Stella’s ten tips for cheap and cheerful holiday shopping

Today is Black Friday, which sounds like a mediaeval day of reckoning to non-Americans.  Stella will not shop today and has not yet participated in any Black Friday consumer experience in nine years of living in the United States of Capitalism.  She is scared of the busy mall and fortunately does not have to shop for dozens of children.

Nevertheless, she agonizes over holiday shopping each year, especially the quotient of overseas gift giving, which requires mailing or packing light.

Of course this year, the American consumer is facing his or her first holiday season where it may be acceptable not to buy gifts at all, to buy gifts economically, or to make, improvise, and regift.

To help you keep your gifts under $10, Stella offers these ideas:

1.  Envirosax

There are a million totes around and many that fold away, but these are an exquisite combination of form and function.  Not only are they full of designs that won’t compromise your style, but they are eco-friendly, roomy, fold away neatly, and sit very easily on the shoulder.  Everyone needs at least one – but for one friend Stella bought the 5-pack for her birthday and she loves it!  She chooses a new design each day and can keep spares handy.

They sell at $8.50 individually or packs of 5 for $37.50—buy 5 and split them up.  Available online and increasingly in lots of eco and fashion stores.

2.  Burts Bees Hand Salve

You are all familiar with Burts Bees products, but Stella is a new fan of the Hand Salve.  The last couple weeks of frigid weather combined with frequent hand-washing, dish washing and cleaning, have left her delicate paws chapped, red, and in pain.  After only two uses of hand salve, her skin is already on the road to recovery.  Great gift for winter survival.  Full disclosure: your cat may not like the smell and it’s not suitable for our vegan friends.

Online, at Whole Foods, and elsewhere for $8.

3.  Ines Rosales Sweet Olive Oil Tortas

This summer, friends introduced Stella to this unbelievably fabulous treat from Seville.  These crispy tarts are delicately flavored with aniseed, topped with crystallized sugar, and individually wrapped in wax paper.  They are delicious alone, with cheese, topped with crème fraiche and berries, or pretty much in any combination you can imagine.  Stella was thrilled, while a little disappointed, to find they are widely available.  Ah, globalization.

Purchase a little heaven for $5.99 at Whole Foods or online.

4.  The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama
Shouldn’t this be required reading at this point? You may have read and analyzed this numerous times, but Stella is hoping to catch up pre-inauguration.  And the good news is that it’s available very cheaply everywhere.

Amazon is offering the paperback at $4.39 and points out that it tops the “most wanted” non-fiction list.  Combine with Dreams of My Father for $12.20!

5.  iTunes

Stella is still amazed by the revolution wrought by iTunes: the ability to buy one song at a time.  A friend of Stella’s frequently gifts her individual songs, which are so thrilling to receive.  Of course, whole albums are available, but for a mere 99 cents, one can send a very personal and joyful gift to anyone with no wrapping, mailing, or delivery.

Online for 99 cents and up.

6.  Bed Socks

What could be cozier?  Stella has personally fondled the World’s Softest Socks and can verify that they are indeed very soft. Of course, there are other delightful bed socks around.  Could anyone be disappointed with cozy socks?

Online for $6.99.

7.  Farmers’ Markets

Your local farmer’s market undoubtedly offers a great array of potential gifts from jams and jellies to soap and candles.  It will be good for the farmers, good for the environment, and good for your community.

Find a market in your state online.

8. Magazine Subscriptions

Newspapers may be going out of business, but who can pass up the tactile pleasure of flicking through a glossy magazine?  As you would guess, there’s really something for everyone from Elegant Bride to Esquire to Parenting.  The most popular can be found for less than $10, but if you want to veer into special interests, such as cats, horoscopes, religion, or fishing, it may cost you more.

Sign up your loved ones online.

9.  Rock Squirrel Notepad

Stella is a huge fan of and admits that Rock Squirrel Notepad may be one of the very few gender-neutral gifts on the site.  But who doesn’t need a handy memo pad with an anthropomorphized cute animal?

Online for $6.

10.  ?
Dear Shoppers, Stella invites you to share your own ideas.

7 responses to “Stella’s ten tips for cheap and cheerful holiday shopping”

  1. Dave says:

    Dave is grateful to Stella for her recommendations and wishes, in the third person, to add his own.

    First, when Dave reads about Burt’s Bees, he immediately thinks of Stigg’s Lips balm, made by hand in the East Village by a dear friend of TGW. He’s not sure where it’s available online (try here for a start), but if you’re in New York anytime soon he can hook you up.

    The other thing: iTunes is great, but have you tried Emusic? No copy protection, which means the buyer can actually get fair use from his or her purchases. Amazon’s downloads are similarly open.

  2. LP says:

    Ooh, also from The Piano Playin’ Octopus Print! True, it’s $20, so it falls outside the stated range. Also, it’s horrendous. But still! A PIANO-PLAYIN’ OCTOPUS!

  3. These crispy tarts are delicately flavored with aniseed, topped with crystallized sugar, and individually wrapped in wax paper.


    (Giving food for gifts is always nice and, at least if I am the recipient, always appreciated. I don’t give sweets very often, more likely ingredients if I know the person I’m giving to likes cooking a lot. Interesting oils, vinegars, spices. But now that I know about sweet olive oil tortas I will probably give them to someone.)

  4. Also, mix tapes are a fun present. They are inexpensive and time-consuming, and some people (e.g. me) really like getting them as presents.

  5. Rachel says:

    Stella, brilliant as always. Thanks for the ideas.

    Some people look down on utilitarian gifts, but I am always thrilled to receive some little kitchen gadget that I will love but would probably never buy for myself. An avocado slicer? Another pastry brush? Fancy sesame oil? Why not?

  6. swells says:

    Trixie and Farrell gave us these dishtowels once that I still marvel at. Trixie said “I know this seems like a weird gift, but these are truly the best dishtowels ever.” She was right and i appreciate them all the time. I think they are called floursack towels from Now Designs. Love them!

  7. Rachel says:

    Swells, I love a girl who marvels at great dishtowels.