We’re happy to announce the first in a series of guest bloggers!

Domino magazine may have gone under, but never fear: we’ve tapped a former Domino staffer for her eternal wisdom. Today we’re introducing you to an extraordinary bitch if ever there was one. Novelist, Brooklynite, and all around whip-smart lady: Amy Shearn. We were blown away by her debut novel How Far is The Ocean from Here, love her design aesthetic and work on Domino, and so asked for her input on the age-old question: How can we maintain a budget during the holidays without looking like a total cheapskate? Without further ado:

Ten Budget Holiday Gifts

by Amy Shearn


There’s no better feeling than knowing you’ve given someone the perfect holiday gift, or at the very least, checked them off your holiday list. Some ground rules: buying stuff in bulk is a bad scene – no one believes you picked out that portable reading light just for them, and it makes you look like a bank rewards program. No gift cards. And only very careful regifting! If you’re still stuck, here are ten ideas:

*A magazine subscription. These can be really inexpensive – often $10-$20. They keep on giving all year round. They work even when you have only a semi-good idea of what a person likes, i.e., the mother-in-law who already owns every cookbook and cooking doodad known to man. How about a subscription to Saveur? Anyway, we all know circulation is down in the print world and magazines are in trouble. Why not support a suffering industry while giving your best friend something to read in the bathtub? (Alright, I’m biased. If Domino hadn’t folded, I wouldn’t be unemployed now!) The New Yorker is an amazing deal for around $40. Or Entertainment Weekly! No one admits to reading it, but everyone loves it.

*A photo book from blurb.com. If you have any sort of even mildly adorable child then believe me, grandparents flip for these things. I know, I know – photo gifts can be cheesy. But they’re customizable, so it seems like you put some thought into it, and perfect for the lazy – blurb’s high-quality books can be created on your laptop while you watch Mad Men in your pajamas.

*A bunch of tchotchkes from Chinatown (or Pearl River). For stocking stuffers or Hanukkah gifts, there’s no better resource than your local crap-vendors and their puzzling wares. Sure, these gifts are probably made of lead paint and fish parts. But who can resist boom boxes fashioned from cardboard, toys with inscrutable packaging, teas promising improved health? Top off with one those cheap yet great pashminas and you’re a budget gift empress.

*A weirdo camera. In this day and age of fancy digital photography, there’s something charming about taking actual film pictures. A funky camera that takes interestingly warped pictures, like a Holga or Diana (okay, these aren’t way under $50, but distortion doesn’t come cheap), is just the thing you’d never buy yourself but would love to play around with.

*A book from Persephone. Even book worms like myself know that a book can be a pretty lame gift. But when the book itself is so gorgeous it shames the wrapping paper? I love Persephone’s reprints of out-of-print novels by female authors, and not just because the end papers and matching bookmark are so darn pretty.

*Stationary. File it under “stuff everyone likes but feels weird spending money on”: fancy paper – perhaps even personalized—pretty letterpress cards, a new address book. Throw in a pen and stamps and you’ve got a sweet, slightly old-fashioned gift (and a hint to that faraway friend who only sends u txt msgs). Etsy has great options.

*Coziness. To me, the whole point of winter is staying warm and cozy. Plus, it seems like every spring at least one of my gloves absconds with one of my socks, perhaps exhausted from their months of servitude. Old Navy has some good fuzzy socks, and you’ll find some gift-worthy gloves at Target.

*Stuff you baked. There’s no time like the holidays to get all Martha’d out. Try quick breads in seasonal flavors like pumpkin, apple spice, or turkey gravy (just kidding about that last one!). Slap some mini-loaves in pretty paper and you’re good to go. Incidentally, as someone who lives in a tiny apartment, I have to say I love gifts that can be consumed and therefore take up no room.

*Stuff you made. Bath salts are a breeze. Mix up some epsom salts, dried lavender, lavender essence, and maybe a drop or two of oil, pour it all into a pretty jar and tie on a ribbon. Give to the flustered hostess in your life and you’ll totally look like you care.

*Time. These gift ideas are getting cheaper and cheaper! I was just sitting here thinking of the gift I’d really truly like this year, and it is… a few hours of childcare. If you know any mothers, or me, offer to watch the little one(s) for an hour or two so the mother, or I, can go get a manicure.  Or work on her novel. Or both at the same time.