Affordable Luxuries
November 10, 2009 12:45 PM   Subscribe

What are some great gifts for Holiday Season that convey a sense of luxury, yet cost between about $25-75?

Everyone's had a hard time for the last couple years, and nobody's got a lot of money in my family. In the past when in this position I would sometimes go for quantity in my gift-giving, and get a bunch of littler, less costly, sometimes kinda jokey gifts to really stretch my budget.

But this year I was thinking that the last thing most of us need is more piles of middling-to-cheap stuff, and that rather, it might be nice to get people some gifts that are true luxuries. By "luxuries" I mean things that are a level of quality up from the everyday/discount item - things you might look at, and consider for yourself, but then reject in favor of the cheaper and more ubiquitous version. Things you wouldn't splurge on yourself but would love if someone did it for you. An example might be a really nice pair of leather driving gloves as opposed to drugstore stretch knits.

Specific suggestions of things you love welcome. A variety is fine, given that I have men and women of varying ages to think about.

But even with this philosophy in play, I won't have a ton of $ to spend, so I'm willing to spend what I have on fewer items that feel like they contain a lot of value. I'm just wondering what might be out there that I can afford but will still make the recipient go "OOoooooh!"
posted by Miko to Shopping (45 answers total) 188 users marked this as a favorite
Massage gift certificate. Despite knowing how awesome I feel after a good massage, I never splurge for myself.
posted by mollymayhem at 12:49 PM on November 10, 2009 [4 favorites]

The recent post on sheepskin slippers has me thinking along those lines for the holidays--it seems like a variety of wool, leather, and sheepskin slippers can be found on overstock for fairly affordable prices.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:51 PM on November 10, 2009

Nice bath products--high-end pretty soap and things like that. Has the benefit of being consumable and not adding to the stuff pile.
posted by phoenixy at 12:52 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Give the gift of sleep. These things work amazingly well.
posted by mikepop at 12:54 PM on November 10, 2009 [9 favorites]

Based on an AskMe post I once bought my perpetually-frozen-footed wife a pair of Alpaca socks from Alpaca Direct. She loves them.

I don't know if they're considered luxurious but, dude, alpacas! No stinkin' llower cllass llamas here.
posted by bondcliff at 12:57 PM on November 10, 2009 [4 favorites]

Quality headphones.
posted by Kattullus at 12:58 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Also, I have one of these sweatshirts, and it's comfy and warm yet durable.
posted by mikepop at 12:58 PM on November 10, 2009

Lush bath bombs. Aww, yeah.
posted by JoanArkham at 1:03 PM on November 10, 2009 [3 favorites]

Really fluffy luxurious towels.
posted by Sassyfras at 1:04 PM on November 10, 2009 [3 favorites]

- a lovely notebook, some good pens or pencils. I don't prefer a specific brand, but I haunt art supply stores looking for them.
- compound butters of different flavors, rolled in parchment, put in a nice glass dish, and frozen. Include instructions for using them.
- a bottle of delicious specialty oil for salad dressings: avocado oil, walnut oil, pumpkinseed oil. Include a recipe for good vinaigrette.
- a chocolate tasting kit: small quantities of a few excellent chocolates, a small packet of nuts, a small packet of dried fruit, and maybe an inexpensive wooden serving board.
- Similarly, a chunk of really good cheese from a local cheeseshop, a few small packets of nuts of dried fruits, and maybe an inexpensive wooden board. If you haunt thrift stores, you might even find a nice cheese knife for a buck.
- a museum membership.
- a gift for one person: a really luxurious towel and a bar of very good soap. For a household: a few luxurious washcloths and a selection of smaller soaps. (Pre de Provence makes smaller sizes that sell for a buck or two, so you could put together several different kinds.)

I love receiving gifts like these. It's such a treat to have something really fine when you're used to making do which what is only adequate.
posted by Elsa at 1:04 PM on November 10, 2009 [6 favorites]

- a whole bunch of Lush bath bombs and bubble bars (they do sell gift sets that you could break up if you wanted)
- really nice hair products, probably something from Bumble and Bumble
- a Philosophy gift set (another option)
- a nice makeup palette or two or three
- nice yarn (obviously, this works only if you're gifting a knitter)
- a cheesemaking kit (this actually less expensive than I thought, hmm)
- a handmade purse
- a handmade journal

These are all things I want, yet can't justify getting for myself, usually, so I think it's awesome that you want to do this for people.
posted by runningwithscissors at 1:06 PM on November 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

If you live in a cold climate, I suggest good gloves. They are luxurious, feel wonderful and prevent nasty chapped hands and broken nails.

