Obey the Spend Limit

Give us fifty bucks, we’ll give you 10 great gift ideas

Massage by Guy Coutre

Massage by Guy Coutre

Photo By Larry Dalton

We, the people of Sacramento, might not celebrate the same holidays this time of year, but we do share one common reality: Our credit-card balances will be significantly higher when the holiday season is over. While the cost of a typical gift might not be climbing as quickly as the price of gas, the number of passable choices for less than $50 clearly is dwindling. Gone are the days when dad would exult over a $10 set of Old Spice or when mom would swoon over a handmade ornament. Today, mass consumerism requires us to be more creative and less frugal with our gift choices. To help you get started on this daunting mission, we’ve identified 10 gift choices for less than $50, and we’re pleased to report that bad after shave isn’t among them.

Le Petit Paris

Photo By Larry Dalton

1. Wireless weather station: $49.95

Know a weather geek, the type who always is checking the barometric pressure to find out how much hair gel to use or what the heat index will be with the delta breeze? If so, this gift might attain a vaunted place on the nightstand. It operates via wireless sensor that mounts to an outside wall and transmits readings from up to 100 feet away. About the size of an extra-large remote control, the weather station displays the local forecast—complete with animated clouds, suns and raindrops—temperature, relative humidity, barometric pressure, room temperature, day, date and time. It also has an alarm clock with snooze function, should your beloved weather geek decide that it is too cold to get out of bed. Find it at: The Sharper Image, Pavilions Shopping Center, (916) 646-0868, www.sharperimage.com.

2. Battery-operated sweater de-linter: $36

If a lint remover sounds like a yawner of a gift, then you haven’t seen the Alessi line of products—sleek, brightly colored housewares with personality made by Italians, the standard-bearers of industrial design. These stocking stuffers bring levity to some of life’s most mundane chores: shredding cheese, grinding pepper, chopping vegetables, cleaning the toilet and, yes, sheering lint balls from your favorite sweater. Most of Alessi’s products are quite pricey, but at $36 the neon-green-and-white de-linter meets our price criteria and even serves a useful purpose. Find it at: Atmosphere Home, 2122 J Street, (916) 446-4054, www.modernatmosphere.com.

3. Ceramic potpourri stones: $37

Stones that smell. Yes, those resourceful Parisians will try anything for a noseful of pleasant odors. These packages of smooth, aromatic stones are made by Esteban are and imported from France. Try the Pivoine version in the red box for a fresh floral scent; the Teck and Tonka version for a masculine, musky scent; or the Cedre for a natural, woodsy aroma. If you want to exceed our $50 price limit you can purchase a rippled glass dish to hold the polished stones, but the potpourri cases are decorative enough to stand alone. Find it at: Le Petit Paris, 1221 19th Street, (916) 446-3639.

4. Joy of Cooking: $35

The jacket says it’s what “your grandmother and mother probably learned to cook with and the book you gave your sister when she got married.” Outdated stereotypes about women in the kitchen aside, anyone who makes even an occasional attempt to cook should have this book in his or her kitchen. (It is about more than just recipes, although it does have hundreds of good ones.) This is a practical handbook of everything you need to know about food and dining—from the proper way to store tomatoes and the correct cooking times for various types of pasta, to table settings and menu-planning ideas. The book, initially published in 1931, has kept up with changing trends and tastes. It now contains descriptions of exotic ingredients, a 12-page chart of the nutritional composition of common foods, and a comprehensive chapter on beans and tofu. Whether you buy it for your mother, sister, brother or boyfriend, this gift will pay off the next time you’re invited over for dinner. Find it at: any bricks-and-mortar or online bookstore.

