If you need to get gifts for extended family, coworkers or every gal in your sorority, you need a one-stop shopping destination that's affordable yet still reflects your discerning taste. Here's where we like to shop when we need to pick up presents for lots of people:
IKEA: You may just associate IKEA with cheap furniture and homegoods, but they also have great gift items at incredibly low prices. Head straight to their lower level (or wherever their check-out is located) for stylish holiday merchandise, tasty edible treats, and cool decorations for the home like lovely vases (the ones shown here are just $6.99 each), candles and picture frames. Or hit the children's section for beautiful toys that are as fun to look at as they are to play with.
You could also pick up inexpensive baskets which you can fill with various goodies - think coffee beans and a mug, or biscuits, jam and a teacup - wrap with colorful cellophane and pretty ribbons and you're all set. They even have cute gifts for the pet lover on your list - a food dish for Fido or comfy cat bed for Mittens. As far as we're concerned, shopping IKEA is foolproof - their tasteful, contemporary Swedish design can be appreciated by all.
Whole Foods: Give the gift of organic goodness - cuz let's face it, most of us can't afford to fill a grocery cart willy-nilly with stuff from Whole Foods on a regular basis. In addition to flowers and food, check out their organic, eco-friendly bath & body products (luxurious soaps, lotion and lip balm), plus stuff for tots (organic cotton tees and bibs), stuff for the home (candles, incense) - even stuff for the kitchen (acacia wood salad bowls and French cookware by Le Creuset).
Or, create a clever themed gift basket, say, a "Superfoods" giftbasket with products that have antioxidant-rich pomegranate, blueberry, or acai berry. Add some dark chocolate, raw almonds, a bottle of cold-pressed olive oil and some green tea, and you've created a wholesome, good-for-you gift. Deliver in a reusable shopping bag to complete the theme. Hey, it's cheaper than most spa treatments!
Another great basket idea that's always a big hit is what we like to call a "Sushi starter kit" - place sushi rice, soy sauce, rice vinegar, wasabi paste, nori (dried seaweed sheets), bamboo rice paddle, chopsticks, pickled ginger, and a sushi mat in a reusable bamboo basket or tray. Include a note card with instructions for preparing California rolls (thinly slice green onions, avocado, cucumber and imitation crab meat, arrange on rice and roll). (You can find all these items in the "ethnic" aisle of many grocery stores or hit up Chinatown if you live in a big city.)
Cost Plus World Market: Find out-of-the-ordinary gifts from around the globe. Some suggestions: Two champagne flutes and a bottle of bubbly; a selection of beers from around the world; a selection of gourmet sodas; all-natural Mrs. Meyer's cleaning supplies; earrings, bangles and a jewelry box; bath soaps and a loofah; popcorn bucket filled with imported chocolates and candies; gourmet sea salt, salami, olives and crackers; a set of Moroccan tea glasses (shown here, $23.94 - $29.94).
Bath & Body Works: When it comes to gift giving, sometimes it's better to give a useful albeit unoriginal gift, than a unique and utterly useless gift. Which brings us to Bath & Body Works - who couldn't use a nice set of lip balm, a fragrant beeswax candle or a bottle of shower gel? Just stick with fresh scents that aren't overly fruity or flowery to please the most noses are your list. (Shown here: C.O. Bigelow Forever Lemon Soap and Lotion Caddy, $22.50)