Dreading holiday shopping? Tap your inner arts-and-crafts mentality to dress up a plain old gift card to give a gift that almost everyone wants and needs, but with a personal touch.
Gifting gurus -- including nationally recognized lifestyle, holiday entertaining and gift giving expert Debi Lilly, owner of A Perfect Event in Chicago -- agree that gift card wrapping and presentation make all the difference in whether a gift card is perceived as a hasty, "cold" present, or a thoughtful, unique gift chosen specifically for the recipient. Lilly, who was a regular on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," tells consumers to put some thought into the whole gift -- both specific type of gift card and wrapping -- before making any purchases. "Always, always, always, try to make the wrap tie to the gift card. Have it be something personal that kind of reflects the person you're shopping for -- their personality, their hobby, their style, that kind of thing -- and then that same trick applies to the wrapping," says Lilly.
Minneapolis financial adviser Mickey Mikeworth, 45, agrees. His gift-buying approach is simple: "Look around at the space you are in and define what the product is they are purchasing. Then package the card to look like the real thing: pastry bags, bakery boxes or coffee to-go cups."
Still feel stuck? Check out our top 10 creative gift card wrapping solutions for 2011 here:
1. Cash in with a Card Cache. The Card Cache, a unique gadget that allows the recipient to keep all her gift cards on a single card ring (much like a key ring) adds fun and organization to shopping with gift cards. Buy a couple of gift cards, punch holes in the corners of them, and add them onto the gift cache. Add a couple of charms to the mix for an extra few bucks, and you have a useful, valuable, and fun gift. ($13)
2. Think outside the wallet. What better way to give a wallet than including some dough -- in the form of a gift card -- inside it? This is not your granddad's boring leather billfold. Instead, the cool, funky Jimi Wallet, "the wallet for people who hate wallets," comes in a variety of colors and styles and is the perfect size for gift cards. Best of all, it's made in the U.S.A. from recycled and recyclable materials. From tough-guy camo to hot-mama ruby, there is a style that fits everyone on your list. ($14.95)
3. Create your own GC-a-Month Club. Who among us hasn't felt the post-holiday blues? Come Feb. 1, the decorations are down, the weather is bleak, and unless you're a groundhog, there's no reason for celebration. But wait -- what if you gave your loved one a present that would continue giving throughout the year? Even for us creatively challenged folks, this one's a breeze. First, find a calendar (one with pockets works best, but isn't necessary) that suits your recipient -- say, the Office Time Killers: Sneaky Ways of Slacking Off 2012 Day-to-Day Calendar ($13.99) for your co-worker, or True Blood ($13.99) for your friendly neighborhood vampire. Next, purchase 12 gift cards -- in whatever increments you choose -- and attach one to each month. Vary the selection by month: for July, a Cold Stone gift card means a cool treat on a hot summer night, while hectic December is the perfect time for a massage gift card. This truly is the gift that keeps on giving throughout the year.
4. Let them eat cake. Let's face it: The holidays mean yummy food and lots of it. It's the one time of year that most people give in to the craving for rich foods and delectable desserts. So why not attach a Harry & David gift card to their Hanukkah Sweets Gift Box ($24.95), or a box of Hand-Dipped Chocolate Pears ($44.95)? Adults and kids alike will love Popcorn Cones in flavors ranging from Cinnamon Toast to Cupcake and Rocky Road. It's no wonder that Popcornopolis has been dubbed "the Prada of Popcorn." (Prices vary; a six-pack of regular cones starts at $34.99.)
5. Make them work for it. Half the fun in gift giving is watching the recipient work his way through the wrapping to the gift itself. Looking for a clever way to disguise a gift card for your teenager? Then get him the Pinball Gift Holder ($12.98 or two for $24.50) or the Gift Card Maze ($4.95) and watch him play until he "wins" the prize.
6. Go faux. Dad might think he's the only prankster in the family, but you're about to show him how it's done. Just wait till Dad opens the Musical Tie of the Month ($5.99) or the Bacon Tuxedo ($7.99) -- and watch his smile falter as he tries to pretend it's just what he's always wanted. Only after he oohs and ahhs over this whoopee cushion of gifts should you allow him to open the box to see his real present: a gift card to his favorite golf store.
7. Make your mother proud. Mother Earth, that is. Present your gift card in a reduce-reuse-recycle manner that fits your recipient's style. For your gardening grandma, a gift card to the local nursery enclosed in a plantable card ($4.95 each), or for your antiquing aunt, a beautiful vintage glass jar filled with old-fashioned candy, wrapped with wide silk ribbon, with gift card tucked inside the lid.
8. Book 'em. In our book, you can't go wrong by matching the perfect gift card with just-the-right book. Get your college-aged daughter a gift card to local fast food restaurants near her college -- and tuck it inside U Chic: The College Girl's Guide to Everything ($14.95), or have your 'tween daughter hide a mall gift card in her BFF's favorite book.
9. Think outside the box. When buying a dining gift card, look around for great packaging ideas in the restaurant. When Minneapolis resident Mickey Mikeworth purchased a gift card at Davanni's, a local pizza place, the restaurant provided him with a mini pizza box -- to which Mikeworth added the restaurant's menu and delivery information -- and viola! A gift truly ready to go. Put a gift card to a Chinese restaurant inside a food container from the restaurant or from a dollar store. Add fortune cookies and a menu, and you have a delicious gift.
10. Make it personal. The Persona Gift Pail is one of our favorite gift card wrapping ideas this year, because it's just as much fun for the gifter as it is for the giftee. Just go to their website, where you'll choose one of eight possible holiday characters -- from Mistletoe Molly (perfect for your flamboyant Auntie Flo) to Snowman Stan (for your dapper Uncle Dan) -- and you'll receive the all-in-one kit that comes with (reusable) stickers to customize the pail as you see fit.
The opportunities for matching a gift card with a creative wrapping are endless: for the athlete, gift card to the local gym or sporting goods store tucked inside a pair of athletic socks; for the harried new mom, a gift card to a spa inside the pocket of a fluffy robe; or for your nieces and nephews, a teddy bear or Pillow Pet holding a gift card to a local toy store.
"I think that it's more important than ever to interject personality, and a little bit more style, into the wrapping, because gift cards have that reputation of being a little less personal," says Lilly. "You can use something old, present it in a new way, fill it with candy or tissue, and it just becomes a treasure, not only for your wrap, but also that the recipient can use in a new way."
The bottom line, says Mikeworth, is this: "I think it is important to wrap them creatively to help people see the gift -- not just a card."
See even more fun gift card wrapping ideas: Video: 4 creative ways to wrap gift cards