10 Surefire Holiday Gift Ideas

By: Kiersten Aschauer

Surefire Holiday Gifts Chris Cross/Caiaimage/Getty Images
Surefire Holiday Gifts Chris Cross/Caiaimage/Getty Images

According to the National Retail Federation, 1 in 2 consumers said that everyday low prices or sales were their biggest influences when deciding where to take their hard-earned money holiday shopping in 2008. So what does that mean for shoppers in 2009, 2011 and beyond? Sticking to true best bets when coming up with that holiday shopping list.

For many consumers, it means hitting discount stores and scanning Sunday circulars earlier and with more frequency. For some, it means shopping online during discounted or free shipping days. It also means getting practical with shopping choices and remember who exactly you're shopping for.


Each of the 10 ideas in this guide offer information about the products themselves as well as possible recipient suggestions, Need something for a girlfriend or uncle? No problem. Attending a gift swap or going to dinner at a friend's house? We've got ideas for that, too. Read on...

10: Bath, Body and Skin Care Products

We all like a little pampering, especially during the stress of the holiday season and retailers know it. From Halloween until the end of the following January, specialty bath and beauty stores, discount stores, department stores and online outlets are ready to package up the gift of luxury.

During the weekend after Thanksgiving in 2008, nearly 20 percent of shoppers bought personal care or beauty items - about the same percentage of those who bought gift cards and nearly double the amount who purchased jewelry. In light of these numbers, here are a few ideas for your shopping list.


  • Fragrances: It doesn't take much to find out a friend or family member's favorite scent. And shopping discount stores and sale circulars can mean big discounts.
  • Massage products: Reduce stress, say "I love you" and relax all at the same time.
  • Travel sets: Send them home with next year's travel-sized skin, bath, shaving and body products.
  • Home pedicure/manicure sets: Save your salon money for a New Year's Eve updo; give friends the gift of an at-home spa party.
  • Shaving sets and accessories: Because the men in your life need some pampering, too.

Suggested for:

Women, families, gift exchanges, coworkers, girlfriends, men, brothers, uncles, grandparents, travelers

9: Classic Toys, Games and Activities

How long has it been since you've shouted "Candyland!" or buzzed the funnybone in a heated game of Operation? Action figures or dolls may come and go over the years, but by sticking to some simple toys, games and activities, you'll be able to find something for the child - or adult - on your list in no time flat.

Here are just a few ideas that range in price from a few dollars to about $25 to get you started:


  • Classic board game sets, like Monopoly, Checkers or Chess.
  • A couple decks of cards and a book of card games for all ages.
  • Lego sets.
  • Puzzles.
  • Drawing games.
  • Brain teasers.
  • Play-doh.

And for the little tikes just learning to talk, don't forget about the new versions of the old favorites that simply involve listening and repeating or building motor skills.

Suggested for:

Kids age 5 to adult, moms, dads, grandparents, aunts, uncles, new parents or friends.

8: Comfy Sleep Sets & Slippers

Candy canes, hot chocolate, a toasty fire and comfy pajamas: it's an image many of us can envision for ourselves, so why not give it to others? As with many other ideas on our list of great picks for this holiday season, price ranges run the gamut. It's all in how you customize your gift for the right person that makes the difference.

Here are just a few ideas that range in price from a few dollars to about $25 to get you started:


  • Teens, tweens: Think lounge pants or shorty sets with knee socks.
  • Moms and dads: Plush bathrobes with fleece slippers.
  • Grandparents, aunts and uncles: Plaid, a perfect timeless classic, paired with fleece-lined, indoor-outdoor slippers.
  • Husbands, wives and significant others: Go satin this season.
  • Kids: Hoodies and character print PJ sets.

Suggested for:

Husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends. kids, teens, tweens, grandparents, aunts, uncles, extended family.

