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We know … just about everyone loves gift cards. Most people have them on their wish lists, and most of us plan to give them this holiday season. And yet, not everyone’s a fan. Consumer advocate and author Clark Howard hates them so much he designed a gift certificate to give with the cash to explain why you’re giving real money instead of plastic. Yes, some of us feel we must explain ourselves when we choose paper over plastic.

Cash has the advantage of being readily available — banks have plenty of it — and of making it easier to stick exactly with your plan to spend a certain amount on each person on your list. (It also has the potential to add to your debt if you use credit to take a cash advance. So if you’re looking to give cash this season, be sure you can afford it.)

If your hesitation is that cold, hard cash can make it appear that you put little or no thought into the gift — or couldn’t be bothered even to go to a grocery-store display to buy a gift card — that can be overcome. We searched for the best and most thoughtful ways to give cash as a gift. Here are five that seemed especially memorable.

1. Make Origami

They don’t call greenbacks “folding money” for nothing. Remember origami cranes from elementary school? Search online for “dollar bill origami” and find all sorts of ways to artfully present currency. Among the easiest: a shirt. Other options include bouquets of dollar-bill flowers, elephants, astronauts . . . if you have the talent and the time, these ideas are anything but last-minute. On the other hand, if you are low on both, you can still fold up an impressive present. Dollar bills can be folded just like gum wrappers to make a chain.

2. Roll It Up

Is there a more boring gift than socks? Try buying a pair of holiday socks and rolling them up with cash inside. Secure the ball with ribbon, and later watch recipients’ forced smiles turn into genuine ones when they unroll their Christmas socks and discover those “socks” are a good deal more useful than they thought. Money is the ultimate stocking stuffer.

3. Save It for a Rainy Day

If someone on your gift list is newly on their own (or hopes to be), an umbrella can yield the pleasantest of showers. Buy an inexpensive travel umbrella, open it slightly and fold in dollar bills. Attach a note letting the recipient know it should be opened indoors before being used.

4. Disguise It as Vegetables

Who doesn’t love mixed greens? Buy a pair of salad tongs at the dollar store and wrinkle or wad up the bills to resemble lettuce or cabbage. Recipients will be eager to dig in.

5. Frame It

Frames rank right up there with socks as gifts you either have enough of or would prefer to pick out yourself — unless, of course, the giver has framed some pictures of dead presidents. Has “in case of emergency, break glass” ever sounded so appealing? (We trust your recipient actually knows a safer way liberate the cash.)

Image: Chad Baker/Jason Reed/Ryan McVay

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