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17 Gifts That Seem Expensive, But Really Aren't

Maximize the wow-factor of your gifts this year by being a little perceptive (and just a bit deceptive).

During the holidays, it's natural to have the urge to splurge on gifts; after all, nothing is too good for our parents, siblings, spouses, and dear friends, right? However, a smart shopper should never financially overextend themselves, especially during the holidays.

But just because you can't blow a bundle on your loved ones doesn't mean that you can't still blow their minds. Trick them into thinking that you spent a lot by choosing gifts that have a high perceived value, and rake in the ooooh-you-shouldn't-haves. Here are some gift ideas that seem more expensive than they really are.

Blue Topaz Pendant

Get Something That Sparkles

As everyone knows, diamonds are a girl's best friend, but who wouldn't like a little bling? Jewelry encrusted with sparkling diamonds and other gemstones is sure to dazzle your loved one — even if you didn't spend a fortune. We routinely see jewelry from Szul — like this 2.15-Total Carat Weight Teardrop Blue Topaz and Diamond Pendant in Sterling Silver ($36 with free shipping, $190 off) — and other retailers at prices that can fit even the tightest of budgets.

Opt for Pearl Jewelry

Regardless of how easily this gem can now be produced on oyster farms, the pearl still exudes an air of class and elegance over many other jewelry options. We routinely see inexpensive choices — like this 7.5mm Freshwater Pearl Necklace and Earring Set ($12 via coupon code "HDS10" with free shipping, $58 off) — that have the luster and weight characteristic of pearls, which the average person will associate with a much pricier product.

Take heed, though, because some people find pearls to be a bit stuffy; make sure you know your audience with this one.

Shop the Outlets for Designer Goods at Half Price

Though buying clothes for someone is often a dicey prospect ("Oh, you don't like American flag-patterned jeggings?!"), opening a box to reveal a designer-brand cardigan can really pay off. But designer brands can be expensive even with Christmas sales. Enter the likes of Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th, Last Call Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom Rack, and J. Crew Factory.

These stores are nothing but constant sales on name-brand clothing. Sure, you may find last season's fashions and special wares designed specifically for the outlet store, but that just means big savings of up to 70% off. (Outlet-only goods may be of lesser quality, but are definitely more affordable and usually look just as good.) And in some cases, the giftee may never know your dirty little outlet shopping secret.

There are also some traditional, brick-and-mortar outlet stores that will sometimes include manufacturing-defected items. You can still get perfectly good high-end items at a deep discount, just make sure to inspect potential purchases to make sure they don't have a red dot on the sleeve.

perfume bottles

Rich Scents for Less

Brand name fragrances may exude the smell of money, but we routinely see deals on ritzy colognes and perfumes. Sites like FragranceNet and FragranceX specialize in discounts on scents from Calvin Klein, Armani, Prada, Fendi, and more, while big retailers like Target and Nordstrom frequently also offer up great deals. Luckily, your recipient will most likely never sniff out your secret.

We're Into Leather, and You Should Be Too

Sometimes the material of an item alone is enough to suggest a certain level of expense. Leather is one such material. (Think of Ricardo Montalbán purring, "Rich Corinthian leather!" despite the fact that there is no such thing — but it sounds luxurious!) As far as budget leather accessories go, it's best to stick to simple styles, which makes this a particularly fitting option when buying for men. These Alpine Swiss Men's Leather Wallets (from $8.99 with free shipping, low by at least $4), for example, are consistently available for under $10. Also, Wilsons Leather sees regular sitewide coupons, so make sure to look for one before checking out.

Turn On the Wow Factor With a Brand New TV

Some relatives (read: parents) may not realize that a television no longer needs to be a major investment. Just this past Black Friday, Amazon sold a 50" 1080p HDTV for $150 (though we're not sure anyone actually got that deal). Even if you want a brand name set to make sure to impress, there are plenty of $200-or-less options — like this Sharp 32" 1080p LED-Backlit LCD HD Television ($199.99 with free shipping, $30 off) — in the 32" realm. With just a quick glance at our TV deals, you should be able to find a TV that's big on wow power, but not price.

