Liz Pulliam Weston

The Basics

Great gifts that aren't gift cards

Don't get back in the gift card rut. Most of these smart ideas are easy on the giver and the environment, and some can even be money savers for recipients.

By Liz Pulliam Weston
MSN Money

In an earlier battle of my never-ending war on gift cards, I rounded up "20 easy gifts -- that aren't gift cards."

Knowing that you don't want to give a gift that won't be used, I focused on ideas that don't add to clutter, including consumables, services and life-enhancing gadgets.

This time around, I used the same criteria with a few tweaks. In deference to the ongoing dismal economic climate, I added some gifts that would save the recipient money. Such as:

Reusable gifts

Disposable water bottles are a big waste of money and a pox on the environment. Stylish reusable bottles are a great alternative for anybody who works out, travels or packs a lunch. Swiss-made aluminum Sigg bottles are $15 and up; flip-straw Nathan stainless-steel bottles are $20 to $25; Klean Kanteen water bottles are $12 to $22.

Speaking of environmental poxes, throwaway shopping bags are high on that list. Some retail chains will give you discounts or other rewards for bringing your own, and a few cities have started requiring companies to charge for them. Since everybody shops, reusable bags are a good all-around gift.

I touted the Reisenthel Mini Maxi Shopper (now around $10) in my previous list. I've used these as gift bags for other presents, and I've since spotted the recipients using them for shopping and general stuff-toting. After handing out those, I discovered compact ChicoBags (in various styles starting at $3), which take up even less space in your pocket or purse.

And for the urban or farmers market shopper on your list, consider the Reisenthel Foldable Trolley for $25.

Some say brown-bagging your lunch is now chic. I'm not sure about that, but Wrap-N-Mats eliminate the need for plastic bags and wrap, as do happy-sacks, which are fabric bags for sandwiches and snacks.

Saving energy

If anybody on your list has been complaining about higher energy costs, the Kill a Watt EZ electricity usage monitor (for around $39) will plug into any appliance or device and let you know how much energy it's using.

If your recipient is concerned about "vampire" power -- appliances that suck energy even when they're turned off -- consider the Smart Strip LCG3 power strip. It's a surge protector with 10 outlets that saves electricity by automatically cutting power to devices that aren't in use. (Two of the outlets are designed to stay on all the time, so you can plug in devices you don't want to shut down, such as a broadband modem or TiVo.)

Programmable thermostats aren't sexy, but if anybody on your gift list doesn't have one, they should. You can get a basic one for less than $50; deluxe models might set you back $80.

For a 'couponista'

Coupon use is rising as people try to save a buck. If you've got people on your list who'd like to get their coupons under control, an organizing system such as The Couponizer ($20) might be a welcome gift.

Or you can give a whole book full of discounts. Entertainment books offer coupons for local restaurants, movie theaters and attractions. The books typically retail for around $35, and fans say they pay for themselves several times over. If your recipient is planning a trip to, say, Las Vegas or Orlando, consider buying a book for their destination city so their travel dollars stretch further.

Continued: Ideas for travelers

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