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Make your own Oscar gift bags

Treat your guests like celebs with some less expensive alternatives. By Teri Goldberg

Like the winners of the Oscars, the contents of the coveted “goody bag,” given to the presenters by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, are a tightly held secret. But the presenters are not the only stars showered with swag. This year, nominees in the best actor and actress and best supporting actor and actress roles will walk away with their share of booty in a package put together by Estee Lauder. But the cosmetic company, unlike the Academy, was more than happy to reveal what they stuffed in their goody bag.

The Estee Lauder goody bag was designed by shoemaker Manolo Blahnik just for the occasion. The weekend travel bag not only has three separate pockets sized to fit shoes but also comes with a pair of men’s or women’s Manolo Blahnik “pedal” suede slides. Other goodies in the bag include a bottle of La Grande Dame Veuve Cliquot champagne, a Hermes throw, two Baccarat champagne flutes for the men, a pair of Baccarat earrings for the women and a pile of Estee Lauder products, including a “crystal glow” sugar rub and a “calming  body spray” from Estee Lauder’s private spa collection. Estimated value for the goody bag and its contents: $10,000.

Estee Lauder also will treat the nominees and a guest to spa treatments at the “2004 Estee Lauder Spa,” located at the Four Seasons hotel in Los Angeles, the week before the Academy Awards. Actors or actresses unable to stop by the luxury hotel can opt for a mobile version of the spa sent to their homes. Estimated value for spa package: $5,000.

But forget about Estee Lauder and Manolo Blahnik. It’s really not what’s in the goody bag that counts. Nominees and presenters can more then afford the booty. The operative word here is free. The real challenge is to put together a goody bag that rivals the stars for a lot less. So for the fun of it, I took on that challenge by seeking out similar products, which not only cost a lot less but are a lot more practical. The focus here is “value” or best bang for the buck in all the goody-bag product categories.

Less expensive but just as fun

So instead of cashmere as in the Hermes throw, I’d vote for fleece, which in contrast to the fine wool requires almost no care. Fleece throws can be found online for as little as $10.97 in the “hot deals” section at campmor.com. Kmart.com has some “buffalo checked” fleece throws in the Martha Stewart collection for only $12.99. And bedbathandbeyond.com carries a stash of the solid-colored, 100 percent polyester throws, “large enough for two adults,” priced at $14.99.

A much less expensive, and certainly a healthier choice for the bubbly packed in the Manolo Blahnik bag is a bottle of Martinelli’s sparkling apple cider. A 25.4 ounce bottle sells for about $1.99-$2.49 at most supermarkets. Even better deals can be found at beverage stores or bulk food stores, such as Costco, which may stock the cider by the case.

Drink enough champagne and one of those fine crystal champagne flutes are likely to break. Ah, but plastic champagne flutes will survive even the wildest of parties. So in the champagne flute category, think plastic a la the award-winning movie, “The Graduate.” Party and prop shop orientaltrading.com has a set of 25 plastic flutes for $6.95 or about .28 each.

If the shoe fits...

Now, what about something to swap for the Manolo Blahnik sandals? That’s easy. The least expensive and most practical “sandals” on the market are drugstore variety flip-flops. Use them at the spa. Take them on vacation. Forget them at the hotel, who cares? Oldnavy.com usually has some holiday-themed flip-flops on sale in its bargain bin for about $2 a pair. Recently, I found the classic, adult-sized flip-flops — in blue, pink and lavender — on sale for $1.99, reduced from $3.50.

A little pricier but well worth the value are Loofah Loafer Lites at Laguna Beach, Calif.-based ebubbles.com. The lightweight slippers with a loofah insole, which molds to your feet, are now marked down from $18 to $15.30. At a distance and without eyeglasses, the light-colored, single-strap slippers almost look like the Manolo Blahnik sandals. Made by Las Vegas-based manufacturer loofahloafer.com, Loofah Lites are also machine washable.

Spa specialtiesOne of most practical and inexpensive spa treatments known to humankind is the loofah sponge or a pumice stone. Mothernature.com, a one-stop shop for natural products headquartered in Manhattan, has a great selection of loofahs for very little. The basic 7-inch sponge costs $1.52; a pack of three face discs sells for $1.19; and a 6-by-8 inch loofah mitt runs $2.87.

Ebubbles.com is also running a sale on its brushes, sponges and exfoliating tools through the end of the month. Pumice stones with a handle are now $2.13 each, reduced from $2.50.

Spa and/or beauty products on the cheap abound. Blissworld.com always has an item or two that’s “goody bag” worthy in its cyber outlet. Discontinued items or overstocks of body care products, make-up and “blissellaneous” may be slashed as much as 80 percent. A buck buys some sort of scented soap, originally about $5. Make-up is also plentiful, starting at $5 for “bliss glosses,” which has been reduced from $16.

The Body Shop regularly runs some great sales. These in-store promotions are now posted at the company’s Web site. Recent promotions included five glycerin soaps for $12, usually $3 each. 

I found the perfect bag to stash the all goodies at Fargo, N.D.-based Shirt Shop in the Mall. The fold-up bag, designed by Joann Marie for many occasions, opens up to 25-by-15-by-9 inches. The simple travel bag, priced at $11.99, has more than enough room to fit three pair of flip-flops for those weekends away.

So now let’s do the tally,

  • Fleece throw: $10.97 to $14.99
  • Martinelli's sparking apple cider: $1.99 to $2.49
  • Plastic champagne flutes: 28 cents
  • Rubber flip flops or Loofah Lites: $1.99 to $15.30
  • Bath or spa products: $1 to $5
  • Loofah sponge or pumice stone: $1.52 to $2.13
  • Travel bag: $11.99;

At the low end, that’s $29.74 plus shipping and at the high end, $52.18 plus shipping. Some say “there’s nothing like the real thing.” But at these prices, there is no contest.