Chicago Manual of Style—11/17/2009

Snag thoughtful gifts for friends and family

By Jessica Hester

In this economy, we’re all trying to make a little money go a long way. It can be depressing to spend some hard-earned cash on a present that will be cast aside by New Year’s. Here are some ideas for affordable gifts that keep on giving.

For your tech-head brother:

Indulge his tech obsession with a gift certificate to the iTunes store that allows him to download apps on his iPhone 3G or 3GS. If he’s a musician, he’ll appreciate Cleartune ($3.99), a digital pitch pipe that helps tune almost any instrument. If he’s a jet setter, he’ll want the FlightTrack app ($4.99), which gives him real-time information about gate numbers, delays, and, cancellations. With over 100,000 apps, there really is something for everyone, so he should have no trouble spending any gift card from $15-$100. This gift will keep him connected—and glued to his phone—all year long.

For your cinephile sister:

Whether she’s into campy horror films, bawdy bromance comedies, or cerebral Czech new wave cinema, she can customize a Netflix queue to fit her tastes. You can give the gift of nonstop movie rentals by giving her a Netflix subscription, which starts at $8.99 a month. This basic package gives her both the “Watch Instantly” feature and unlimited rentals, with one DVD sent at a time. You can buy gift subscriptions for any period between one month and one year. Throw in a few bags of popcorn, and she’ll be holed up in her room until spring.

For your humanitarian cousin:

Get in the giving spirit by making a charitable donation in honor of a do-gooder relative. If your cousin is an animal lover, you can make a donation to the Humane Society in his name. If you donate $5 or more, the Humane Society will mail him a personalized card telling him about the gift. Donations of $25 or more also include a subscription to the Society’s bi-monthly magazine. You could also donate to a charity like Habitat for Humanity, where a minimum donation of $10 contributes to the cost of buying building materials and supplies.

For your eco-friendly classmate:

Bring a little color to a classmate’s cloudy Chicago winter by giving her a potted plant. Fresh flowers brighten up every room, and she’ll be able to enjoy it all year–assuming she remembers to water it. Treasure Island sells a lot of different types and sizes., including tiny, self-sustaining cacti and bamboo plants, which are perfect for scatterbrained pals. As a friendly reminder, you can also wrap up a cute watering can. Ikea has some to suit everyone’s taste, from classic metal to streamlined plastic in Bauhaus-inspired shapes ($1.99 and up).

For your foodie roommates:

If your roommates are always cooking up gourmet treats, get them a year’s subscription to Bon Appétit magazine. Twelve issues are only $20, and you get two subscriptions for the price of one. The magazine is chock-full of delicious recipes and fancy gadgets for the kitchen enthusiast. Your roomies may even show their gratitude by cooking you some stuffed winter squash or lamb with pomegranates, or at least let you lick the pan.

You can also throw in some kitchen supplies, like Anthropologie’s versatile “Latte Bowls,” which have fluted sides and come in mouth-watering colors like cherry, pumpkin, and currant ($32 for six). These bowls have ample room for either creative culinary creations or a heaping helping of late-night mac n’ cheese.

For your artsy friend:

If your friend’s idea of a perfect weekend includes an afternoon of gallery–hopping and an evening of avant–garde theater, get her a year–long student membership to the Museum of Contemporary Art. Student membership is $30 and includes unlimited free admission, discounted tickets to performances, and two guest passes. With upcoming exhibitions like the reflexive “Production Site: The Artist’s Studio Inside-Out,” and performances by dance troupes like The Seldoms, this is a gift any culture-lover will covet.

You can also wrap up some art supplies and encourage her to get her own creative juices flowing. Blick (on State Street, between Madison and Monroe) has a great selection of affordable art supplies, from canvases and charcoal to sketchpads and scrapbook materials. Stop in and check out the holiday sale that runs until December 24 to get discounts on a variety of materials, like sets of watercolors or colored pencils.

This holiday season don’t buy a present that will be tossed out with the stale gingerbread cookies. With these low-cost gifts that keep on giving, you’ll continue to spread some cheer throughout the year.