Your Holiday Season Cheap-Ass Gift Guide

There are great holiday presents, and then there are the gifts you can actually afford to buy for people, and then there are the gifts that you don't want to squander money on in the first place but have to give anyway, even if you don't like the recipients, because maybe those people are your co-workers or your roommates or your boyfriends or your siblings and there is no way to get out of giving.

If you want ideas for fabulous, stylish, clever gifts to bestow on people you love, cherish, adore ... read InStyle. If you want to know what to buy for everyone else, as cheaply as possible ... look no further.

Hickory Farms Premium Cheddar Crock; $14.99; www.hickoryfarms.com.

The great thing about giving someone cheese for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or Random Flying Monkey Day is that it says so very, very much. The even better thing about this particular crock of cheese is that it won the California State Fair Award of Excellence, so it sort of looks like you made an effort to get the person something better than your average 20-ounce cheese crock. You can rest easy knowing that this gift sends the right message of smug derision while at the same time throwing a little confusion in the mix, in the form of it being award-winning and all. In the end, it's still cheese. And that's all that matters.

No, Kitty! A Quick-Fix A-Z Problem Solver For Your Cat's Bad Behavior, by Steve Duno; $5.99; bookstores.

No, Kitty! is the sort of book you find in supermarket lines that is primarily useful for shoving into an antsy child's face, cooing, "Look! Look at the kitties!" and hoping for a miracle. But the genius of this book, written by the author of Bad Dog!, is that it really doesn't apply to cats at all. In fact, it works as a wonderful present for someone who is stuck in a relationship with a partner who exhibits the sort of unsavory behavior a naughty cat might. For example, wife suffer from drooling? You need only to turn to Page 103 to discover that an easy solution for this might just be "feeding her in a room other than the kitchen ... keep her mind active and not so focused at dinnertime." Boyfriend prone to garbage- or cupboard-raiding? First lock everything up, and then make sure that "fragrant items such as leftover tuna sandwiches or uneaten bacon [are] taken straight out to the garbage can outside the home, so as not to drive the [boyfriend] crazy with desire." Or say the woman you're sort of seeing and/or stalking tends to hide from you: Make an effort to "desensitize [the woman] to unpredictable events ... [and] try to limit the number of places [she] can hide when guests come over." This book is an excellent, subtle-but-not-too way to tell a friend that you hate his or her non-better half and also give him or her the tools to change it.

Archie McPhee Deluxe Rubber Chicken; $9.95; www.archiemcphee.com.

What to give the person who thinks he's really funny but in fact is (really) not? Why, a rubber chicken. But not just any rubber chicken; this is a deluxe rubber chicken, and (it) handily comes with a card explaining the origin of the chicken joke. This present will make the recipient believe that you are tuned in to his deep humorous nature, when in fact you are just mocking him. You cannot ask for more.

Anne Hooper's Pocket Kama Sutra: A New Guide to the Ancient Art of Love; $7.96; www.bn.com.

In the unfortunate event that you find yourself obligated to buy a present for someone whom you've slept with and ultimately did not want to, it's important to choose a gift that makes these feelings clear. Anne Hooper is some sort of New Age sex fiend who took it upon herself to reinterpret the aforementioned "ancient art of love" for a modern audience. Now, luckily, you don't have to throw down serious coin to acquire the large, hardback version (although the pictures in it are more ... detailed). The pocket edition achieves the dual task of making clear to your former lover that he has an awful lot to learn about sex and not spending a lot of money to do so. On the minus side, there is a chance the moron will misinterpret your gift as an invitation for a return visit.

Holiday tealights; $10 per set; www.sundancecatalog.com.

Robert Redford's Sundance catalog is filled with beautiful, earthy, wildly overpriced goods. A "celebration" knife for $58? Not. But if the person for whom you're buying is a real label-whore who won't settle for some dusty, ill-scented candles you picked up in the clearance area at Walgreen's, why not go ahead and gift this lucky person with something from Sundance ... specifically, the very cheapest item they offer? Tealights come in either red or green and can be gift-wrapped, which means that not until your greedy gift-ee opens the present will he or she realize that it is, not, in fact, the $195 Sonoma County Pottery Bowl. Bwar.

How To Change Your Spouse and Save Your Marriage, by Joel Kotin M.D.; $14.99; bookstores.

If you give your husband, wife or life partner a book with this title, what he or she hears is: "I know that I am bad, and I want to be better for you, so here is a book to help us understand each other better. I love you." What you are actually saying is: "I have read this book and now I know how best to manipulate you to make you more like the person I thought I fell in love with, who I now realize never existed in the first place. With the knowledge I have garnered I am smart enough to give this to you because I know what you will think it means. It doesn't mean that. It means that I will keep you, but only because I am too tired to find someone else. Also, I'm sleeping with your cousin." See? It's brilliant.

The Hand of Greed Bank; $9.95; www.bitsandpieces.com.

We all know someone who refuses to split the dinner check fairly, or pay back money she's borrowed, or who randomly steals small objects from your home. You can simultaneously humor and ridicule such tendencies with this special mechanical bank, which reacts to having a coin inserted in it by shaking wildly and then releasing a strange human-like hand to snatch the money away. Some people may not find this very funny, but as long as you're laughing, don't worry about it.

Cage Mouse Trap; $9.95 for a set of two; www.realgoods.com.

If you know someone who has a home that is infested with rodents and is a real fuzzy, tree-hugging type, then this cruelty-free trap is the perfect present. Basically, rather than the typical mouse trap, which uses cheese or peanut butter or whatever to lure the poor stupid creature into having its neck broken, or, more regularly, partially broken, so it is left to flail about in excruciating pain for an inhumane duration until finally, it dies ... anyway, unlike the traditional version, this cage mouse trap enables you to safely capture the little mice and then, as you hum "Born Free," take them somewhere pretty and idyllic, like a meadow or a forest, where they will almost certainly be eaten by a larger animal in a matter of minutes. Merry Christmas!

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