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.