Christmas is just days away and for those still struggling to make ends meet, it can be a real pain to come up with great presents for everyone.
But before you decide to be a Scrooge this year, here's a list of frugal gift ideas from expatriates in Dubai. These are not only easy on the pocket and great for Christmas, they can deliver a happy surprise on any occasion — Eid, Diwali, birthdays, Mother's Day or Father's Day.
Do it yourself
When it comes to gift-giving, Vanessa Northway from the UK only needs to tap into her creative side to please her loved ones without breaking the bank. On one occasion, she decided to give her husband a set of personalised tokens that almost cost nothing.
"I gave them after we became parents for the first time. The tokens were handmade by me and presented in a mug that I painted myself to look like his favourite thing — the Liverpool soccer team. Each token offered a job or task that I would do instead of him like wash the dishes, make dinner, do the night feed for the baby, do the laundry, change a diaper, etc.
There were 24 tokens that he could then cash in whenever he chose. If I remember correctly, he used up all his tokens in less than a month," she says.
One Christmas, she also bought some very inexpensive plain frames from Ikea and jazzed them up with beads and shells, and popped in an arty postcard to complete the look. "Our family still has these up in the bathroom 10 years later," adds Northway, the academic head of the School of Textiles and Design at Heriot-Watt University in Dubai.
For her girlfriends, some of the frugal gifts she had given were inexpensive pashminas, which she had adorned with hand embroidery, sequins and beads. The final look did not fail to amaze her friends.
"For the kids, I sometimes collect biscuit tins and decorate them with sticky paper, glue, some ribbons and trims on the outside, line inside with some fabric and there's an instant storage box for their little bits and pieces for dolls, etc," she adds.
For this Christmas, Northway's creative mind is eyeing a virtual gift for relatives abroad. She will be sending e-calendars which will feature a photo of her family in Dubai. Her relatives can then print it out at the other end on recycled paper or simply leave it on their desk tops "to be a bit more eco-friendly."
During their "Secret Santa" tradition in the office last year, Beth Lewis found a perfect gift for her colleague at the spice souq in Deira: a bit of gold, frankincense and myrrh for under Dh50.
"I bought a set which came with a small ceramic incense burner and some frankincense and myrrh. I added to this a gorgeous gold necklace from New Look, which was very reasonable," she says.
"This year for Christmas, I have tried to be very organised and purchase presents throughout the year at the fantastic warehouse sales that have taken place in Dubai. I have bought some fantastic cosmetics and beauty products for next to nothing, which means that I have lots to give this year," Lewis adds.
Shazia Malek from Pakistan is also into the bargain mood. Although she's not a Christian, she still finds a way to buy presents for her friends during the holidays.
"I always look out for sales in Dubai where you get good deals. So I pick up whatever I wish to give away to family and friends for the rest of the year. The most inexpensive gift I picked up was an amazing Dh20 top from Marks & Spencer for my cousin who liked it a lot," she says.
For this Christmas, Shazia's gift basket is already filled to the brim. "I picked up loads and loads of stuff from Marks & Spencer during their recent sale such as tops, bags and scarves which I intend to give to some Christian friends who always appreciate them for the quality the brand has," she says.
Jazmin Poblador (pictured right) from the Philippines is no scrooge. In fact, she loves giving away presents during Christmas. But with times being hard these days, she can't afford to splurge on expensive items.
"It's a good thing that baking is my favourite pastime. So, instead of wasting away my money on meaningless clutter, I will be baking chocolate cookies for my friends and colleagues in Dubai. It's low-budget, yet my friends will definitely love it," she says.
"It's going to be very inexpensive. All I need is a box of chocolate cooking mix, some eggs and butter and I can produce more than a dozen pieces. I'll then put them in a gift box with red ribbon on top," she adds.
If you're looking to give presents and do something for charity, you can buy unique gift items from the less privileged communities. You don't only save money, you also help empower the less-privileged.
Last Christmas, Shweta Sayanakar from India gave her friends lovely handmade lamp shades which she had purchased from India. For Dh35 each, the gift was definitely easy on the budget.
"The best part was that they were made by under-privileged children who raised funds for themselves by selling them. Apart from the cost, it also suited best for the giving and caring sentiment for Christmas eve," she says.
Faisal Shabbir from India is another fan of items made by hand. On one occasion, he gave his mother a handcrafted pink handbag with a cane handle. Though he bought it for under Dh60, it sure did please his mum. This Christmas, chocolates in boxes are on top of his low-budget gifts.
With the financial crisis still hurting consumers' wallets, it can be useful to know how to keep budgets in check when giving presents. We've asked ordinary consumers, as well as gift and financial experts to share some money-saving ways to celebrate the holidays as economically as possible but with just as much joy.
Are you sticking to a budget this Christmas? What are you planning on buying for family and friends? Share your list with us by clicking on the 'Post a comment' link below.