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Oh me, oh my — almost two weeks remaining 'til presents are unwrapped but, unfortunately, the cash section of your wallet is fast diminishing. What to do? Believe it or not, gifts don't have to cost a penny if we pop on our creative elf hats and get busy. A couple of years ago, Woman's Day published some cool ideas that I put to good use, along with several of my own. As each new season begins, I find ways to mingle these to create new ideas that impress my giftees (and myself). Let's check out a few, shall we?

Compile nostalgic tunes, especially if you're giving to elderly family and friends. You can add in some personalized message to thrill recipients and to make them feel extra special.

My sister wouldn't dream of leaving her tiny Yorkie at a kennel while spending the night off, nor would numerous other pet owners. So why not gift someone with whom you're good buddies with an offer to house-sit? Assuming you're as fond of the dog as with his owner (except, perhaps, if Groucho is a four foot tall Great Dane and you live in a two-room house), volunteer to "baby"sit.

Make a scrapbook or simply pass along old family photos. You'll probably have as much fun putting these together as Auntie Hortense does upon unwrapping. Indeed, I bet most of the other family members if in attendance will scatter to her side to also pour over the pics at the expense of opening their own packages.

How many gardeners are on your list? One of the best presents I gave to a cousin a couple of years ago was a pile of dirt. Not just plain dirt and nothing else, but bulbs from my own yard that she had admired once upon a time. Boy, what excitement I experienced to receive the color picture of these in bloom the following spring and to realize the same pleasure Carlina Cuz undergoes each year when admiring my gift in her flower bed!

Our area, as well as most, offers no-cost experiences to appreciate throughout the holiday season. Check the local newspaper or city magazine, look online — particularly on Facebook — for concerts or driving around to view and gape at Christmas lights' brilliance. My family especially enjoys light shows that "dance" to carols. "Rock Around the Christmas Tree," anyone?

Write a letter. The prose may be a mushy love letter written to a spouse or boy/girlfriend or, simply, a loving letter that explains to the recipient the qualities you most admire in that close friend or perhaps even a favorite family physician or teacher.

Do something nice in the person's name. Clean up trash, for instance, serve meals in a soup kitchen, or give blood.

A Memories collection certainly is special; in fact, readers might recall my idea of an "I Love You Because" container for a lover or a parent. Along this same line, fill up a pretty container, basket, or just a simple jar with notes of shared memories with the recipient(s). If you can come up with an entire year's worth, so much the better.

And, finally, bake like there's no tomorrow. Whether your delicious pumpkin bread, cinnamon rolls, divinity or any other holiday specialty, fill up a festive tin (I know you have several closeted away, just as I do) and attach the recipe. This is an exceptionally lovely gesture if we're not a Betty Crocker or a Rachael Ray and your giftee knows it.

Contact Ellen Phillips at consumerwatch@timesfreepress.com.

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Ellen Phillips
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