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Cutting Gift Costs

Nick Chiles

Q. Our extended family's had a baby boom. How can we give holiday gifts without breaking the bank?

A. I'll bet you a slice of red velvet cake that your sibs and cousins are worried about the gift squeeze, too. To help make it easier for all:

Agree on a budget  -- say, no one spends more than $15 per gift per person.

Exchange names and play Secret Santa, or do a Yankee Swap with the adults: Everyone brings one wrapped gift and picks numbers out of a hat. Number 1 chooses a present, opens it, then number 2 selects one. If 2 likes 1's gift better, he can swap  -- but might lose it later if a higher number wants it. Once every gift is opened, lucky number 1 gets to pick from all of them.

Buy stuff for the kids only, since surely you can survive without yet another orange knit skullcap from Grandma.

Give family gifts  -- something that everyone'll appreciate, like a CD featuring their favorite artist, a family magazine subscription, or a gift card good for a night out at the movies.

Offer the most valuable present of all: your time. Draw up a certificate worth a night of babysitting or a home-cooked meal.