There's no need to break the bank this holiday season when it comes to finding great gifts.
All it takes is a little creativity and a thinking-outside-the-box mind-set to come up with inexpensive, yet thoughtful, gifts to give friends, relatives or significant others.
For those of us with a small holiday budget this year, here are five gift ideas, plus a bonus idea at the end, which will show the person you care -- all for less than $15.
|Framed Photos or Artwork|
Photography can be given as artwork, and it can be helpful to know the recipient's hobbies and interests when selecting photos as gifts. For example, a gift for food lovers could be a photo from a stroll through your local farmers' market or street fair where there are often loads of colorful fruits, vegetables or spices on display. You don't need a high-tech fancy camera. A simple point-and-shoot often works well.
There are several outlets for getting high-res photo prints for bargain prices. Snapfish, Kodak Gallery or iPhoto (for Mac users) all offer ways to upload your photos, then order prints in various sizes for less than $5, including shipping.
Not a photographer? There are other sentimental items you can put in a frame, such as kid's artwork, a son or daughter's first business card or pressed flowers from a wedding bouquet.
For picture frames, which can often become expensive, IKEA offers edgeless glass frames starting at $0.99 for a pack of four 4x6's, or simple black frames in various sizes from $1.99 and up.
Another alternative for frames is to look in the Home section at discount department stores such as T.J. Maxx or Marshalls, which often have more decorative frames at marked-down prices.
|Oeno Writers With Bottle of Wine|
Write your own holiday message on a wine bottle using Oeno Writers by Oenophilia -- fast-drying, nontoxic pens that will write on metal, glass and plastic. Did you mess up? The ink will wipe off the glass with a damp cloth.
The set comes with two pens, one in silver and one in gold, and is sold on Organize.com for $6.99, or can be found at your local craft store.
I'm no wine connoisseur, but you can find several great-tasting wines for less than the $8.01 left in your $15 budget, especially at a Trader Joe's, where wine prices start at $2.99 and come from the respected wine regions of California, France, Italy and Australia.
Personal favorites include Portugal's Vinho Verde for a white and California's Blue Fin Petite Sirah for a red, both priced at Trader Joe's $3.99.
|Personalized Travel or Restaurant Guide|
Most travel guides now sell for less than $15, such as the "Eyewitness Top 10 Travel Guides," which cost about $11-$12. This guide series is great because it includes tons of photos, maps and brief descriptions. The guides are also small and thin -- perfect for slipping into a carry-on.
After buying the guidebook to a destination, slip in little Post-it notes or write into the pages your recommendations, such as "skip this museum, too touristy" or "there is an amazing Italian restaurant in this square." It can be a fun read for the gift recipient during a long flight.
This also works with restaurant or wine guides in which you can add notes about what you ate (or drank) at dinner. The highly-respected Zagat Survey offers hundreds of guidebooks to dining and travel starting at $5.95.
|Print or Internet Subscriptions|
Print and Internet subscriptions are affordable gifts that the recipient will enjoy regularly, plus most media outlets offer sign-up discount deals around the holidays.
Magazines.com, a magazine subscription service, has a "Titles for $10 or Less" section, which include subscriptions for almost all major magazines, including topics covering cooking/recipes, style, health/fitness, pregnancy and sports.
And why spend upward of $40 on a TV show DVD box set, when you can gift a Netflix Internet subscription for $7.99 a month. This provides thousands of movies and TV shows available for streaming to the recipient's computer, tablet or gaming unit, such as xBox 360, PS3 or Wii. There is also the DVD-by-mail subscription option for the same price of $7.99 a month.
Hulu Plus offers the same deal, where for $7.99 a month, you can get movies and TV shows that have subscriptions with Hulu (and almost all hit TV shows and major movies do), streamed to a computer or other devices. The biggest difference between Hulu.com and Hulu Plus is the regular website only offers up to five of the most recent episodes from hit TV shows, whereas Hulu Plus offers entire seasons.
For the gamer in your life, websites such as Gamefly.com and Gamemine.com allow users to sign up for games-by-mail subscriptions for most gaming devices. Both services offer various plans, but Gamefly.com offers $7.95 a month for one game out at a time rental plan, and Gamemine.com offers $6.95 a month rentals.
|Do It Yourself Gift Baskets|
Pick a theme that is simple and specific, not to mention affordable. In the past I've done "Christmas Breakfast in a Bowl" and "Me Time" gift baskets for friends and family.
For "Christmas Breakfast in a Bowl," first purchase a large mixing bowl. You can get as creative as you want with this part of the gift, but for inexpensive options, IKEA sells a set of two plastic bowls for $4.99, and Amazon.com offers a Fox Run stainless steel bowl for $6.44.
Then use the rest of your $15 budget to fill the bowl with whatever breakfast items you prefer, such as pancake mix (starts at $2 for most grocery stores), milk (roughly $1.19 for a quart) and eggs (usually under $3 for a dozen). The idea is that the recipient uses the mixing bowl to make breakfast.
The only trick here is, because food items are perishable, you should put together this gift as close as possible to the date you plan to give it.
The "Me Time" gift basket is another way to get creative. The "basket" doesn't have to be a basket at all but can be a large mug or a decorative box -- all of which can usually be purchased for less than $5 at various retailers. If your heart is set on using a basket, again the home section in a discount department store, such as Marshalls or Kohl's, or even a thift store can turn up nice yet inexpensive finds.
Fill the basket with items for relaxing: A box of herbal tea (often $2.99 at most grocery stores), bath soap, a loofah (usually $1-$2 where body wash products are sold) and a small candle.
Specialty bubble bath or soap and candles can be purchased at various retailers, even dollar stores, on the cheap. For major retailer options, Bath and Body Works sells travel-sized bath scrubs and shower gels between $5-$6 per bottle. Yankee Candle sells "Tarts" and votive candles for $1.99 each.
|Bonus Idea: Make It Yourself|
If you enjoy singing, use a webcam or your smartphone to record a song or a holiday message and upload it to YouTube, then send the link to friends and family.
If you enjoy baking, make a batch of cookies, brownies or fudge and put it in a decorative jar or cookie tin. You can purchase prepackaged mixes from grocery stores for less than $4 and empty cookie tins or jars at dollar stores.
If you enjoy knitting or crocheting, you can find patterns and tutorials on the Internet -- the craft store Michaels has an entire section of free patterns on their website. While yarn can be pricy sometimes, depending on what blend of fabric you want to use, a ball of aran wool typically sells for around $4 at most fabric or craft stores.
These are just some ideas that I have used, but get creative and make your own.