Leather ones lined with cashmere - and here they are on clearance.
posted by 26.2 at 1:08 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh man, if you can find someone to make them (I'd check on Etsy), handknit socks are amazing. There's a good chance that the person you're gifting won't get it at first, but once they wear them, they'll know. The handknit socks I was given were the driving force behind my learning to knit.
posted by runningwithscissors at 1:11 PM on November 10, 2009

Smartwool socks, for sure. Best socks in the whole damn world. I ask for them every single Christmas and birthday because it is too hard for me to lay out $17 for a single pair of socks.

I really love to get gift cards to places like Lucy, Athleta, Lululemon, etc. for high-end workout gear. Their stuff is so soft, well-fitting, and long-lasting, but also so expensive that I could never in a million years justify buying it for myself.

High-quality sheets and pillows. My pillows in particular get all flat and/or lumpy, and I'd love it if someone gifted me with a couple of those huge squashy down-filled ones like you find in nice hotels.
posted by anderjen at 1:19 PM on November 10, 2009 [4 favorites]

I adore receiving cashmere. In your price range, go for gloves, scarves, hats (or sweaters, obviously, if you can find some on sale -- Macys might be having a big cashmere sale right now, actually). Awwww yeah.

Little luxuries in your price range that I would personally love, too, would be things like nice wine glasses, hair accessories (fancy barrettes, etc.), really good hand cream or body scrubs (e.g., Fresh), and perfume.
posted by scody at 1:27 PM on November 10, 2009

d'oh! Forgot to mention specfically that cashmere socks, especially, are very happy-making in the winter.
posted by scody at 1:28 PM on November 10, 2009

Tons of stuff at Dean & Deluca for foodies.

A special wine or sparkling wine. (Too personal to just list one).

Li-Lac chocolates.

A nice bottle of Lagavulin.
posted by artdrectr at 1:29 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

What about a pair of nice crystal wine glasses?
posted by in the methow at 1:30 PM on November 10, 2009

Why just get great pillowcases when you can have the whole set of linens? and stores like TJ Maxx and Marshall's can be excellent sources of marvelous sheets are great prices. I've bought sets from all three places and never paid more than $75 for a queen set. Some people don't like the 1000 thread count (they feel quite heavy and not terribly crisp) but anything from 500-800 made of quality cotton is a killer luxurious gift.

Also, last year I gave my in-laws "Cocktail Hour in a Box." It was a bottle of Gloria Ferrer Bland de Noirs, homemade spiced pecans, Ina Garten's smoked salmon spread, and garlic crostini. It went over like gangbusters.
posted by mostlymartha at 1:31 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

fancy chocolate
posted by amtho at 1:38 PM on November 10, 2009

Recchiuti Chocolates. Phenomenally good, a step above most chocolate. They have lots of boxed chocolates in your price range, and it feels really special.
posted by ambrosia at 1:41 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

7:3 Chocolates

Made with fresh ingredients, and they've got some unusual but delicious combinations.
posted by Fleebnork at 1:54 PM on November 10, 2009

Also, Vosges Chocolate. Still on the spendy side, but perhaps a bit more do-able for smaller gifts since they offer individual bars. You can find their individual chocolate bars at World Market.
posted by Fleebnork at 1:57 PM on November 10, 2009

Blooming teas! They're so very cool but not the type of thing you'd buy for yourself.

A really soft bathrobe might be nice - I found a plush fleecy one for $20 at Nordstrom Rack after a friend of mine received an identical (but more expensive) one as a gift (and her husband kept stealing it).
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:08 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Time. Time is the most luxurious of all things. If you have ever experienced sickness, if you have ever experienced someone close passing too soon, if you have children growing older and less interested in you with each day. Time.

For the young and busy, do their laundry. Run an errand or two that could provide them 2 or 3 precious weekend hours. Don't try to schedule it with them, just provide it when they aren't expecting it. They will not have had a chance to schedule it either, making it truly free time in every sense of the word.

For those with kids...babysit. Or more importantly, toddler sit. Take the kids away. Give them the guilt-free quiet of their own space. It has everything they need; food, and comfort. And each other.

For those who raised you...give them time with you. Thoughtful, focused, time. Tell them what you remember. Let them fill you in on what you have forgotten. Ask them questions. Go back in time. Let them know who you are now, today. Describe for them who you hope to be after they are gone.

It takes effort, which is an indication of how worthwhile it is. But it's free. It's a wonderful gift, and trust me, it's something many of us will eventually be willing to trade everything we have for just a little more of it with those we care about.

