11 gifts that seem expensive...but aren't

A smart shopper never financially overextends himself during the holidays. Here are 11 gift ideas that will impress without blowing your budget. 

By , Guest blogger

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    Pearls make a nice yet inexpensive gift for the holidays, Somogyi writes.
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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 never financially overextends himself during the holidays. But just because you can't blow a bundle on them doesn't mean that you can't blow their minds. Trick your loved ones into thinking that you spent a lot by choosing gifts that have a high perceived value or sentimentality. Here are a few gift categories that tend to seem more expensive than they are.

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 Two Row 8mm AAA White Freshwater Pearl Necklace ($17.49 via coupon code "dealnews30" with free shipping, a low by $6) — 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 FIFTH, Last Call Neiman Marcus, 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 60% off. And in some cases, the giftee may never know your dirty little outlet shopping secret.

Recommended: Are you a smart shopper? Take our quiz.

There are also some traditional, brick-and-mortar outlet stores that will sometimes also 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.

Sail Away on a Cruise

When someone hears, "I'm whisking you off on a cruise!" no one thinks, "Wait ... I'll bet you got a deal on this!" Nope, it's a vacation! It's exciting! There's packing to do! What the giftee doesn't know is that cruises can be ridiculously inexpensive. Take this Royal Caribbean 4-night Bahamas holiday cruise (from $350, a low by $32), which is a vacation for two — for less than what it costs to buy an iPad. That's a huge gesture, without the huge strain on your wallet. (Just try and forget about all the recent "poop cruises," sinkings,and illnesses and focus on the savings!)

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. This Joseph Abboud Men's Leather Passcase Wallet ($8.50 with free shipping, a low by $2), 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.

Factory-Refurbished Items Are 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 saving of up to 31% off iPads and up to $192 off 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 factoryrefurbishment; this is your best bet to ensure quality. It's also smart to avoid anything labeled simply as "used" and phrases like "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 get go 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!

Bath & Body Works As A Gift Basket

Unless it's a bar of Ivory, people tend to assume that bath and beauty items are higher-end. But that shouldn't stop you from getting them actually higher-end stuff. For instance, even though the Bath & Body Work's Signature Collection of lotions, body wash, and scents can be rather expensive if bought one at a time — prices start at $11 a pop — the merchant always seems to have some kind of BOGO sales 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. (Puts on sunglasses. YEAAAAAAAH!)

Be Quirky or Kooky

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 who 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.)

Gifts from Back in the Day

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, 80s tees, and even Hot Topic are all stores that twang the heart strings for a certain generation. Who wouldn't tear up over an Alf T-Shirt or a pair of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle socks? Get your buddy a Stereo Vinyl Skateboard ($59.99 with free shipping, a low by $13) and he'll be so nostalgic about the first time he broke his arm in the '80s 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 connotes value. Sure, 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 (from $29.74 via coupon code "SCARF" with $6.95 s&h, $95 off) that should fit a tight budget.

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 an 11x14" canvas print of a photos for $14.98 in-store at Walmart.

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!

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.

Jeff Somogyi is the media editor for Dealnews.com, where this article first appeared: http://dealnews.com/features/Gifts-That-Seem-Expensive-...-But-Really-Arent/643348.html

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