Sign In

Buy This, Not That: 11 Holiday Gifts to Avoid (and 11 Awesome Alternatives)

Your gift recipients may think they want the latest 4K TV, smartwatch, or iPhone, but you don't have to break the bank to deliver top-notch presents.
Christmas gift

Let's face it. There's always going to be that one person on your gift list who asks for bleeding-edge tech or the latest fashions. Giving in to the demands of these holiday budget hijackers can disrupt your entire present-buying mojo. But don't send in those donations to the Human Fund just yet; we've rounded up 11 awesome alternatives to in-demand items that are either less expensive, or just provide a much better value for your dollar — and your giftee.

Buy a 1080p TV Instead of a 4K TV

Buying a TV for someone is incredibly generous already, so spending the extra cash on 4K is kind of overkill. It's true that Ultra HDTVs have dropped to mainstream prices, but we're arguing against gifting one because 1080p is still the better value — for now. "Next year 4K resolution TVs will be even cheaper, and available in smaller sizes, and 1080p LCD TVs will start to become the bargain minority," CNET explained. "But in 2014 there are plenty of good-performing 1080p TVs that cost less, and in some cases perform better, than their 4K equivalents." And recall that older, cheaper 4K TVs may lack HDMI 2.0 compatibility. That's a real downer when the main reason so many people want a 4K TV is for future-proofing.

Buy a Fitness Band Instead of a Smartwatch

Wearables are on every major gift guide this year, so you're bound to have at least one gadget-crazy giftee making goo-goo eyes at a smartwatch. However, the smarter choice this year would be a fitness band. First off, the most lusted-after wearable around, the Apple Watch, isn't even out yet (much less discounted). Any other watch you grab will surely pale in the eyes of your gadget geek the minute Cupertino's new iDevice comes on the scene in 2015.

The second reason is more practical: almost every fitness band or activity tracker is on its second or third generation. Wearable tech is a new sector, and it's definitely got kinks to work out. Fitness bands have had more time to solve problems like wearer comfort, battery life, software compatibility, and price. If you're shopping for someone who just wants to try out wearable tech, they'll have a better time with a fitness band, hands down.

Buy an iPad mini 2 Instead of an iPad mini 3

You've heard this argument from us before, but the iPad mini 3 is almost indistinguishable from the iPad mini 2. Unless your gift recipient is just dying for a Touch ID sensor, paying extra for that Gold color option seems outright ridiculous to us. The previous-gen mini costs at least $100 less than the mini 3; and we've even seen the iPad mini 2 16GB WiFi model go for as cheap as $200.

Buy a Streaming Stick Instead of a Set-Top Box

Media streamers have become so cheap and so user-friendly that you can feel good giving one to just about anyone on your holiday gift list. But while boxes and sticks are equally great in their own way, streaming sticks are considerably cheaper. There are lots of options out there, but only three are worth really considering: the Chromecast, the Roku stick, and the Fire TV stick. According to Gigaom's excellent breakdown, Chromecast is the cheapest option, but may not be suited to all households. Meanwhile, the Roku stick provides a fairly familiar environment without requiring a tablet or phone for navigation. The Fire TV stick, on the other hand, is an excellent choice for Prime members. Whichever way you go, you'll score an awesome gift for your would-be cord-cutter.

Buy an iPhone 5S Instead of a iPhone 6

Yes, the iPhone 6 has demonstrably better specs (including greater screen real estate and a faster processor) than the iPhone 5S. But let's step away from the spreadsheets for a moment and consider user experience. "Apart from the size, and the ability to pay for stuff over NFC, the 6 and 5S are basically indistinguishable for the user," Gizmodo's writer explained in a column about why he was ditching the newer iPhone. Plus, the iPhone 6's larger size can be uncomfortable: "The idea that big phones are ergonomically worse is far from new — heck, Apple made ads to that effect back when they launched the 5."

For you, the gift giver, the 5S has the added benefit of being cheaper. The lowest price we've seen for this previous-gen model is $50 with a contract; compare that to the $199 going rate for an on-contract iPhone 6.

Buy an Actual Kids' Tablet Instead of a Cheap Android

It pains us to tell you to pay more for anything, and we don't do this lightly. Many, many cheap Android tablets have graced our site, and for understandable reasons, people clamor for them; one tablet even hit $5 during Black Friday. These off-brand tablets are awesome for what they are, but you want to think twice about handing one over to your kid. Mobile security firm Bluebox Labs tested several sub-$100 Android tablets and found significant security issues. "Unsuspecting consumers who purchase and use these devices will be putting their mobile data and passwords at risk," Bluebox explained in its report. In addition to various software vulnerabilities, some of the tablets tested had standard security features disabled or even removed. Purchasing apps on such a tablet could put your credit card information in the hands of hackers, and kids have a habit of racking up in-app charges anyway.

To be fair, a software savvy parent could certainly lock down one of these models and take advantage of that cheapo price, but for the average mom or dad, a tablet made especially for children is a much better option. These tablets range from LeapFrog's line of LeapPad tablets (which start around $50, but have very limited features) to Amazon's Kindle Fire HD 6 Kids Edition (a full-blown tablet that's currently $119). They are generally bulky, durable, pre-loaded with kid-friendly apps, and stuffed to the gills with parental controls. And as an added bonus, they're generally kid-tested to avoid breakage; Amazon will even replace its tablet for free if it breaks within two years of buying. In this case, a little extra money could buy a lot of peace of mind.