Factory-Refurbished Items Are as Good as New

Several merchants, including Apple, Canon, Nikon, and Dyson, have a history of selling beautifully restored, clean, and good-as-new-looking refurbs. These companies are meticulous in reconditioning their wares, making them look as presentable as possible. But since they're still used items, that also means huge savings for you — especially if someone on your list wants an iPad, DSLR, or high-end vacuum. Going this route, you can find yourself with savings of up to 22% on iPads and up to $370 on Canon EOS DSLRs, just to name a few.

For other brands, refurbs aren't as easy to come by. Look for items that specifically call out factory refurbishment; this is your best bet to ensure quality. It's also smart to avoid anything labeled simply as "used" or "scratch and dent," because that stuff is going to look like it was tossed into a dryer with a handful of rocks and no one wants to open up something like that as a present. Also keep an eye out for warranty information; be sure that there is one, first of all, but also make sure that it's supplied by the manufacturer.

When gifting a refurbished product, there's always a chance that the giftee will find out. (Many manufacturers include such information on packing slips, ship items in nondescript brown boxes, or have other tell-tales that'll give you away.) For that reason, we recommend telling your giftee from the start about the refurb status, in which case you could tell him or her that it was either a refurb, or no gift at all. We think they'll come around and see that a refurb isn't all that bad after all.

Shower Them With Gifts From The Body Shop

Unless it's a bar of Ivory, people tend to assume that bath and beauty items are a luxury. And if you look out for a sale, you can actually score higher-end body care goods at a reasonable price. For instance, even though The Body Shop's signature collection of lotions, body wash, and scents can be rather expensive if bought one at a time — prices start at $8 a pop — the merchant frequently has some kind of sale running.

In fact, right now, they have a buy three, get three free promotion! Essentially cutting 50% off your total price, you can stock up on several bottles of the sweet-smelling beauty goo, then divvy them up into your own DIY gift sets. Your giftee will never know, so you can make a ... clean getaway.

gift cards

Give Gift Cards for Less

While it's always the thought that counts, when it comes to gift cards, your loved one can easily put a price tag on your present because it's staring them in the face. Or can they? Throughout the month of December, we typically see gift cards discounted by as much as 25% off face value.

SEE ALSO: Here's Why You Should Never Pay Full-Price for an iTunes Gift Card

Moreover, many retailers and restaurants have special offers for free gift cards when you spend a specified amount. So while your giftee may assume you dished out the value of the card, you can pay significantly less or pocket a gift card for yourself in the process.

Be Quirky, Kooky, or Fun

We were inclined to title this option "something from ThinkGeek," and call it a day. But really, anything that has a high quirk factor is a great gift. And cool gifts are less likely to endure the usual "how much did this cost" gaze of a gift recipient. (You know we all do it!)

Plus, who really knows how much a toy sonic screwdriver costs? Was it $10? $50? If it's something the recipient thinks is cool, then they'll mentally assign a greater personal value to it, and that's a win for the giver! This category of thrifty-gifty can only be pulled off if you really know the personality of whom you're buying for, and it requires slightly more creative energy than usual. (But if you know they happen to like Star Wars or Dr. Who, you're pretty golden at ThinkGeek.)

Gussy Up a Bottle of Wine

Though many people enjoy wine, very few of us are true oenophiles who can taste the difference between a $10 bottle and a $100 one. Play upon your friends' ignorance and save some cash! Head to your local wine shop (or check out our great wine deals) and ask the wine guy to recommend a cheap (but good) bottle as a gift.

He'll point out some options; just be sure to avoid choosing any with "cheap-looking" labels (this typically includes anything with an animal — butterfly, cat, or kangaroo — on it). Also try and avoid any bottle with a screw-cap, as people still tend to think that it is the hallmark of a cheap bottle. (Even though winemakers are increasingly using screw-caps for high end wines that don't need to oxygenate during storage — but we digress.)

