Last year, for instance, I weighed several options -- and my budget -- and, in the end, took advantage of a buy-one-get-one-free offer from Snapfish for a personalized calendar. My parents live in a rural part of Oregon that rarely gets inclusion in coffee table books or local nature calendars, so I made a special calendar of photographs I had taken of their home and its surroundings throughout the year. It was such a success that I decided to keep, rather than give away, the get-one-free calendar.
In this era of digital imaging, the options for personalized gifts are never-ending, but many of them tend toward the schlocky. If you're like me and love to give personalized gifts that will really strike a chord with your recipients, these ideas may just do the trick. But don't delay! Most of these gifts need to be ordered at least a week before the holiday -- some even sooner.
$12.99 to $24.99, ships in one to five days
Just about every photo printing company with a serious online presence -- even my favorite local photo lab -- has calendars to offer. Last year, I used Snapfish and was pleased with the product; this year, I'm trying Scrapbook Pictures, because I can pick up the products in the store. Snapfish also offers pickup at some Meijer and DuaneReade stores for some calendars; Shutterfly has a variety of options, like desk calendars; Lulu offers the option to sell your calendar to others (a great option for fundraising calendars). If you or a loved one has a talent with a camera, this is one of the best personalized gifts; it's useful, it lasts throughout the year, and it's typically a product that your recipient would want to have, reflecting images of people and places they love. For my husband, in Kuwait for the Army, I'm planning to make a special calendar of images around Portland and Oregon filled with the fog and rain that make this very much not the desert.
SIGG Bottle Designed By You
$24/$28, ships in five business days
Though I'm still a little testy with SIGG over the great BPA lining debacle, I love the concept of putting my own images or text on a slick aluminum water bottle (see top image of this story). Through CafePress, SIGG offers a selection of bottles -- the 0.6 liter ($24) or the 1.0 liter ($28) -- some with images and some with text. Many of the text options include graphics, too.
To keep this gift timeless, stay away from photos of cute babies (they're super cute, we agree, but will age rather quickly), and instead select a photo that's evocative of your gift recipient or you. What about a closeup of your mother's prize roses in full bloom? Or a photo of your marathon-running sister's running shoes? Whatever you do, please steer clear of the "World's Best Mom" design. No matter how great the mom, I'm sure she'd rather not say so as "pink-ly" as this.
Levi's Curve ID Custom Fit Jeans
$59.50 to $128.00, ships in one to two days
It's a lovely concept: Measure your waist, your seat, your hips, your thighs and your inseam, and Levi's will show you the jean that's right for you. This falls more into the category of "a gift for myself" or for a teenage daughter or sister -- someone whose measurements you either know or can get easily. You can also send a friend or a special woman in your life a gift certificate, a measuring tape, and a link to the video walk through on how to measure yourself. (Be forewarned: The online model's body is pretty fantastic, at least compared to my own. I just sighed and insisted to myself that this woman hasn't given birth to three boys.) Once you've measured, you can pick colors and styles in the category that fits you; most are in stock and can ship quickly, with free shipping when we were shopping the site.
$9.95 and up, ships in two to five days
Both Lulu and TasteBook offer some great options for cookbooks created with your own family recipes, or perhaps recipes from a group. This is something I'm considering this year. Are you part of a book group whose members are famous for their awesome appetizers? Do you usually swap cookies with a group of friends? Why not compile a bunch of favorites into a book you all can share? And if you have a large blog following or many farflung friends and acquaintances, you might even end up making money from the bargain. Some of the hardcover books take longer for shipping, so check out the options today.
VISA Gift Card with Your Photo
Gift card value, plus $5.95, ships in 48 hours
You've probably seen ads in magazines or online for this one: You choose an image that doesn't violate any of the dozen rules (no porn, no celebrities, no firearms, no PIN numbers), upload it and buy a VISA gift card for someone special. As this card will only be shown to cashiers and will likely not be kept for more than a year, using cute baby/pet/knitting project photos is more acceptable than for the SIGG bottle above. And, given the small audience for displaying the image you select, the photo should probably be related to the purpose of the gift. Are you giving your college freshman child money for groceries? How about a photo of your famous roast chicken dinner?
Customized Greeting Cards
$0.99 per card and up, arrives in two to 10 business days
TinyPrints offers an enormous variety of personalized cards that range from the ordinary to the extraordinary. Unusual and beautiful choices include round "ornament" cards ($1.54 each and up); a "Santa's list" card personalized with your favorite child's "nice" attributes ($1.99 each and up); and a Hanukkah card, which tells your recipient that you remembered he or she is Jewish and not hoping for a "Merry Christmas" ($1.99 and up). You can order cards the regular way -- in bulk with one message for everyone -- or personalized down to the note and address. There's also the unusual option of printing a gift card for a favorite retailer -- from choices including Starbucks, Amazon.com, Target, Gap and Nike -- right in your greeting cards.
Chocolate Bar Expressing Your Own Tastes
$4.50 and up, ships in one to two days
Chocomize could be a brilliant way to display the unusual tastes of yourself and your recipient, or your knack for combining flavors in interesting ways -- or it could be a disastrous waste of money and raw ingredients. I think the sesame seed-ginger-cardamom dark chocolate bar ($6.40) I designed is brilliant. I could just as easily, however, have chosen white chocolate with corn nuts, gummy bears and beef jerky. Do you see how horribly, horribly wrong this could go? Stick with traditional chocolate pairings and no more than three "extras," and you'll be fine. Please, by all that is holy, don't put cereal, gold flakes or vegetarian bacon in your chocolate. And do not click on the "candy" tab at all. Thank you.