Buy an Xbox One Bundle Instead of a PS4

Put down your torches, fanboys: We are not saying the Xbox One is better than the PS4. (This particular reporter is a member of the Glorious PC Gaming Master Race, anyway.) If your recipient is already committed to Sony, it would be cruel to arbitrarily gift them a whole other universe of content. But not everyone has chosen a side in this decades-long battle. If your giftee has requested any next-gen console, then Xbox One is your best value right now.

For the new console owner, the biggest problem to overcome is the startup cost of purchasing new games to play. That's why console bundles are such an awesome value — and it's where Xbox One has the edge today. PS4 console bundles have been going for around $400 recently, but Xbox One bundles have dropped to around $300. Those prices will most likely level out at the season's end, but that hardly helps holiday gift shoppers.

Buy a Geeky Subscription Instead of a Single Geeky Collectible

Shopping for nerds is difficult, if only because it's hard to keep track of which fandom they're into at any given moment. You bought a Molag Bal statue? Too bad, Elder Scrolls is so last year. (No offense, Lord of Domination!) Luckily for you, the teams at Loot Crate and Nerd Block do keep up with all things geek and gamer. These subscription-based services send out monthly curated boxes filled with shirts, toys, stickers, and sundry nerd paraphernalia. They start at around $13 (plus shipping) per box, but the sites usually feature a coupon to shave a few bucks off.

Buy a Gift Card Instead of Clothes

Buying clothes for another person can be more complicated than navigating a field of landmines. For one thing, you've got to decipher your recipient's personal style and how it interacts with the current trends. And don't get us started on guessing the correct size! That's why we recommend you skip all that awkwardness and give your loved one a gift card from their favorite store instead. Plus, purchasing gift cards during this time of year can bag all kinds of freebies for you!

Buy a Food Subscription Instead of a Gift Basket

The gift basket is a tried-and-true holiday gift, but only comes in three flavors: assorted meats and cheeses, assorted fruits, and assorted candies. Some folks really like summer sausage, but no one really wants to find it under their tree. Rather than going for the boring and expected, sign your gift recipient up for something extraordinary: a food subscription that's catered to their personal tastes. If your giftee loves to cook, a service like Plated or Blue Apron can help them discover new recipes. Your loved one picks out the recipes they want to try each week, and the company sends out a box of fresh ingredients for $10 to $12 per plate.

Shopping for someone who isn't into making their own food? There are tons and tons of food box subscriptions around these days. Are they really into Japanese culture? Try Skoshbox. Do they need a good snacking? Go with Graze. Are they always looking for a new brew? Help them join the Craft Beer Club. The options are limitless, and prices start as low as $7 per box.

Buy Anything Other Than a Full-Price Pair of Beats Headphones

There are two reasons someone will request a pair of Beats by Dre headphones. Some ask for these cans out of brand recognition: "I have heard of Beats, so they must be nice. Buy me Beats." Other folks request these headphones because of the brand's prestige: "Everyone who is anyone has Beats. Buy me Beats." If your gift recipient belongs to that second group, they will not be happy with anything other than the real deal. However, they might be satisfied with a refurbished pair, which can cost hundreds less than a new unit.

If your gift recipient does not care about having that little "b" on the side of their head, then do both yourself and them a favor by purchasing another brand. Almost any other brand of headphones. You see, Beats by Dre has had a wonderful influence on the headphone market, spurring other companies to make good-looking cans with punchy bass at a fraction of Beats' cost. In fact, only one pair of Beats made CNET's "Best Headphones of 2014" list, and those can cost up to $380. Check out the reviews, and find a pair that are either priced better, or just feature better reviews at the same price.

Readers, do you agree with our suggestions? What awesome gift alternatives would you add to this list? Share your suggestions in the comments below!

Features Writer

Marcy pens consumer news stories of all sorts, in addition to adding pithy prose to many of the roundups you see every day. Her work for DealNews has appeared on sites like Lifehacker, the Huffington Post, and MSN Money. She is by far the most metal member of the DealNews staff, and you can see why by following her on Twitter @ThatBonebright.
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Unless marked as a "Sponsored Deal," the opinions expressed here are those of the author and have not been reviewed or endorsed by the companies mentioned. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
You might also like
Leave a comment!
or Register
Lindsay Sakraida (DealNews)
@BDough We specify that the console entry only applies to buying a console for someone who hasn't invested in either ecosystem yet, and hasn't yet taken a stance in the Xbox vs. PS4 debate. (Most likely a child.) "If your recipient is already committed to Sony, it would be cruel to arbitrarily gift them a whole other universe of content. But not everyone has chosen a side in this decades-long battle. If your giftee has requested any next-gen console, then Xbox One is your best value right now."
Lindsay Sakraida (DealNews)
@BDough Also, we didn't recommend the 5C. We recommended the 5S.
A lot of these alternatives completely miss the point of why you were going to get the original in the first place.
A smart watch serves a completely different purpose than a fitness band.
For the Next-Gen console, if you buy a different console than the recipient wanted, they may not be able to play the very games they want the system for because the game wasn't released on both consoles.
Geek subscriptions can be great, but if your geek is really only into Star Trek, then they're going to be quite disappointed all year when they get 11 months of Megaman, Pokemon, and Marvel Superheroes memorabilia they don't even like and one month of Star Trek stuff.
Regarding the iPhone, take a look around at how many iPhone 5C's you saw people using once it came out. None.
The TV, Data Stream, iPad, Food, and Headphones ones are okay. Gift Cards eliminate a lot of sentiment. I think tablets are bad investment for kids no matter what, but that's just me.
I appreciate the fact that you're not afraid to call out "buying for the brand." Good article.
Thanks for pointing to the Gizmodo article comparing the streaming sticks -- those are a possibility for me to consider, and that seemed to do a nice job laying out why one might be preferable over the others.