Smart Spends

By Vicky Katz Whitaker

September 18, 2009 5 min read

From personalized cereal to a new-wave puzzle with millions of solutions, you don't have to wallop your wallet to find creative, clever and fun holiday gifts at affordable prices. Here are some that meet the criteria, all for $25 or less!

*Mix It Up: For a gift that's truly personal -- and personalized, too -- MojaMix, a California Web-based company, can create a 12-ounce bag of customized natural all-grain cereal and granola, enough for about six or seven breakfast servings (or lots of snacking). Online shoppers choose the cereal base and then add any combination of favorite fruits (ranging from the exotic goldenberry to the common raisin), topping it off with nuts, seeds and/or chocolate. The label can be personalized; it even can carry an inspiring quote or holiday greeting. It comes in environmentally friendly packaging, arriving by mail in five business days. You can track the nutritional value as you add ingredients. The price depends on what you choose, but the average mix costs less than $12.

*Smile and Shoot: With the XShot, that camera-toting traveler on your gift list won't have to hand his camera to a passing stranger or haul around a tripod in order to be in the next vacation photo album or family video collection. Its telescoping rod attaches to any compact digital camera or hand-held video camera, providing more than 3 feet of reach, which is enough to include as many as five people in a shot. The XShot also can be used for self-portraits. It's available at independent camera stores and major retail chains, including Walmart, and online at for less than $25.

*Puzzle Attraction: Puzzle buffs will have fun crushing, mangling, distorting and massaging the Neocube Alpha, a hand puzzle composed of 216 super-strong magnetic spheres about the size of tiny ball bearings. The cube can be arranged and rearranged in countless two- and three-dimensional designs, shapes and sizes. It's not for children younger than 8, and because it's a powerful magnet, it should be kept away from electronic devices, cards with magnetic strips, and pacemakers. You can order it direct from for $24.95. There's also a mini version and a value pack.

*Moose Memories and More: It's the 20th anniversary of the movie "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation," a perfect excuse to gift a friend with a glass moose mug like the kind from which Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) sipped eggnog with his cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid). The $19.99 mug is available from A Christmas Story House & Museum (, which is in Cleveland. The gift shop also is filled with lots of souvenirs saluting the 1983 movie for which the museum is named, including the famed leg lamp (in a night light version for $14.99) and an ornament featuring Ralphie in the "pink nightmare" bunny suit ($14.99).

*Season Symbols: Friends and family members with artistic bents will appreciate the workmanship in one-of-a-kind origami earrings created by award-winning artists Linda Stephens and Masaya Honda, whose origami collage landscapes are in private and public collections, ranging from Omihachiman, Japan, to the $150 million JW Marriott hotel that recently opened in Grand Rapids, Mich. The hand-folded, lacquered origami earrings come in a variety of colors and include season-appropriate styles, including the "Peace Crane" ($18) and "Dancing Lady" ($25). They can be ordered online ( or by phone from the Noyes Art Gallery, in Lincoln, Neb., at 402-475-1061.

*Stuff for Kids: Usborne Books & More ( offers dozens of "kid kits," which will keep youngsters busy for hours exploring ancient cultures, making Christmas decorations, learning about weather, and even juggling. Most are priced at less than $16 and available online or through home shows.

*Tummy Yummy: From chocolatier Norman Love, known worldwide for his colorful handcrafted ultra-premium chocolates, comes a limited edition collection of gourmet holiday chocolates in nine flavors -- ranging from "candy cane," a blend of Swiss white chocolate and peppermint in a red-and-white-swirled shell, to "white Christmas," a traditional blend of hazelnut praline and creamy cinnamon ganache layered inside a holiday-colored shell. A box of five pieces will run you $13 plus shipping from It's also available at Love's retail operation, the Chocolate Salon, which is in Fort Myers, Fla.

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