When you only have $10 or $20 to spend, the line between a decent or dodgy gift requires a little creative navigating. You don't want to buy a totally lame present or throw your money down the proverbial drain. It can be tempting to play Santa's naughty elf and go for a novelty/joke gift, but passing out the penis pops or boob mugs at the work Christmas party is likely to go down like a lead bauble.
"Follow your own judgement," says Westfield's "Gifting Expert" and editor of Westfield's Christmas magazine, Margaret Merten. "One year an old boss of mine was given a mug with the slogan "Go Away", which was humorous because he was the most approachable person you could meet. But, [when trying to decide if a gift is appropriate] I would apply the question of how you would feel if you were given that gift and had to open in it front of colleagues. If there's a shadow of a doubt, walk away."
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It's also important to play by the rules. "Don't go overboard - stick to the price," Margaret says. "If you buy something that's clearly worth a lot more than the set amount, you risk making people feel uncomfortable."
But, even with a mini-budget, you can still get bang for your buck.
"It doesn't need to be expensive to be special," Margaret says. "Personally, I'm a big fan of pampering presents. Things you might not buy yourself, but still appreciate."
She suggests scented candles, beautifully-wrapped soaps or gourmet produce such as short-bread biscuits, chocolate, balsamic vinegar, coffee or tea. Foodie gifts can be just as good made as bought. Recipes and other DIY gifts can be found here.
Bernadette Dimitrov, Australia's first official Mrs Claus, and author of Amazon Kindle book The HoHoHo Factor thinks home-made gifts are fun and thoughtful. She also suggests going for a creative twist on the usual suspects: "Go for positive, uplifiting, inspirational gifts such as a mug, water glass or mouse pad with a positive quote printed on it. Often your local office store offers these items with your words or quotes printed for you at minimal cost. This is a gift that will make someone feel good all year long."
"Useful gifts are good," agrees Margaret. "A quality blank note book can be used by guys or girls. A pretty coffee mug or a water bottle are great to use in the office - a nice water bottle is also healthier than refilling your old plastic bottle. Otherwise, the ubiquitous gift card is always appreciated and means a person can spend it how they want - I don't think it's viewed as a lazy present anymore."
If you're looking for something that's more community than Kris Kringle, another option is to choose a care gift. "When you've got a small budget, it's hard to find a uselful or meaningful gift," says CARE Gift Officer, Lucy Runnalls. "Care gifts help others and can be fun too. There are also a variety of price points and options available. For ten dollars you could buy school books for children in their native language or a black board. For $13, you can buy chickens, $25 buys immunisation for a child or $40 gets a piglet." Other charity gifts ideas that aren't just great for kids, but colleagues too, can be found here.
If you're still stuck for ideas, Bernadette suggests trying a fun variation on the theme. "There is a gambling version called Secret Casino Santa," she says. "Each person purchases a gift, but not for anyone in particular. They also put an agreed amount of money into a pot. The total could be $5 for a gift and $5 for the money pot. If it is a large group, the money pot can be quite big.
"Then each person has their name pulled from a hat and is given the opportunity to either choose a gift, choose the opportunity to win all the money or put their name into another pot for the chance to win all the gifts left by those who went for the money option. Then, those who chose gifts open them, followed by a winner for the money pot being drawn and lastly, the leftover gift winner being drawn."
The spirit of Kris Kringle means that the price tag does not have to reflect the value of a gift. It's simply about injecting a little Christmas cheer and sharing, on a level playing field, with your colleagues. "Kris Kringles offers a way for business to incorporate some fun and play into the work place," Bernadette says. "It offers workers an opportunity to use their imagination and creativity to come up with innovative and fun gift ideas. Don't forget that the real reason for the season is to connect at a heart level with each other more deeply each year."
For CARE gifts go to: www.caregifts.org.au or phone 1800 020 046.
Westfield offers free gift wrapping with an optional gold-coin donation for charity. For more information go to www.westfield.com.au