There seems to be a golden ratio of expense-to-personalization when it comes to good gift-giving: the less expensive it is, the more thoughtful it must be. Problem is, many thoughtful gifts are also time consuming. And in this economic climate, it seems both time and money are scarce. If you find yourself in this situation, it doesn’t mean you have to give up on gift-giving, or maintaining your credit score. Instead, try one of our ideas for cheap gifts with a personal twist none of which will cut too much into your valuable job-search (or funemployment) hours.
THIS LITTLE LIGHT OF MINE
You’re an artist, you’re broke, and you need gifts for everyone in the family (and if you’ve got a huge Mexican familia like mine, that’s a lot of gifts). Don’t panic. Head down to Lucky Candle (3525 20th St., SF. 415-341-1960) in the Mission District, where you can buy glass candles in assorted colors for only $2.50. Then make copies of your favorite artwork or photos, glue them to the candles and let them dry overnight. You can even add glitter or sequins if you’re feeling extra festive. The project is easy, cheap, and personal.
GIFTS OF A FEATHER
Fashionistas and crafty vixens will appreciate this take on a classic 1950s look that won’t require a vintage-clothing budget. Buy a plain headband and a bunch of peacock feathers at Mendel’s (1556 Haight, SF. 415-621-1287, www.mendels.com), then superglue the plumage to the headband in creative ways. The accessory will add chic sophistication to any wardrobe, without taking much from your wallet.
LIFE IS LIKE …
Although most people can’t resist their annual sweets overload during the holidays, gifting a plain old box of chocolates is just so blah. Add a personalized twist and support several small local businesses in the process by assembling your own gift box from different stores’ offerings. You can buy several individual candies or boxes, and mix them all up in the best box of sweets ever. Try Poco Dulce (2419 Third St., SF. 415-255-1443, www.pocodulce.com) for luxurious flavors like burnt caramel tiles and hazelnut bitter toffees, XOX Truffles (754 Columbus, SF. 415-421-4814, www.xoxtruffles.com) for amaretto and honey vodka flavors, or Recchiuti (One Ferry Building, SF. 415-834-9494, www.recchiuti.com) for irresistible s’mores bites and key lime pears. For an extra thought that counts, group the candies according to color, shape, or your giftee’s tastes, then present them in cool cases like discarded cigar boxes. Grant’s Tobacconists (562 Market, SF. 415-981-1000, grantspipeshop.com) on Market and California Tobacco Center (1501 Polk, SF. 415-885-5479) sell the boxes for only $2 or $3 bucks a pop.
FORGET ME NOT
A simple photo of you and a loved one may not seem like a suitable gift unless you’re young enough to decorate the frame with macaroni. But a bit of thought and the time it takes to rummage through your keepsakes is all it takes to turn something that looks easy into something that evokes emotion. Start with your favorite photo of you and your friend, family member, or future life partner, then add verses from letters you’ve written each other, petals from saved bouquets, ticket stubs from a favorite concert, or other tokens of good memories. (If you’re making this for a lover, you get extra points for including something from your first date. Repeat after me: awww). Then place your collage in a frame from Cheap Pete’s (4249 Geary, SF. 415-221-4720, www.cheappetes.com), where sizes, styles, and colors vary but prices stay, well, cheap.
Does someone in your life need a little hope, love, or luck? Show ’em you’ve noticed by getting a charm from Scarlet Sage (1173 Valencia, SF. 415-621-1287, scarletsageherb.com), an independent herb shop in the Mission. For less than $5, you can get a shiny quartz, lucky stone, or adorable heart-shaped rock. Find a pretty sash or detailed handkerchief from a second-hand store, wrap up your purchases and, for an extra personal touch, add a little note explaining what you hope these stones will bring their new owner.
SEEDS FOR GARDEN
The rule of green-thumb for giving plants is to choose your giftees wisely. Ideal candidates are newly nesting lovebirds with a backyard (first comes a plant, then comes a pet, then comes the lovers with a baby carriage). Start the honeymooners off with seeds to make their own miniature garden with choices like lavender, California poppies, sweet peas, and cosmos. Flora Grubb (1634 Jerrold, SF. 415-626-7256, www.floragrubb.com) and Cole Hardware (3312 Mission and other locations, SF. 415-647-8700, www.colehardware.com) are your go-to spots for a variety of different seeds, depending on the love-birds’ personalities. (If you’re shopping for a recent college grad or on-the-town bachelor, consider something that requires less commitment and attention, like impossible-to-kill succulents or easy-to-move-to-17-apartments hanging vines.)
THE MIGHTY PEN
You know the art of writing is nearly extinct when you text your parents to thank them for the care package they sent you. But that means a hand-written note is particularly special now, in this age of e-cards and Facebook messages. In lieu of gifts or store-bought greetings, try sending distant loved ones a heartfelt, personal letter written (in cursive?) on beautiful homemade stationery. Find the right choice for every recipient at Flax (1699 Market, SF. 415-552-2355, www.flaxart.com), where you’ll have more than 7,000 unique paper options. Then add some extra flair with creative stamps ($5$15) that (bonus!) you can use again next year. Just don’t be upset when your friends and family show their gratitude with a simple "thx for yr letter" message sent from their iPhones.
You know those people with cats or dogs (or ferrets, or whatever) who say they’re not one of those people who’s obsessed with their pets? You can bet they’re the same people who, behind closed doors, will stay in an uncomfortable position on the couch for an hour so as not to disturb a purring kitten or who’ll argue all night that their dog’s habit of licking the bottoms of their feet is cute, not gross. Yes, almost all pet owners are also pet lovers. Which means they’ll appreciate a gift for their furry friends as much as they’d appreciate one for themselves. Find such treats as catnip, dog bones, and all kinds of toys and grooming products at Pawtrero Bath House & Feed Co. (199 Mississippi, SF. 415-863-7297, www.pawtrero.com). At the very least, your friends will agree that their life is easier once you’ve pleased the beasts.