a grandparent) will give them noisy toys that need batteries. If the batteries you supply are old and don’t work, you can say, “Gee that toy must be broken.” The parents no doubt will appreciate the peace and quiet.

Or, you can simply give the children cardboard boxes, available for free from supermarkets and liquor stores. We’ve all seen that imaginative kids have more fun with the boxes than with the actual toys. Why not skip a step? If you want to get fancy, you can spray-paint the boxes to cover up the liquor advertisements.

Sometimes, it’s a short hop from creativity to duplicity. With so many retailers going out of business, it’s possible to re-use gift cards that you cashed out long ago. Send the worthless gift card to a relative, then express surprise to learn that the company on the card no longer exists.

Another trick is to mail a broken item to a distant relative. When the recipient reveals that the gift showed up in a hundred pieces, you can blame the beleaguered workers of the U.S. Postal Service. They’re used to it.

“Gag” gifts are always a scream, and they’re easy to come by. Even convenience stores sell last-minute gag gifts. Oh, how fun it will be when Aunt Marge opens her gift and finds dirty magazines and condoms! The whole family will laugh themselves silly!

When all else fails, cheap booze makes a good gift. It’ll help us forget the economy for a while. And the hangovers will prompt our New Year’s resolutions. That’s a gift that keeps on giving!

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