As Halloween 2009 approaches and stores, malls and other shopping emporiums start putting up holiday decorations and playing “Jingle Bells” over their Muzak systems, one’s thoughts begin to turn toward the traditional (by American standards, anyway) trip to buy gifts to loved ones, family members, co-workers, and even pets.
Even in the best of times, holiday shopping tends to be a sometimes stressful activity. There’s the ever-present chore of driving to a mall, hunting for a convenient parking spot and hoping that the items on everyone’s wish lists don’t cost an arm or a leg. There are also the bustling crowds, the overworked and sometimes none-too-cheerful store employess, the ever-present danger of someone losing his or her wallet/cash/credit cards, and the always unpleasant worrying over the credit card bill that’s bound to come.
Online shoppers have it much easier, but it can be stressful as well; there’s the whole credit card bill issue to deal with, as well as worries about whether the right product will be shipped (it sometimes isn’t) or that it won’t have flaws (because they sometimes are). Sometimes items will be out of stock or being discontinued, or even when items are in stock there will be limited quantities.
But even as Wall Street and the financial sector start rebounding from the Great Recession of 2008 and beyond, John and Jane Q. Public, aka the Average American Consumers, are probably having to worry about cutting back on holiday spending. With millions of Americans unemployed or underwmployed and wondering how to make do with the financial resources at hand, finding inexpensive but still nice gifts is going to be the mission for those souls who are going to buy presents in the 2009 Holiday Shopping Season.
Now, because I’m not a big fan of dollar stores, street vendors, or people who say “Hey, I found a crate of Xbox games on the highway” I probably will miss a lot of very inexpensive items for less than $20. Nevertheless, there are still good-quality gifts that can be bought for $20 or less apiece.
1. DVDs. Sure, there are still lots of movies on DVD that cost $24.99 or more, and there’s no way that you’ll find brand-new box sets of Band of Brothers and True Blood in eBay or Amazon, but there are plenty of titles that are available for $20 or less. Usually these are older movies that aren’t in demand or new movies that just weren’t popular enough to warrant the over-$20 MSRPs, but there are always lots of DVDs available for even the most frugal shoppers.
2. Books. While hardcover books usually have MSRPs of $25 and up and audiobooks (especially unabridged ones) go for $45 and up, sometimes you can get good values if you really look hard. Most brick-and-mortar bookstores have discount bins where hardcover editions that underperformed are placed before booksellers have to discard them, and online stores sometimes have reduced prices due to (a) price wars or (b) excess stocks.
Of course, paperbacks usually still cost less than $10 for mass-market editions and less than $20 for trade paperback editions, so if you don’t want to lug heavy hardcovers around or worry about shipping expenses based on weight, they’re still a viable option.
3. Gift Cards. If you have extremely hard-to-shop-for friends, spouses, lovers, children, or co-workers and you don’t know what to buy them, gift cards (think of them like pre-paid debit cards) are a handy solution. Most major retail stores offer them, and even online stores such as Amazon do, too.
4. Goodie Bags: If you have a practiced eye for shopping for “small gifts” such as candles, knick-knacks, candies, toys (such as action figures that cost less than $10 each), you can get a few of these and put together a goodie bag. You don’t need a large assortment of things, just a nice holiday-themed bag, some gift-tissue paper and your desired items and voila! You have a nice goodie bag.
5. Music CDs. Sure, iPods and other MP3 players are all the rage, but most musical artists and content is still published in the nearly 30-year-old compact disc format. As with DVDs and Blu-rays, box sets are probably not to be had for under $20, but individual albums and singles cand be found for $15 or even less. For instance, on eBay, a friend of mine once found a factory-sealed CD of Billy Joel’s Fantasies & Delusions classical music for piano album for, ready? Three cents plus shipping and handling.