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 13 awesome alternatives to in-demand items that provide a much better value for your dollar — and your giftee.
Buy a Flat 4K TV Instead of a Curved TV
Like the 3D TVs of yore, curved TVs are another fad that's supposed to "revolutionize" our living room, but comes with caveats. Where 3D sets were tied down to annoying and expensive glasses, curved TVs suffer from a size paradox. That curve in the screen makes for a more immersive viewing experience, but only if the screen is big enough. As TechHive explains, "with a smaller-but-more-affordable 55" or 65" curved TV, the immersive area is effectively reduced to a sweet spot directly opposite the center of the screen and at a slightly shorter viewing distance than for a comparable flat screen. In the typical home, that spot can only accommodate just one or two viewers."
So unless you're buying a truly massive screen, a curved TV is never going to be a good gift for households of three or more. However, the price of 4K TVs has plummeted over the past year, making this better-than-HD format a surprisingly affordable holiday treat. In the past couple weeks, we've seen 40" 4K sets priced as low as $250, 50" sets from $600, and 65" sets from just under $1,000.
Buy a Smartwatch Instead of a Fitness Band
Although activity trackers are definitely cheaper than smartwatches, there's no escaping the stigma of gifting a fitness device. And the best fitness bands on the market, like the Fitbit Charge HR, boast $100-plus price tags that are actually comparable to a low-end smartwatch. According to SpecOut's exhaustive breakdown of the two categories, "the smartwatch is a good choice for the casually recreational person — someone who wants to stay active, but who isn’t necessarily counting calories to the decimal place."
Bottom line: Unless your giftee has specifically requested a fitness band, they're more likely to enjoy a wearable that sports additional functionality beyond counting their steps.
Buy a Surface Pro 4 Instead of an iPad Pro
Stand down, fanboys! Obviously, if someone is already married into the Apple ecosystem, then they're more likely to enjoy an Apple device. However, if your giftee (with really expensive taste) is just looking to trade in their laptop, then the Surface is a better bet. As we noted earlier this year, Microsoft's machine can be configured to boast better performance and more storage, and it even has the more affordable accessories.
While neither of these slates is prone to discounts, it's also worth noting that we've seen two Surface Pro 4 deals so far, and just one iPad Pro sale.
Buy a Streaming Stick Instead of a Set-Top Box
Media streamers have become so cheap and user-friendly that you can feel good giving one to just about anyone on your holiday gift list. While CNET currently gives its top recommendation to the Roku 2, even those techy experts are the first to point out that the spec differences are minimal between all the different brands. As such, we're recommending you opt for a stick over a set-top box, based on price alone.
In the past few weeks, we've seen the CNET-recommended Roku 2 listed at $59. However, the Fire TV stick and a refurbished Roku Stick both hit $25, and we saw a 2-pack of Chromecasts bundled with a $40 Google Play credit for $49. Clearly, the sticks are still winning the price war.
Buy an iPhone 6 Instead of an iPhone 6S
Yes, the iPhone 6S has slightly better specs (including 3D touch and a faster chip) than the iPhone 6. But let's step away from the spreadsheets for a moment and consider user experience. "The honest answer is that there is very little difference when using the iPhone 6S or the iPhone 6," a Forbes reviewer explained. "The iPhone 6S does what it needs to do, and no more."
For you, the gift giver, the 6 has the added benefit of being cheaper. The lowest price we've seen for this previous-gen model in recent weeks is $1 with a contract; compare that to the $100 going rate for an on-contract iPhone 6S.
Buy an Amazon Fire Kids' Tablet Instead of a VTech Device
It's a new kind of nightmare for parents in the digital age: tech toymaker VTech was recently hacked, exposing the personal information and pictures of nearly 5 million parents and kids. According to Motherboard, "this is the fourth largest consumer data breach to date," and could have been a lot worse — the hacker who's claimed responsibility said they did it to draw attention to VTech's vulnerabilities, and not for nefarious reasons.
Because it's unclear when (or if) VTech tablets will be safe to buy again, we're suggesting you buy a kid-friendly tab with a little more protection. The Amazon Fire Kids' Edition boasts a robust set of parental controls and available two-step verification, as well as a 2-year warranty for physical mishaps. Digital Trends also lists it as the best kids' tablet, period.
Buy an Xbox One or PS4 Bundle Instead of a Lone Console
Should you be shopping for an Xbox One or PlayStation 4 this holiday season, you really don't want to buy that console by itself. The prices for the 2015 holiday bundles for both platforms have already plummeted, making it easier than ever to score savings on popular 2015 titles to go with that new system.
In recent weeks, we've seen both PS4 and Xbox One bundles priced at around $300, but holiday sales have added a sweet bonus: gift cards! We saw a PS4 bundled with Star Wars Battlefront and a $20 newegg gift card for $300 recently, as well as an Xbox One paired with Gears of War: Ultimate Edition and a $50 Best Buy gift card for $300.
Buy a Subscription Instead of a Single Gift
If one day of presents is cool, imagine how awesome it would be to get presents all year long! That's the logic behind signing your giftee up for a subscription box service like Loot Crate or Birchbox. There are enough boxes out there now that you can get pretty customized with your goodies, but you may want to check out our guide to getting started with subscription boxes before you sign up. Expect to pay anywhere from $10 to $40 per box.
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 an Upcycled Bouquet Instead of Real Flowers
Flowers are kind of like puppies; they make nice gifts, but then someone has to keep them alive. Providing bouquets and arrangements made from recycled and sustainable materials like book pages, burlap, music sheets, pallet wood, pine cones, and sola wood, EcoFlower offers an upkeep-free alternative to plants. The prices are comparable to a traditional florist service, with small bouquets and centerpieces starting from $35; coupons are also usually listed onsite.
Buy an App Gift Card Instead of a Handheld Console
Handheld gaming has fundamentally changed. The days of loading batteries and cartridges into a GameBoy have passed, and gamers now have access to millions of titles from their smartphones and tablets. That's why a gift card for iTunes or Google Play will go a lot further than a handheld console ever could, in terms of value for you and the player.
Even ignoring the huge number of free apps we see every day, a $20 gift card could easily score your giftee 20 new mobile games. Compare that to $80 for a Nintendo 2DS with just one game, or $129 for a 3DS XL and one game — both at the best price we've seen in recent weeks.
Buy a Refurb Device Instead of a New One
Everyone assumes that gifting second-hand electronics is taboo, but that's not necessarily the case! Electronics reseller Gazelle recently conducted a survey on this very subject. While only 51% of people said they'd consider giving a certified, pre-owned device, a full 61% of respondents said they'd be happy to receive refurbished tech if they knew the giver had saved a lot on the device.
Besides, we've talked to experts who swear by certified refurbs. Just do your homework, and your second-hand gadget gift could be as good as new.
Buy Anything But a Hoverboard
They might not have made the official list of "most dangerous toys" for 2015, but we're suggesting you buy anything but a Hoverboard-stye scooter this year because explosions are bad. With major retailers like Amazon and Overstock pulling their listings of the boards, buying one is actually becoming difficult, as well as dangerous. With the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission investigating at least 10 reported hoverboard fires over the past few weeks, you really don't want to put one of these devices under your tree.
Readers, do you agree with our suggestions? What awesome gift alternatives would you add to this list? Share your suggestions in the comments below!