5. Barbecue fork-and-knife set with built-in flashlight: $40

Sacramento’s relatively mild temperatures (trust us, it’s mild relative to Minneapolis) make grilling a realistic year-round activity. Problem is, daylight-savings time and the 5 p.m. sunset can relegate many would-be barbecuers to the kitchen if they lack sufficient outdoor lighting. If you know someone who loves to grill, but doesn’t want to eat at 4:30 in the afternoon come November, this fork-and-knife set can prevent safety mishaps and inadvertent over or under cooking. The utensils lack the wattage of, say, a spotlight, but the flashlights are built right into the handle, putting a direct shine on the food being flipped, poked or sliced. The two pieces are sold separately for $20 each and operate on two AAA batteries. Find it at: Bags and Baggage, Pavilions Shopping Center, (916) 649-3141.

6. On-site chair massages: $45

Not to paint a bleak picture of office life, but when you spend one-third of your life hunched over a computer, getting a 15-minute chair massage on the spot sounds as euphoric, and unattainable, as winning the lottery. So, why not make your most beloved office drone’s fantasies come true with not one, but three 15-minute chair massages, all in the comfort of his or her office? The Massage Guy offers on-site chair massages for $1 per minute, if you purchase a minimum of three 15-minute sessions. You needn’t worry about modesty: The chair massage is done fully clothed in any small conference-room area. If someone on your shopping list has the good fortune to not have a desk job, but still enjoys a good massage, $45 will cover a traditional one-hour table massage for the first visit. Find it at: The Massage Guy, 2627 J Street, Suite 2D, (916) 612-8454.

7. Local musician CDs: $4 to $17

What better way to support local artists, satisfy the music lover in your life and get a dirt-cheap holiday gift than to buy a recording by an up-and-coming Sacramento musician? Daisy Spot, described by one music-store clerk as having a “unique French-cabaret-alternative style,” has been playing Sacramento clubs for years and recently released its first album, which you can buy for just $10. Another $10 will get you Believe Me, the latest release from popular bar band Deathray, or a CD from hot new bands like Didley Squat or The Proles. Anton Barbeau is a local pop-music treasure who has been playing for more than 20 years; you could probably buy half of his discography and still not exceed our $50 limit. The Beat offers a comprehensive selection of local CDs and even has sample copies for listening. Find it at: The Beat, 1700 J Street, (916) 446-4402, www.beatsacramento.com.

8. Removable flash drive: $24.99 to $49.99

If you know a Luddite who still uses zip disks or CD-ROMs to transfer computer files, bring him or her into the 21st century with a pocket-sized flash drive. For students and working professionals who often move files between computers, a flash drive is invaluable. Just stick it in the USB port, drag and drop the files, and you’re done. Basic flash drives are no bigger or bulkier than a tube of lip balm, and some variations come with lanyards, key rings, changeable covers and other accessories. Flash drives have a variety of storage capabilities, but you can get several decent ones that will hold 256 megabytes of files for less than $50. Find it at: Radio Shack, various locations, www.radioshack.com; Best Buy, various locations, www.bestbuy.com.

9. VegNews subscription gift pack: $50

Why just give a gift when you can serve a higher purpose? If someone on your shopping list is pondering vegetarianism or veganism, VegNews makes a great starter kit. It contains recipes, shopping tips, nutritional advice and celebrity interviews, all written in a light style and packaged in a pleasing design. The “gift pak” includes a one-year subscription (six issues), a canvas tote bag, T-shirt and six giant vegan cookies from Sacramento’s own Alternative Baking Company. It’s the ultimate win-win gift: You’ll be helping someone switch to a healthy, humane and more environmentally friendly way of life, and you don’t even have to leave your seat to do it. Find it at: www.vegnews.com.

10. Car wash, wax and vacuum: $36

You always can tell when it has snowed in Tahoe because four out of five SUVs cruising down I-5 are covered with enough salt to fill Arco Arena. Save your favorite snow bunny from those malicious “wash me” pranksters with a gift certificate for a complete wash, wax, vacuum and window treatment. Find it at: Scrub Boys, 1731 Broadway, (916) 446-3700; 5431 Folsom Boulevard, (916) 731-4323.