11 Gifts That Seem Expensive, but Aren't

You don't have to empty your wallet to give the best for the holidays this year. Impress for less with cashmere, tablets, and more.
Expensive gifts

You don't have to take out a second mortgage or resort to IOUs or free giveaways to spread holiday cheer.

We've rounded up popular gift options — and what most people think they cost — and compared that to what you'll actually spend on those items. Our gift picks will fool your friends and family in the best way possible. They'll look and feel like a million bucks, but you won't be spending anywhere near that much.

SEE ALSO: The Best Birthday Freebies: A Complete Guide

A quick note about the dollar signs below: A "$" corresponds to prices under $10, "$$" represents the $10 to $99 price range, "$$$" represents $100 to $999, and "$$$$" represents $1,000 and up.

And now, here are several gift ideas that seem much pricier than they really are.

Pearl Necklaces

What People Think They Cost: $$$
What They Actually Cost: $$

Pearls are a sophisticated accessory anybody can pull off. Depending on where you shop, you can find a single strand of pearls for as little as $12. And if you prefer to spend a little more, you'll often come across necklaces closer to $85 from sites like Win Pearl.

SEE ALSO: The 11 Best Things to Buy Before (and Immediately After) Christmas

Designer Goods

What People Think They Cost: $$$$
What They Actually Cost: $$

Designer names are a status symbol for many people, and can be a sign of great quality. Most giftees would be happy to receive expensive brands from outlets like Saks Off 5th, Last Call, Nordstrom Rack, and Barneys Warehouse. While you can shop these outlets year-round, during the holidays they tend to have sales just like other stores, where you'll make your dollar go even further by using stackable coupons.

One thing to keep in mind, though: The inventory is usually comprised of a small amount of overstock leftovers and private-label brands. It seems the bulk of outlet merch is made up of items from "brand-appropriate" vendors. And despite what the price tag says, you aren't necessarily saving those hundreds of dollars. That MSRP is often just an arbitrary number chosen by the retailer, and the garment may never have been sold at that price anywhere.

Factory-Refurbished Items

What People Think They Cost: $$$$
What They Actually Cost: $$$

Buying factory-refurbished isn't quite the same as buying a used piece of tech from a sketchy post on Craigslist. At the same time, not all refurbished items are quality picks. But companies like Apple, Canon, Nikon, and Dell have a good track record for selling refurbs that are like new.

Companies like Apple, Canon, Nikon, and Dell have a good track record for selling refurbs that are like new.

To ensure you're buying quality items, look specifically for the term "factory-refurbished." You should probably avoid any product labeled as used, scratched, or dented if you're giving it as a gift. Additionally, don't forget to look for the refurbisher's warranty information.

And finally, a piece of advice: If you're gifting refurbished, don't try to hide it from your recipient. Since items that have gone through this process tend to be repackaged, it's going to be difficult to pass off that iPad as new when it arrives in a plain, brown box.


What People Think They Cost: $$$$
What They Actually Cost: $$$

TVs are still widely thought of as splurge gifts, and it's certainly not hard to find sets in the thousand-dollar price range. However, this tech has dropped in price recently, and you can easily buy a quality set for a couple hundred dollars. With brands like Vizio and TCL growing in popularity, it's not difficult to locate a midsize set with 4K resolution and Smart capabilities for $500 or less during the holiday sales.

Note that you'll want to check the dimensions to make sure there's room for the set in your recipient's home.

Giftable Liquor

What People Think It Costs: $$$
What It Actually Costs: $$

Gifting alcohol can be risky. It either evokes memories of cheap drinks in college, or of fancy beverages imbibed next to a crackling fireplace while you're stroking the whiskers of your majestic Nick Offerman beard. (Obviously, we're aiming for that second scenario.)

SEE ALSO: 5 Great Bourbons You Can Buy at $20 or Less

Research is your friend here. For example, a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle bourbon is notoriously expensive and difficult to hunt down. But we've already discovered that tasty bourbon can be found for under $20.


What People Think It Costs: $$$
What It Actually Costs: $$

Cashmere has been a go-to sartorial selection for decades. Pair a sweater with a strand of pearls, and almost any outfit looks more sophisticated. And even though it's wool, cashmere is more preferred since it's not as itchy as other wools. Items made with only cashmere tend to cost at least $150, if not significantly more. However, opting for a cashmere blend increases the odds of finding a gorgeous garment for under $100, or maybe even less. (We saw cashmere sweaters during Black Friday at Macy's for $40.)


What People Think They Cost: $$$
What They Actually Cost: $$

Tablets are prevalent these days, and it's not hard to spend a few hundred on a good device. However, you can get affordable options for under $100, particularly if you don't need a powerhouse. (And if you do, you're usually better off buying a laptop or Chromebook instead.) Android tablets can run as cheap as $20 to $30. Just keep in mind that spending too little could mean buyer's remorse later. This is one category where you definitely get what you pay for.

Home Assistants

What People Think They Cost: $$$
What They Actually Cost: $$

Thanks to Amazon and Google, more consumers are using home assistants and smart gadgets — making their residences a place where the Jetsons would feel comfortable. For anyone who's unfamiliar with this tech, the futuristic functionality might seem too expensive to implement in their own homes. But you can easily find a home assistant for under $100. (The Google Home Mini is $29 through the end of the year, and the Echo Dot is regularly $50.)

And if you do want to spend more, you can often find bundles that have smart hubs and other gadgets included to make the setup process easier.


What People Think They Cost: $$$$
What They Actually Cost: $$

A watch can make a thoughtful gift, one that your recipient can wear every day and think of you. But you don't have to settle for something cheap from the jewelry counter at your local Target. Stylish watches at affordable prices are becoming more mainstream, meaning you don't have to spend over $1,000 just to find quality accessories that look good. (Seriously, an older-model Rolex will set you back about $5,000.)

Sites like MVMT and Daniel Wellington offer attractive timepieces for a fraction of the cost of higher-tier brands.

Sites like MVMT and Daniel Wellington, as well as brands like Lucien Piccard, offer attractive timepieces for a fraction of the cost of higher-tier brands. (The most expensive of these brands tend to go for around $290.) You can always have the watch engraved to add a sentimental touch.

Specialty Foods

What People Think They Cost: $$$
What They Actually Cost: $$

If you have a friend who's a foodie, don't insult them by presenting them with a fruitcake. Wow them with a food item they'll actually use — like truffle salt, for example.

Truffle salt is a mix of salt and fine pieces of black or white truffles, and is classified as a finishing salt. It's meant to be sprinkled over the end product, rather than used during the cooking process. Used like this, a 1.5-ounce jar can last several months. (And it'll only set you back around $15, depending on where you shop.)

Editors' Choice Deals

If none of the above seem to fit your criteria, then check out our Editors' Choice picks. This section is always brimming with rare sales as well as all-time price lows. Some of these items might go into the higher tiers of your budget, but buying them is still a foolproof way of seeing that your dollar goes further.

If you'd rather have the deals come to you, sign up for the DealNews Select newsletter, and you'll have our best offers delivered to your inbox.

Readers, what kind of inexpensive gifts do you like to give? Do you agree with our picks? Let us know in the comments below!

Staff Writer

Julie joined DealNews in 2015, after many years of becoming well-versed in technology issues as a communications professional for a software company. She first entered journalism in college, reporting on issues facing frugal students for CollegeCandy.com. Julie lives in DealNews' hometown of Huntsville, AL.
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. 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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