Failing that, I love me some hand-made socks.
posted by nickjadlowe at 2:19 PM on November 10, 2009 [15 favorites]

Baaaacon Chocolaaaate
posted by twistofrhyme at 2:23 PM on November 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

A bottle of fabulous olive oil or balsamic vinegar.

Exotic ingredients, like saffron.

Seconding the Smartwool socks. I want to try them but can't make myself spend the money.

A gift certificate to a local theater or fancy lingerie shop. I love getting gc's, especially to the places where I'm forced to buy something indulgent for myself.

Bliss bath products.

Letterpressed blank cards.
posted by purenitrous at 2:25 PM on November 10, 2009

- a museum membership

Oh yes, this is excellent. I've received memberships to various art/science museums, aquariums, zoos, etc. What's nice is many have reciprocal programs so when we visit other cities we can sometimes explore a new museum!
posted by mikepop at 3:03 PM on November 10, 2009

Snuggly blanket!
posted by radioamy at 3:09 PM on November 10, 2009

Any sort of high end food product; people often try to conserve money on frequent costs like food, and where they might splurge to get themselves a new DVD or CD or bigger ticket home entertainment item, people usually have a hard time justifying really nice but spendy food or drink items when they can buy something cheap that gets the job (eating) done instead. Lots of people are mentioning chocolate, but expensive wines, liquors, and cheeses can all be nice. It doesn't have to stop there, though. Really high end coffee or tea can be great, and lasts a long time compared to typical foods. An IOU for a lobster or crab dinner, or for a really high end, expensive, professional butcher carved steak. A gift certificate that's enough to fully cover a meal at a high end restaurant.

Certainly it varies based on the person; some people are gourmands who prefer to spend spare cash on nice food and drink. But many people prefer to save what little spare money they have for entertainment items, and a really fucking nice meal or food item can often come as nice surprises, in my experience.
posted by Caduceus at 4:14 PM on November 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

A *really* great umbrella.
posted by ersatzkat at 5:16 PM on November 10, 2009 [3 favorites]

This is actually my favorite kind of gift to give--something that teeters on being frivolous, where it's that thing they've always wanted to splurge on themselves but won't because it's just too decadent for something so unimportant or "small" seeming.
  • or or (if the right fit) Lulalu girlythings Really amazing bars of chocolate (I recommend Dagoba particularly Xocolatl, Cote d'Or Lait, and Cafe Tasse)
  • Penzey's spices, or a gift box of them
  • Bath products, yes! Lush and Pangea Organics and Castelbel and this soap on Etsy that looks like gems I can all vouch for personally, at least...
  • Freaking amazing coffee and tea, I completely agree. Upton Tea Imports has my favorite "hardcore tea lover" catalog of loose teas and loving ways to store them; Stash is good too, but available at Kroger so maybe not as luxe feeling? In this vein, by the way, a Bialetti stovetop espressomaker couldn't be simpler to use (much easier to me than those messy finicky French presses!), makes strong, decadently rich coffee, and can make your recipient feel luxe by way of doing it the proper way Italians at home do, hee
  • One approach you can use is taking luxury things and finding them in pint-size. The best example I can think of right now: a friend knew I am obsessed with cardamom (the very expensive and delicious spice) after we were in Chicago and I spent way too much money on cardamom treats at the Bleeding Heart Bakery. As a trinket gift months later, guess what she gave me? Cardamom lip balm she found on Etsy! Very awesome.
  • The best wine glasses of all time, in my humble opinion, are Spiegeleau's red wine glasses. Depending on where you look, they're about $50-70 for a set of 6-8. Of all time, I say!
  • I'm admittedly a little weird, but to me an enamelized cast iron dutch oven screams luxury and has been on my wishlist for a million years--it's like the Dyson or something, a symbol of the holy grail pinnacle of domestic bliss, where embarrassingly enough I inadvertently equate the day I own one with the day my home is really settled or adult or hardcore sumptuous or luxurious or whatever...and Tramontina and Lodge have rolled out decent-quality, pretty-lookin' versions in the past few years that are well within your price point, about $40-50. I don't know why the hell I haven't just splurged on myself for this yet...
  • For the right kind of person, really nice make up or skincare. Sephora has made this easier than ever I guess--certain ladies would feel very very rich just knowing they had a little compact in their bag from Chanel or Dior, etc.
  • I can't second enough the suggestions for local memberships to fancy indulgences, or local high end restaurants. Those are two sorts of gifts I find myself longing for for the first time this year--I would love to know even if we can't afford HBO surprise, I have a membership for the season to the local theater or botanic gardens or whatever. And it grounds you, connects you to your community and reminds you even in these economic times people all around you are still doing incredible things. I think it's a grrreat idea.

