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Ask Mrs. Claus 

Our expert solves your most troubling holiday gift-giving problems

Dear Mrs. Claus: I give gift certificates. Ten punches at The Yoga Lab. Dessert at Zydeco. $50 for Vanilla. It is a gift that I would like to get, so much more so than an ugly sweater or a sunflower print dress. But giving a gift certificate also seems like I'm not an original or creative person—which is so not true. Please set me straight, Mrs. Claus: Thumb up or thumb down on gift certificates?

—My Envelopes Are Stuffed.

Dear Stuffed Envelopes: Gift certificates are fine. In fact, they can be great gifts. (And, yes, sister, I hear you about the sweaters. Enough already, right?) You can be both creative and specific in giving gift certificates. Where you choose to give a gift certificate is the key: Whether you give a gift to a candy store or a rock climbing gym says a lot about what you think about your friend. Think hard about each gift—and what this person likes or doesn't, and try to cater to that.

Dear Mrs. Claus: My girlfriend and I have been together for coming up on three months. This Christmas will be our first "gift-giving" holiday together. I really like her a lot, but I'm not sure how much to invest in her Christmas gift. After all, we're in a pretty casual relationship. What should I get her?

—Failed Gift Giving 101

Dear 101: As a woman whose husband can see me when I'm sleeping and knows when I'm awake (and, yeah, sort of creepy, has done so for centuries), it is hard for me to remember back to budding, first-love gift-giving. However! Go with your heart. Get her something you think she'll like about as much as you like her.

As far as how much to spend, don't go over the top, but be thoughtful. Really, the thoughtful factor can make a $2 gift seem like a million bucks in her eyes. Is there a special conversation you have had with her over the past three months? Has she confessed an inner dream to be a drummer in a rock-n-roll band? Give her a Guitar Hero! Has she eyed something in a store window as you've walked by? Do you have an author you both love? Even making a mix tape of the soundtrack from the past three months will go miles.

Dear Mrs. Claus: I'm broke. Really broke. The thought of buying dozens of Christmas gifts for my extended circle of friends and family is burning a hole in my already empty wallet. But I don't want to show up to Christmas empty handed, so I was thinking about making homemade gifts. Is this okay?

—No Money, Mo' Holiday Problems

Dear No Money: Don't worry about how much you're spending; gift giving isn't about money, it's about thoughtfulness (unless there's diamonds involved, then it's defiantly about money). Think about what your friends and family like, and would appreciate. A bunch of identical macaroni fridge-art sprinkled with glitter may not cut it, but bottling individual batches of homemade Kahlua is a sweet thought—and starts up a good evening. Invest your time (not to be rude, but sounds like your broke-as-a-joke ass may have some of that, right?) and creativity to make some meaningful gifts; those say much more than a cookie cutter, big-ticket item. Also might I recommend, filled with millions of charming homemade gift ideas—from unbaked cookies in a jar to hand-sewn mittens that are cuter than Frosty the snowman's button eyes!

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