To further elevate the "luxe-factor," enhance the presentation of the bottle. Ditch the plastic bag from the liquor store for this Luxe Faux Fur Wine Bag ($14.50 with free shipping, low by $13). Or buy a wooden box, because everything looks more expensive in a wooden box. This technique also works with cheese and other consumables like meats and fruits. (Within reason, of course — if you put Kraft Singles in a box, you're not fooling anyone.)

Atari Flashback 6

Hit 'Em in the FEELS

A sentimental connection to an item is the easiest way to give it transcendental value, and these days, it's easy to find a wealth of products that play upon our "good old days" memories. Nostalgia for decades past (especially the '80s) never fails to make a sentimental connection. Who wouldn't tear up over an Alf T-Shirt or a pair of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle socks? Get your buddy an Atari Flashback 6 Classic Game Console ($37.99 via coupon code "VISA5" with free shipping, low by $2) and he'll be so nostalgic about playing Space Invaders that he won't give a thought to price!

Save Cash on Cashmere

This option works for the same reason that leather accessories do: The material alone suggests value. Sure, the least expensive cashmere items are probably going to be a cotton blend, but they'll still carry the cashmere cachet. Uniqlo is currently taking up to 50% off cashmere apparel and accessories (from $19.90 with $7 s&h) so you should be able to find plenty of gifts to fit a tight budget.

Awkward 80s Family
Awkward Family Photos

Family Photos Aren't So Awkward

Typically, only family members will think of a portrait as valuable (but it's worth trying out on your boss, just to see what happens). If you live far away from your parents and extended relations, and you happen to have some photogenic offspring in your brood, a photo memento can be a particularly effective, thoughtful, and inexpensive gift.

Save more money by skipping the professional sitting, and just ask a friend with a decent digital SLR to take a few snaps of you and your kin at home. Then, use a photo print deal to make copies. Right now, you can get five 4x6" Photo Prints for free at Walmart, and it doesn't get any cheaper than free.

Impress with a Tablet

It's easy to come across as a big spender to the less tech-savvy on your shopping list when you put a shiny new tablet under the tree. We've seen the prices on tablets decrease dramatically over the past year to the point where you can find many options at any price point.

For example, we recently saw this iView SupraPad 7" 16GB Windows 8.1 Tablet ($49.99 with free shipping, low by $30) at a very low price. Even iPads like the Apple iPad mini 2 16GB WiFi Tablet ($199 with free shipping, low by $36) can be had brand new for less than $200 these days, making it easy to make your recipient feel like you went all out.

Score Gifting Points with Video Games

Unless your gift list includes a gaming fanatic accustomed to getting new games as soon as they become available, video games are another option that can score big points with recipients. You will find the greatest discounts on older games — like Persona 4 Arena Ultimax for PlayStation 3 ($11.71 with free shipping for Prime members, a low by $18) — but chances are the casual gamers on your list will assume you paid a pretty penny regardless. Better still, even new games can be had for a good price this time of year, as we've seen with recent sales from Best Buy and Toys"R"Us.

Any Editors' Choice Deal (Within Your Budget)

The best way to give someone a gift that seems more expensive than it really is? Buy it at a significant discount! That's exactly what you'll find in our Editors' Choice section, as it's filled with all-time low prices and rare sales. Some of the items will still fall into the upper levels of your budget, but it's an excellent, fool-proof guide to getting your dollar to stretch its furthest. And lower-priced goods make for excellent stocking stuffers! You can also sign up for the DealNews Select Newsletter too, if you'd rather get the deal suggestions delivered to your inbox.

There's no shame in shopping with a budget during the holidays. In fact, knowing your limits before you start punching in your credit card info will help prevent excessive spending. The items above will help keep your expenditures down while still making your loved ones feel appreciated.

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Senior Staff Writer

Stephen Slaybaugh is a Brooklyn-based writer with more than 20 years experience. In addition to his work for DealNews, he publishes The Agit Reader music webzine and has written for The Village Voice, Paste, The Big Takeover, and many other publications.
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).
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1 comment
I'd love to get the "Atari Flashback 6 Classic Game Console" but it doesn't have Pac Man.
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