Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Everyone on your Christmas list for $150. Really!

I recently purchased my copy of InStyle’s December/holiday issue. Aside from the fact that I was extremely disappointed in the way they styled Carrie Underwood’s hair (I seriously didn’t know it was possible to make her look anything less than perfect until their very sad cover shot proved otherwise…), the issue was fantastic. And when I saw that they had included a special gift guide section that promised to hit “every price point,” I was even more thrilled. I hurriedly flipped to the section, since as a typical college student I’ve been too preoccupied with finals to make the preparatory shopping lists needed to guide my holiday expenditures. InStyle made things easy in the article, separating gift ideas by the personality type of the recipient. I quickly flipped to the ‘fashionista’ section with the hopes of getting some good ideas for what to give my (very) stylish mother.

Unfortunately, InStyle seems to have no idea of what a realistic gift budget for a Christmasing college student really looks like. A $625 Alexander Wang cotton-polyamide crewneck sweater? A $350 calfskin Philip Lim wristlet? Oh, and at the lower end of things, a $140 Tom Ford gift set that consists of one bottle of nail polish, one lipstick, and pressed perfume powder. Excuse me?

That dinky little nail polish set would nearly empty my entire bank account. So I decided to tackle the impossible and budget a Christmas shopping guide that covers everyone on my list for a grand total of $150. Think it’s impossible? It’s not. Read below to get some ideas on how to construct a similar budget for yourself!

For Dad: Though he probably wouldn’t admit this to you, my dad is a huge fan of one particular male “beauty” product—Kiehl’s Facial Fuel Re-energizing Wash. From time to time, I see his eyes wander toward the Kiehl’s counter when my mom and I drag him along on a shopping expedition to Neiman’s. Lucky for him (and me!), Kiehl’s is promoting a special men’s skincare set for only $29.50. So this year, I’m getting him the gift that he wishes he could buy himself, but doesn’t actually get to avoid looking too metro: Kiehl’s Men’s Refueling Set, available for purchase at (with free shipping)!

For Mom: For my fashion loving, coffee addicted mother, I will be purchasing a two-part gift. A pound of holiday blend coffee from her favorite coffee shop, Café Brazil, and InStyle’s recent publication The New Secrets of Style. Made from a blend of cinnamon, caramel, French vanilla and hazelnut, the coffee will pack a lot of Holiday punch for just $12.99. And at just $19.77 on Amazon, InStyle’s book will be the perfect complement to a hot mug of freshly brewed grounds.

Order Café Brazil’s holiday blend for your favorite caffeine addict at:

InStyle’s book is available at Barnes & Noble, InStyle’s website, and Have it shipped straight to you from:

For Boyfriend: I feel like every magazine I’ve opened lately has promised me that boyfriends—and most other humans, for that matter—enjoy “experiences” more than gifts. So I decided that this year, I would finally listen to the experts and give my #1 guy something a little more creative than the usual JCrew apparel I snag for him with my employee discount. Here are my top three options for my outdoors loving, musical instrument playing boyfriend:

Option 1: Archery lesson at Conejo Valley Archers. He thinks bows and arrows are cool, so why not send him to a range to get some practice? The site is a training ground for the Junior Olympic Archery program, but members of the public can get in for—get this—$5.00. He doesn’t need to know the cost!

Option 2: Self Defense shooting at the LAX Firing Range. Guys are into stuff like guns, protecting themselves, and pretending to be private detectives/cops on the hunt for predators. This gift will let him use his imagination and play cop-and-robber with a bunch of other testosterone-crazed males.  He can play with high-end handguns, rifles, and shotguns for only $20.00.

Option 3: Classical guitar lesson. Probably the safest bet. He loves music, and this sounds like it would give him an amazing opportunity to learn from a pro. Plus, I’m sure to benefit from all the classical guitar infused love songs he’s sure to write for me after I present him with this gift. Private lessons generally run about $40 an hour.

For best friends, friends, professors, and everyone else: Don’t kid yourself; your best friend isn’t getting you a new Louis Vuitton either this Christmas. She’s a broke college student like you! So keep the gift exchange easy by handing her a thoughtful, homemade gift that’s got a lot of heart with a small price tag. For all of the above-mentioned names on your Christmas list, make homemade treats and pack them in a cute tin (you can usually purchase Christmas tins from craft stores like Michael’s or Hobby Lobby, and maybe even from CVS). Consider packing your goodie-filled tin with one (or all!) of the shockingly simple holiday recipes below. Your friends will never believe they’re homemade.

1. Oreo truffles: combine a package of smashed Oreos with Neufchatel cream cheese (I prefer to use mint Oreos for holiday truffles). Roll the mixture into a ball about the size of a walnut and let harden in freezer for 10 minutes—one package of Oreos should let you make up to 30 truffles. While the truffles are shaping up in the freezer, heat Baker’s white chocolate over the stove. Take truffles out of the freezer and dip individually into the melted chocolate, replacing covered truffle on a cookie sheet with wax paper to set. Refrigerate on tray for 30 minutes. Drizzle in melted dark chocolate to add some pizzazz, and add crushed peppermint as a garnish if desired.

2. Toffee bark: my friend Kate got me addicted to this recipe last Christmas. This version comes from an posting:


  • 1/2 pound (two sticks) butter

  • 1/4 cup brown sugar

  • 1/4 cup granulated white sugar

  • 1/2 box (about) graham crackers (not crumbs)

  • 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

  • 1 cup chopped macadamia nuts


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 10 x 15-inch jelly-roll pan with non-stick foil. Arrange whole graham crackers (plain) to fit the bottom of the pan in a single layer, breaking up the last few to fit the space.

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add brown sugar and white sugar. Stir to combine. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and let the mixture gently bubble for 4 minutes. Remove from heat.

Carefully pour sugar/butter mixture evenly over the graham cracker layer. Spread to cover. Bake for 10 minutes.

When done, remove from oven and let rest until bubbling subsides. Sprinkle chocolate chips evenly over the top. Wait about 2 minutes for chocolate to melt, then use a spatula to gently spread into an even layer on top of the toffee graham crackers. Sprinkle with the chopped macadamia nuts, pressing down gently into the chocolate.

Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for 2 hours. Peel foil from chilled bark. Break into 2-inch irregular pieces.

3. Chocolate dipped jumbo stick pretzels: so easy, so cute. Dip one half of a jumbo pretzel into melted chocolate bark (white or milk chocolate will work). Decorate chocolate covered half with Christmas colored sprinkles, then stick into the refrigerator for about 20 minutes to let them set up.

Finish your goodie tin by including a Land O’ Lakes cappuccino classic mix – they’re only 60 cents a piece and can be purchased from any local grocery store. Tie a ribbon around the tin with a hole-punched picture of yourself and your giftee strung through it to personalize.

Feel free to go nuts and make as many of these goodie tins for friends and family as you want! The total cost of your ingredients should be no more than 30 dollars, and will ensure gift coverage for a large number of people.

Sibling or miscellaneous other: You’ve still got about $15.00 left in your $150.00 budget. For anyone that you don’t feel like you can cover with a goodie-tin, go with something simple, like a giftcard to their favorite store. Combine with a framed picture of the two of you and stuff all of the contents into a stocking from CVS for a cheery presentation.

Working Budget: $150.00

Total Expenditure: $147. 26

That leaves you smart spenders with $2.74 to spare—so buy yourself some nail polish and give yourself an at home mani-pedi. You deserve some primping after all that scrimping!

Happy shopping (and holidays)!


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