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Holiday Gifts for Every Budget

Holiday gift buying has always been particularly anxiety-fraught for me; my mother raised me to believe if it is the thought of a gift that counts, much thought should go into every gift.

In a universe of millions of products, finding a perfect thingamajig that each of your recipients will actually use and appreciate is hard enough, but trickier still when watching your wallet – and who isn’t? As the holiday shopping season kicks off, I thought I’d offer a small collection of gift ideas for different budgets that I’ve fallen back on time and time again over the years. Most of these you can find on Amazon.com, where, by the way, your purchases (including those you would make anyway) support this free blog. If you choose to help us in this way, thank you!

Under $10

Gourmet spices, sauces, or salts make great gifts for foodies.With only five or ten dollars to spend, it’s time to get creative. Gifts cards to Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts are the obvious choice – perhaps overdone – and not so great for the non-coffee drinkers of the world.

If the gift is for a coworker (or anybody who spends a fair chunk of their time in a cubicle), tchotchkes like brain teasing puzzles or action figures are fair game.

For gastronomes, the available variety sauces, spices, and salts – yes, salts – is baffling but convenient.

Under $25

With a budget up to $25 your options widen considerably, but that may not always be a good thing.

For women, a pair of earrings has been a trusty gift in this price range. The arrival of online craft marketplace Etsy has made it easier than ever to snag affordable handmade jewelry even if you don’t live near shops. Scarves work, too.

Guys can be harder. I always appreciate a six-pack or pint of a unique microbrew. I can usually use some new t-shirts, too.

For readers, books used to be a sure thing – it’s hard to go wrong with one of the season’s bestselling titles – but these days you’ll have to check whether your recipient prefers an e-reader or is sticking with paper.

Under $50

Wallets and belts make great gifts under $50 for men on your list.

I’ve often had the most difficulty finding gifts in these middle-of-the-road price ranges. You can spend enough that your options are vast, but not so much that a single big-ticket item becomes the obvious gift of choice.

For the drinking men and women on my list, a bottle of nice bourbon or scotch fits the bill.

For men, wallets and belts make great alternatives to ties (because so few of us wear them anymore).

Finally, one new, cool option that has just dipped under the $50 price range is the Roku LT streaming player (for watching Netflix at other streaming services on your TV).

Under $100

With $100 to spend, I often look to create a memorable experience with a gift certificate. $100 can buy a nice dinner for two or a massage or other spa treatment.

As the price of electronics gets ever-lower, MP3 players and Kindles are also solid options in this price range.

Carrying a cell phone, nobody needs a watch anymore, but wrist watches still make fashion and/or fitness accessories for guys or girls. You can collect more than one, and you don’t have to spend a fortune to get a timepiece that turns heads.

$100 and up

For a high-end gift, a wine of the month club keeps giving.With more money to spend on a gift, you can delve into luxury clothes and accessories that we don’t always splurge on ourselves but love to receive as gifts.

A tablet like the Kindle Fire makes a good gadget gift for more than $100 but less than $200.

This price range also opens up fine jewelry – you would be surprised at the quality and deals you can find online, even on diamonds.

Finally, one of the best wedding gifts Lauren and I received was a membership to a wine-of-the-month club like the California Wine Club. They’ll send you a chosen number of handpicked bottles every month. These memberships aren’t cheap, but are always appreciated. (Lauren is still bitter that many of our bottles came while she was pregnant with Molly and somehow disappeared in the meantime. Oops.)

What about you? What rules of thumb do you use when hand-picking gifts? 

Published or updated on November 26, 2012

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About David Weliver

David Weliver is the founding editor of Money Under 30. He's a cited authority on personal finance and the unique money issues we face during our first two decades as adults. He lives in Maine with his wife and two children.


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  1. great list! nice to see what kind of things you can get in different price range. though it might be a bit more expensive for me, as the price level is much higher in Norway.

  2. Wow, what a simple and affordable gift list for the Yuletide season. For me I will go wallet or T-shirt items. It should not be branded but a decent one is enough. The most important is you show the real spirit of Christmas and you share your blessings to someone you love, friend or to strangers.

  3. Monica says:

    I usually make a donation to a charity I know is special to the person, or get an upgraded item I know they use every day.

  4. Katherine says:

    @Drew – you should get them things that make them nostalgic since Christmas is (deep down under the consumerism) about family. Even if it is junk that will be pushed to the back of the closet, it might provide them with a happy memory :)

  5. This is a really great list of gifts!

  6. Drew says:

    Where I have difficulty is shopping for my family. My parents are very financially secure and my siblings are all employed and enjoying a top 10% national income. So what do you buy for the people who pretty much have everything they want short of a Rolex or a Porsche? There is really nothing in the $100-$150 dollar range that they want but haven’t bought for themselves. The last thing they want, myself included, is more useless junk that will go straight to the back of the closet. Gift cards are too predictable. So what to do?

    The few ideas I have had in the past are to buy them consumables that they use, such as shotgun shells for my brother and father (they are big hunters) or K-cups for my coffee addicted mother. Last year, instead of purchasing gifts, I made donations in their names to local charities. However, each year it becomes more difficult. It’s almost to the point that I just want to agree to stop exchanging gifts and just spend time together, but that just seems kind of wrong. Who know what I’ll do this year, time will tell…

    • Marie says:

      I have family members who have everything, too – it makes shopping very challenging! I can’t afford the specialized skiing equipment and tech gadgets that they would like. I find that books and movies are typically a good bet. It takes some thought to pick something they’d like, and I look for new releases to cut down on the odds they already have it.

      I think your ideas for consumable gifts are great. Stationary and a box set of spices (check out Penzey’s spices) are on my list of go-to consumable gifts. If you see your family often, perhaps you could also take them out to dinner at a nice restaurant.

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