Sandi Genovese, Scripps Howard News Service
There are lots of ways to package gifts that look great and save money.

This holiday season, I'm cutting back on costs and trying to make up for the lack of funds with a lot of personalization. In other words, I'm trying to make many of my gifts. And after looking at the price of wrapping paper, ribbon and gift tags, I'm also getting creative with my gift-wrapping. There are lots of ways to package gifts that look great and save money.

Many stores provide free gift boxes in a variety of colors. No wrapping is necessary if you cover up the store logo. This can be achieved by cutting strips of construction paper to create colored bellybands that slip over the box and hide the store name as well as create a base for a gift tag made from recycled holiday cards or a snowman made of old buttons. Polka dots and stripes are simple patterns to replicate with the help of a white pen and a hole punch. Another option is to wrap the box in inexpensive brown mailing paper that is rubber stamped with white paint in a holiday theme.

I frequently make my own boxes out of construction paper using food boxes as patterns. Years ago, I dismantled an apple-pie container from a fast-food chain in order to create a pillow box, for use for a smaller gift. A simple way to decorate the box is with white polka dots cut out with a circle punch from white copy paper. I found another great box this year from a fried-chicken fast-food chain that I used to create a pattern for making holiday boxes for medium-sized gifts. I love that the box is held closed with flaps on the ends that tuck into slits cut in the sides of the box.

Take-away boxes from restaurants are another great source for free gift packaging that is perfect for holding gift certificates to favorite restaurants. When dining out, just ask your waiter for a to-go box, but take it home empty, then convert it into a gift box that is embellished with a holiday theme, like mittens attached to the ends of a piece of colored embroidery thread.

If you are giving money or a gift card this holiday, it's easy to present it in a customized card with notches cut to hold the bills or gift card. I created a card that has a section in the middle that flips back and forth to hold the item so that the recipient will see the holiday message first before flipping the card open to expose the back side, where the money or gift card is housed.

If your gift list includes bottles of wine, bubble bath or cuisine-related items, like extra-virgin olive oil, it's easy to create bottle embellishments with a circle punch and scraps of colored paper.

When giving books as gifts, create wrapping that is open on both ends. Cut cardboard that matches the width of the book. Fasten one end of the cardboard to the book jacket with removable tape and wrap it around the book. Decorate with a bellyband and a copy of an old photo that features both the gift giver and receiver.

A paint can is another unusual container that converts nicely to holiday gift wrap. Inexpensive metal cans are available at home-improvement stores and clear, acrylic versions are available in craft stores. Pick up a few paint-chip strips from the paint store to act as gift tags to complete the wrap;

Opportunities for good-looking gift wrap that is also inexpensive are all around if you think outside the box.