posted by ifjuly at 5:19 PM on November 10, 2009 [9 favorites]

A down blanket


Some nice sweaters

And I can't recommend enough the luxury of a good pillow (to go with the bedding recommended above). :)

As mentioned above, is a treasure trove of great bargains for luxury items at good prices. I've shopped there before and haven't been disappointed. Also, check out the websites of your favorite stores for their clearances because the websites generally have things you may not find at your local store.
posted by patheral at 5:52 PM on November 10, 2009

A good ribbon grater. I just got one, and what an excellent thing to have.
posted by Methylviolet at 7:43 PM on November 10, 2009

Really nice sheets. Seriously. has various, but it's kind of a thing you want to be able to feel firsthand, since apparently the numerical info can be misleading (some high threadcount sheets are not very soft).

Smartwool socks or L'Occitane hand cream are standard luxuries I get from my beloved aunts every year, so lovely.

Other people in my family have enjoyed: fancy yarn/knitting needles (ask me if you want specifics), new slippers or bathrobe, nice scarf/hat/gloves/etc, ...
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:44 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

I am getting my future sister-in-law an Urban Decay eyeshadow palette (Book of Shadows 2)so ditto that suggestion. She would never buy this for herself but it's fab. I think quality make up products in general fit this category. I would really struggle to buy myself nice mascara (like Dior Iconic) but would be happy to buy it for someone else I know would appreciate it.

Also Khiels products. And you can bag their generous samples for yourself ;)

Lovely luxury scented candles, like Dyptique. Ridiculously expensive to spend on myself, but a good gift price.
posted by like_neon at 1:38 AM on November 11, 2009

A nice bottle of their liquor of choice, be it Scotch or bourbon or gin. I know I tend to cheap out when I'm buying for myself at the liquor store, but my life is so much better when I'm drinking Blanton's instead of Beam.
posted by ethorson at 5:59 AM on November 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

There is a Ask Mefi question that you might want to check out:

Can you suggest some replacements for standard, everyday household items that are far superior in terms of usefulness, luxuriousness and quality?

Jason Kottke added some comments about the topic as well.

Some notable upgrades that fit your description:
posted by k1ng at 9:58 AM on November 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: These are all incredibly good suggestions, every one of them. Thanks to you all. No best answers, since all are really good, for my shopping or someone else's. Much appreciated!
posted by Miko at 11:37 AM on November 11, 2009

Nthing Smartwool socks. Expensive little devils and so nice to wear.

Re massage -- just make sure the recipient likes a massage. I have a friend with 3 (probably by-now-expired) gift certificates for massages languishing in a drawer because she doesn't like them. Her friends think she deserves to be pampered but a massage is not her idea of pampering. (She also doesn't like facials.) She's probably not alone.

I'm kind of tired of nice bath soaps and candles. They're lovely and a nice idea, but I rarely actually use either and they end up dying a waxy death in my cupboards, which is just depressing. YMMV.

I imagine this thread will get a lot of grateful readers this season.
posted by mmw at 12:40 PM on November 11, 2009

I'm buying my folks and my brother Kershaw Taskmaster Shears. They're exactly the same as the Shun Kitchen Shears ($40). I bought a set on a whim, and they make every other pair of kitchen shears I've owned... feel like cheap imitations of these.
posted by talldean at 5:21 AM on November 12, 2009

Gift certificates for the super-deluxe car wash.
A Leatherman, or other high quality tools.
posted by yawper at 1:24 PM on November 12, 2009

Good quality underwear for men that wicks away moisture and is indestructible.
posted by benzenedream at 4:07 PM on November 13, 2009

Yes, for the gentlemen in your life, I cannot 2nd high quality underwear for men. It will be life changing, honestly. I knew the first time I put on a pair of Under Armor boxer briefs that no cotton would ever again house my boys. At $15-20 a pop, they're not cheap, but they are super durable and long-lasting, and damn if it ain't the closest thing to wearing nothing at all. My mom still can't fathom buying a pair of these for me for Christmas but she still tries, God bless her.

Also, I've always personally enjoyed getting and giving gifts (of any sort) that I knew were also doing some good in the world. I bought a (very high quality) dress for a friend once from Shabby Apple - Couture with a Conscience. I've bought the well-designed tee-shirts from To Write Love On Her Arms for people. Ten Thousand Villages is another cool way to buy quality gifts that make a difference. I even have some friends who recently started Scarlet Threads - "a compassionate boutique, specializing in unique aprons designed and produced by talented seamstresses in rural Asia."
posted by allkindsoftime at 11:38 PM on November 13, 2009

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