Depending on how you approach it, giving gifts during the holiday season can be really fun or extremely stressful. If shopping for someone outside your immediate family or inner circle, finding an appropriate present can be a time-consuming struggle.

One way to keep hurt feelings and misunderstandings from dampening your Christmas spirit is to come up with a creative plan to give inexpensive tokens of appreciation of friendship, neighborliness or collegiality.

In any case, avoid the temptation of going overboard by buying or spending too much. Just remember what your grandmother used to say: "The only thing worthwhile about a gift is the intention."

Here are some ideas for expressing thanks over the holidays to people whom you want to acknowledge:

  • Become known for giving boxes of your awesome fudge or pecan squares that recipients will treasure like gold. If possible, include a mixture of the dry ingredients with instructions, so they can whip up a batch at any time.
  • Collaborate with a favorite bakery on a set of whimsical Christmas cookies that look like your pet, house, garden and town landmark.
  • Create a small food basket with non-perishable goodies from the farmers' market. Chocolate covered almonds. Smoked fish. Black tea and a bottle of locally raised honey tied with colorful curly ribbon.
  • Candied almonds is another treat, easily made by mixing on the stove top 1 cup sugar; 1/4 cup water; 1/4 cup lime juice; 1/4 cup honey; 1 tbsp. cinnamon; and two cups whole shelled almonds. Spread the mixture on a cookie sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes, tossing frequently to avoid burning. Make savory variations by substituting cayenne or black pepper for the cinnamon.
  • For colleagues, frame a photo or create a photo magnet of a memorable company retreat or outing from the year that highlights the recipient with several people including yourself. Likewise, for your extended circle of friends, select a photo to share from a group activity. (The magnets can be bought at photography stores.)
  • If gift-giving is out of your budget this season, consider sending custom Christmas cards which incorporate your favorite photo and a personalized greeting. The recipients will be thrilled to know you are thinking of them.