Last week, Oprah Winfrey announced her annual "Favorite Things." This year's list is budget-friendly and slanted toward the homemade, and stresses the thought as opposed to the money behind a gift. Examples include a gratitude box, which at first I thought was a family-friendly way of recommending Justin Timberlake and Andy Samberg's "D—- in a Box" as the ultimate form of holiday cheer. Alas, this is not what Oprah was implying. Instead of offering up your bits as a means of thanks, Oprah wants you to offer up hand-written notes.
Another Oprah suggestion is a swap party (again, not what you're thinking), wherein moms get together and trade their kids' unwanted clothing and toys. This all sounds perfectly reasonable and well-intentioned, as long as your children don't mind going to school wearing their friends' cast-offs. And parents should make sure to tell their children, "Don't say anything if you see Jimmy wearing that leather teal coat your aunt gave you that you never wore."
Not to toot my own horn, but I do want to mention that my list from last year (in which I swore never to mention Oprah on this blog again — whoops!) suggested that Q-Tips and pizza make fantastic offerings. Apparently, I was prescient in my attempt at parsimony.
So, whereas Oprah might save you a bit of money this holiday season, I am certain that I can save you even more. Here's how:
Water. On Christmas morning, pour everyone a glass of water. If you thought it was difficult to give a gift that's green, healthy and inexpensive, think again.
"Merry Christmas — Love, Carrie" tattoo. Nothing says "forever" like a tattoo. And, let's face it, Christmas is forever. Christmas is more certain than your marriage, or life itself. Isn't that strangely reassuring? It is for me, too. Get your family inked this year; it'll be the last gift you'll ever buy them. Next Christmas, and for years to come, it's just a matter of lifting your mom's shirt to remind her of the gift she now sports on her lower back. (Your gift, of course, will use your own name, not mine.)
Coupons. Remember when you were a child, and you couldn't afford to buy your parents anything on their birthdays or at the holidays because you didn't earn any money? Well, it's like that again. In grade school, your teachers would have you make homemade coupon books that your parents could redeem for chores — or, even better, for quality time. "To Dad. This coupon is good for two hours of us chopping firewood together." This holiday season, resurrect the coupons, but raise the value; you're an adult now. Spending two hours with your family? That's hardly a gift for them. Don't be selfish. Give your parents coupons that are good for weeks or months of quality time. "Dear Dad, with this coupon I'll move back into my childhood room, and we'll spend hours together finding me a job on Craigslist."
Coin Jar. If you have any money at all, why turn that into something else? For every book or DVD you give out, the recipient will only think, "That's $24.95 I could have put toward my heating bill." Think you don't have money to give? You do. It's sitting in some handspun dish you inherited from a grandparent or a dorm room. Put a bow on that piece of pottery. If you end up giving away the backs of earrings for which there are no earrings, safety pins, lint and extra buttons in the process, do not despair. That's just a bigger bounty.