Earth's Biggest Dollar Store

Finding cheap gifts the old-fashioned wayon the Internet.

It's the thought that counts, and it's the small things that really matter. This is what you tell yourself at the dollar store, where you're spending Christmas Eve buying discontinued scented candles and off-brand surface cleaner for your second-tier friends. Because it's not the stuff that matters, it's the sentimentgifts of any kind make the soul sing, lift us from the everyday, and remind us that love makes the world go round. You can write "Gift" on a sheet of paper and hand it to your lover with a smile, and it will warm their heart like no diamond necklace or plasma HDTV can.

These are the things you say to yourself, like a crazy person, in line with your basket of dish soap and remaindered novels at the 99-Cent Emporium. This is because you are cheap and lazy and thoughtless, and you have no Christmas spirit. However, being cheap and lazy and thoughtless can never hold back enterprise and creativityjust look at the Internet. With some advance planning, you can find thoughtful, inspired, and amusing gifts for your loved ones online for less than $1 each. Granted, many of these things will actually cost you more than $1, and often the merchant will lose more than $1 selling them to you, but you get the point. So thenwhat can you buy online for less than $1?

Pants. As of this writing, there were 11,352 pairs of pants available on eBay (www.ebay.com), 407 of which are currently bidding at under $1. Naturally, some of these hot numbers will rise far above your budget, but 30 pairs were still in your range less than one day from closing. Among these is a pair of 38-inch Gap "khackis" [sic], worn three times, with no defects or visible stains. Winning bidder pays $8 shipping. You can e-mail the seller with any questions, such as, "If these pants are so cool, why are you selling them?"

Stocks. Although the Internet boom has devolved into what we shall call a "bear market for dumb ideas," many of the high-flying dot-com companies are, believe it or not, still traded on the "pink sheets" or over-the-counter exchanges. Internet America Inc., ticker symbol GEEK, is trading at $1.04, off its all-time high of $40.43 but four times its 52-week low of 25 cents. You can get three shares of telecom provider Redback Networks (RBAKQ) for 87 cents, plus your broker's commission. You can give your friends an edge on the peer-to-peer revolution by kicking them two shares of Brilliant Digital Entertainment Inc. (BDE) for 43 cents each. What better way to show your friends that Christmas is a season of faith and hope?

Tracks. A number of music services launched this year to offer singles for 99 cents or less (e.g., iTunes: www.apple.com/itunes/; and Napster: www.napster.com), so you can get Justin Timberlake's "Rock Your Body" without forking over $17.99 for all the crap on the album that the Neptunes didn't produce. Hallelujah. Unfortunately, licensing restrictions and DRM protection make it tough to give singles as legitimate gifts, but there's a strong moral argument to bending these rules a bit so you can buy your nephew an MP3 of Kelis' "Milkshake" and teach him a valuable lesson about intellectual property. From jail.

Crap. The Kitchen & Housewares department of Amazon.com is brimming with holiday gift ideasthe Walnut Corn Holder, with stainless steel forks and a genuine hardwood handle, sells for 29 cents. You can pick up two of these for under $1 (plus shipping), but I hear that sophisticated people only use one. You could also splurge and drop 40 cents for a 4.25-ounce tube of orange decorative icing, or 45 cents for an entire pumpkin carving set. There's also something called a Victorian Spreader for 48 cents and a wide selection of cookie cutters and related baking molds in the 30-to-40-cent range. Act now to qualify for free Super Saver Shipping!

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