During the holidays, it's natural to want to give the world to those we love; after all, nothing is too good for our parents, siblings, spouses, and dear friends. But a smart shopper never financially overextends himself at the holidays. So how exactly can you impress your giftee without blowing your entire budget? It's all about perceived value, sentimentality, and need. These notions are subjective of course, but we've found that the following gift ideas have the ability to make your giftee think you splurged on their holiday present, when you really just shopped wisely.
Designer Products at Mainstream Retail Chains
The whole idea behind high-end designers producing an accessibly-priced line of products available through a mainstream channel like Target or Sephora is to make money off the cachet attached to the brand name. And it works, as exemplified by the immense popularity of Target's designer capsule collections. Currently, the retailer is promoting its exclusive Neiman Marcus collection, which includes wares from designers such as Marc Jacobs, Lela Rose, Oscar de la Renta, and more. Many of the price tags however are a bit high to be considered inexpensive, but a few items are priced just right. Like this Tory Burch Lunch Box ($19.99 with $5.18 s&h), which can serve as a makeup bag and will delight any fashion-loving lady on your list.
Regardless of how easily this gem is now produced, the pearl still exudes an air of class and elegance over other jewelry. (For some though, it might just seem stuffy, so make sure you know your audience with this one.) We periodically see inexpensive options — like this 9mm White Freshwater Pearl Necklace ($14.99 via coupon code "dealnews25" with free shipping, a low by $9) — that still have the luster and weight of pearls that the average person will associate with a much pricier product.
Considering how much we rely on portable music these days, extra pairs of headphones are always appreciated. But if you can't afford to spring for an acclaimed pair of Bose or Diddybeats ear phones, you can at least opt for something snazzy; Skullcandy regularly discounts its brightly-colored headsets to well under $20 via its eBay store, and the everything-but-standard-black hues will make these phones seem like a special purchase. Currently you can score the Skullcandy Lowrider Headphones ($15.99 with free shipping, a low by $7) in purple.
Sometimes the material of an item alone is enough to suggest a level of quality. 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. This Joseph Abboud Men's Leather Passcase Wallet ($9.99 with free shipping, a low by $4), for example, is consistently available for under $10. The wallet section at Wilsons Leather, too, is well-stocked with cheap options, and also sees regular sitewide coupons, so make sure to look for one before checking out.
Bath & Body Works BOGO Items
This bath and beauty store's Signature Collection of lotions, body wash, and scents can be rather expensive if bought one at a time, since prices start at $11 a pop. But if you opt for one of Bath & Body Works' frequent buy one get one sales, the per-unit price drops by almost half. And while such sales are far more common at Bath & Body Works, we found a similar sale offered at The Body Shop as well. Stock up on several bottles of sweet-smelling beauty goods, then divvy them up into your own DIY gift sets.
Free Gift Cards
While doing your shopping in general, be on the lookout for retailers and restaurants that offer free gift cards with minimum purchases. For example, REI currently includes a $20 gift card with orders of $100 or more. The deal is probably meant to be a nice extra for the person placing the order, but you could always include the freebie with a gift to make it seem all the more valuable. Just be aware that some stores will offer this freebie as an eGift card, which is more difficult to pass on.
Gifts Bought With a Store Credit
Although Groupon and LivingSocial frequently offer credits to local merchants or online stores that you may not be familiar with, we sometimes see noteworthy offers from retailers like Old Navy, ShoeMall, or Threadless. You can use such a credit to purchase your gift, thus allowing you to buy a more valuable item than your budget would otherwise allow. You can also give the promotional value as a gift without the recipient knowing what you paid for it. (Bonus points if you manage to recommend a friend to the deal site, score a referral credit, and use that to buy the store voucher.)
We were inclined to title this option "something from ThinkGeek," but really, anything that has a high quirk factor will work, since the coolness of the gift tends to override the actual value of the item. Got a friend who loves photography? Try getting one of those travel mugs that looks like a telephoto lens, i.e. the Camera Lens Mug ($15.99 with free shipping via Prime, a low by $4). You might have to expend a bit more creative energy than usual though, since this type of gift works best when it really fits the personality of the recipient. But if they happen to like Star Wars or Dr. Who, you're pretty golden at ThinkGeek.
Gifts That Play Up Nostalgia
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. Urban Outfitters shills many such wares, but we also love all the retro kitchen appliances from Nostalgia Electrics; some are just fun, while others like the Nostalgia Electrics 4-Pretzel Soft Pretzel Maker ($19.99 with free shipping, a low by $5) can genuinely tap into past memories of whiling the hours away at the mall and living off of Auntie Anne's and Orange Julius smoothies. You could even convince a depressed Hostess fan that the pictured Nostalgia Electrics Cream-Filled Mini Cupcake Maker ($19.99 with free shipping, a low by $5) can recreate their favorite CupCakes.
Cheap Cashmere Sweaters or Accessories
This option works for the same reason that leather accessories do: the material alone connotes value. Naturally, the least expensive cashmere items are probably going to be a cotton blend, but they'll still carry the cashmere cachet. Kohl's frequently has inexpensive styles, and currently there are several Apt 9 women's sweaters on sale ($27.19 via coupon code "JINGLE" with $6.95 s&h, $98 off) that should fit a tight budget.
Framed Pictures and Family Photos
Typically, only family members will see the value in the portrait option. But if you live far away from your parents and extended relations, and you happen to have some doe-eyed offspring in your brood, a photographic memento can be particularly effective. Skip the professional sitting and instead ask a friend with a decent digital SLR to take a more natural-looking photo of your family at home. Then, use a photo print deal like to make copies. Right now you'll get two 8x10 photos for $3.99 with free in-store pickup at Rite Aid.
Any Editors' Choice Deal (Within Your Budget)
The best way to give someone a gift that seems more expensive than it really is? Buy something 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!
There's no shame in shopping with a budget this holiday season. 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. If there's someone on your list however that just won't fit any of the options above, make sure to keep an eye on our constantly-updated gift guide tab for more ideas.