Money-smart holiday gift ideas

‘Tis the season to be spending. Here are some special – and smart – gift buys that are easy on your wallet

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Budget-friendly holiday gifts

Despite my practised willpower, I still find I’m a sucker for some impulse buys at this time of year-Sephora checkout line, anyone? But on the whole, I’ve cut out that style of purchasing, and focus on gifts that keep on giving. I’m already ahead of the saving game in that I don’t have a large number of gifts to buy; in my family, we all buy gifts for the kids and draw one name among the adults, in addition to buying for our spouse. If you inject a little creativity into your gift-buying mantra, you’ll be amazed at the lasting joy you can create.

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For your parents and grandparents

Photo books are one of my winning picks for something that will be cherished for years. In this digital age, I feel sad that my family won’t have the same opportunity I did as a child to sit down and comb through old photo albums. But it’s now actually easier to create your own photo album online and have it delivered. They range from less than $20 for a simple one to more than $100 for a beautifully designed large album. First you pick the format you like, then you upload your digital photos-typically by dragging and dropping into the mocked-up album. You can add text, graphics and all kinds of unique design elements, and even select the type of paper you want. Your book is shipped to you within two or three weeks. Sites include, and iPhoto. I have signed up for their email lists and wait for specials before placing an order; you can design your book in advance, save it on the website without ordering, then simply wait for a coupon or discount code before you make your purchase.

As a cheaper alternative, print your favourite photos on your home printer and lay them out in a homemade scrapbook. I often refer to Pinterest for some great ideas for page layouts; a couple of good resources are blogs like and

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For your husband

I find that my husband, Nick, is the toughest to buy for. What I may think of as the “perfect gift” isn’t always his definition of the term-i.e., it has to be electronic! If you have the same issue, here’s an idea: Last year for Nick’s birthday I purchased Nest, an energy-saving, hip-looking thermostat that cost $250 and has saved us more than $200 in its first year. He loves it, and it’s a conversation piece when friends come over, because it’s so neat. Once it is installed, you adjust the temperature over a week according to your needs. Nest then “learns” your schedule, and programs itself according to your preferences. It also comes with an application that allows you to monitor your energy savings from your smartphone, iPad or iPod, and adjust your home temperature even when you are not at home. And, unlike so many other thermostats, it’s extremely simple to install.

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For your children

I feel there is nothing more thoughtful than feeding a child’s interest, especially if it is something that will keep their mind or body active. This year my focus for my daughter is music. I was able to find a beautiful piano on Craigslist (free including delivery!) and will also buy her lessons. I’ve shopped around and found the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra School of Music, which not only offers affordable programs, but also gives discounts on some VSO concerts. Most of the classes are taught by members of the symphony, and the school genuinely fosters creativity through its innovative teaching methods. It’s another example of a gift that will keep on giving, hopefully for many years to come.

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