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Related topics: savings, holiday spending, spending, Liz Weston, shopping

For some people, a mound of gifts under the tree is the very essence of the holidays.

The rest of us are having second thoughts.

It's not just the hassles of shopping and the outlay of so much money. It's knowing that so often our best efforts misfire, that what we hope will be a hit will instead disappoint.

I'd like to suggest that this year we do our part to reduce clutter, waste and frustration by encouraging the "one good gift" approach.

What that means is that instead of raining a pile of little presents on each other, we band together with like-minded friends or family and buy group gifts, encouraging others to do the same when buying gifts for us.

Not everybody likes the group-gift approach, and I'll deal with that in a minute. Right now, I'll enumerate some of the advantages:

You can give, or get, something really cool. The Web is aglow with "10 great gifts for $10 or less," but let's just say that not all the options are guaranteed winners. Price and desirability aren't always directly correlated, but you do increase your odds of wowing the recipient (or being wowed yourself) when budgets are pooled.

You can help a brother out. Or a sister, or any other relative or friend who's fallen on tough financial times. The recipient of your gift doesn't have to know the cost wasn't split equally among the group, so those whose budgets are tight can be part of a gift that's nicer than what they could have afforded on their own. Your Money message board poster "cykeprof" regularly pools money with her sisters to buy their mother nice gifts.

Liz Weston

Liz Weston

"Two of us are financially secure, and one is poor. I chip in mine and most of my sister's share," cykeprof wrote. "I have it, and she doesn't, and hey, she's my sister."

You're doing your part to banish clutter. Every new possession brings with it a burden. You have to find space for it in your house, and you often have to devote time to it -- dusting it, finding batteries for it, reading the manual. Even if you hate it, you have to figure out how to dispose of it without risking offense. How much better it is to be selective about the items we give and get, valuing quality over quantity.

It means less time in the mall. The more you group-gift, the less time you spend researching purchases, battling crowds, wrapping presents and (I'd wager) dealing with returns. Some of you find this fun, I know, but for many of us, a little holiday shopping goes a long way. (Electronics retailer Best Buy even offers a group gift card.)

This approach may require some getting used to. Letting go of the gift-giving mania can take a while, wrote "genuine ga sweet potato."

"The first year . . . I was bummed. I enjoy finding the perfect something for everybody," she admitted. "Now, I like it. I can afford to take more than one name off of the Angel Tree & give something to someone who has no family."

If you need more enticing, check out some of my "one good gift" recommendations, such as:

Digital picture frames. If you don't already own one of these, it may be a little hard to grasp how cool it is to have an endlessly changing slide show of the highlights of your life. Dealnews expects low-end picture frames to sell for as little as $35 this season, but you probably want to spend at least $80 to get one with a decent-sized screen (7 inches and up), good resolution and sufficient memory to show off a lot of pictures. Consumer Reports likes the Digital Spectrum Memory Frame MF-801, Pandigital PAN7000DW and GiiNii Slope GN-812. If you want to spend a bit more, the $150 Ipevo Kaleido R7 gives you built-in Wi-Fi so you can view photos stored on your computer or online.

e-Readers. If you know someone who loves to read and spends lots of money on books, chances are good he would love an electronic book reader such as Amazon's Kindle 3G ($189), the Sony Touch ($229) or Barnes & Noble's Nook ($149).

GPS devices. Another of those can't-really-appreciate-it-until-you-have-one gadgets, a GPS unit can help you find your way anywhere you go. You can spend more than $400 on a unit with lots of bells and whistles, including voice recognition, or just $150 on a Garmin Nuvi 2200.

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Headphones. If you know anyone who is still using the earbuds that came with her MP3 player, you can score points by giving her an upgrade. Good noise-canceling earbud-style headphones retail for less than $80 (CNET likes the Klipsch Image S4 earphones). Or give on-ear headphones for about $100 (Consumer Reports likes the Grado SR80i and the SR60i).

The frequent flyer on your list will appreciate a Bose QuietComfort 3 on-ear headset. They're expensive at $350, but they're engineered well enough to counter a crying infant in the next row or a bellowing idiot on a cell phone in the coffee shop.

Spa days. You have to be careful with this one, since not everyone likes massages (people who have never had one, for example). But if the recipient is a regular spagoer or someone who has wished aloud that she could be, this could be a great option.