7: The Gift of Health and Fitness

As we gear up for the holidays, it's inevitable that we start to think about next year's goals and resolutions. December holiday plans of eating extravagant meals and lounging by the television slowly evolve into vows for a healthier lifestyle, from physical fitness to weight management and beyond.

Here are just a few ideas for gifts for those trying to achieve these goals, from low-cost jump ropes and yoga equipment to cardio machines.


  • Yoga clothing and Pilates mats
  • Workout clothing
  • Workout DVDs (all fitness genres)
  • Jump ropes and other cardio equipment
  • Punching bags and boxing gloves
  • Rowers, steppers and incline trainers
  • Weights and dumbbells
  • Bicycles and inline skates
  • Pedometers
  • Hydration systems and water bottles

Suggested for:

Workout buddies, friends with gym memberships, moms, dads, coworkers, kids, grandparents.

6: Warm Winter Essentials

Discounters have gotten smart about stocking up on warm winter essentials and bargain hunters are more educated than ever regarding what they want - or want to give to others - for surviving the winter temperatures. Because of this trend, you might want to keep space on your holiday shopping list for one of these cold-weather bargains.

  • Cashmere sweaters, scarves and gloves: they're so much less expensive than they used to be.
  • Comfortable wraps: they're not just for dressing up anymore. In fact, they're a great accessory to keep at the office for those cold mornings or late evenings.
  • Leather gloves: leather is windproof and warm, yet you can still have full flexibility with your hands when wearing them.
  • Disposable hand and feet warmers: keep them in your car in case you break down or in your purse for that unexpected hike in the woods.
  • Hats: dress them up or down, wear them when it's snowing or raining, but best of all, keep your body temperature regulated by keeping your head warm.

Recommended for:

Friends, women, teens, coworkers, relatives, gift exchange, office wear, hikers, men, kids, grandparents, aunts and uncles.


5: Gaming Consoles and Games

The PlayStation 4 (PS4) Pro, released just in time for the holiday gift-buying season, is on the high end of our suggested gifts for the season, but a pretty good present for serious gamers and movie lovers. The Pro has 4K capabilities, better graphics than the original console and a Blu-ray player. Buying a gift for someone who already has a PS4 or other gaming console? Then your job is even easier. Games, controllers and other accessories start at just under $20.

As you shop for games, take a look at the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) ratings. These provide information about video and computer game content, and have two parts: symbols that suggest age appropriateness for the game (on the front of the box) and content descriptors (located on the back of the box).


Here are the four ratings to look for as you shop:

  • Everyone
  • Everyone 10+
  • Teen
  • Mature

Suggested for:

Gamers, kids, teens, husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends. moms, dads, college kids, extended family.

4: Books and Music

Just as we feel the impacts of a rollercoaster economy, retailers do, too. As they look for ways to stay competitive, they look for unique ways to vie for your hard-earned cash. Yes, folks, there's a price war going on and you can reap the benefit.

Online retailers are leading this charge, dropping prices on bestselling books and downloadable music - which, in turn, means that discount chain stores, book stores and even grocery stores are stocking their shelves with low-cost reading material and music.


Plus, there's a new player in the arena: e-readers. These downloadable books that fit right in your briefcase or pocketbook are only getting more technologically advanced, so competition is heating up.

Suggested for:

Friends, travelers, parents, teens, young adults, coworkers, sisters, wives, brothers, husbands, commuters, college students.

3: Candy & Food

Despite soft sales in some retail arenas, many of us will be giving the gift of sweets and treats this holiday season. According to The National Retail Federation (NRF), the world's largest retail trade association, "candy and food spending may be one bright spot this year." NRF reports the average person plans to spend $10 more in the food category than they did last year: an average of $90.26 in 2009 vs. $80.28 in 2008.

Given this trend, here are a few themed gift ideas for the foodies in our lives:


  • Popcorn and DVDs
  • Coffee or tea time baskets
  • Pizza making kits
  • Cheese boards and fruit
  • Cookbooks and gourmet soup mixes
  • Wine and partyware
  • Ice cream bowls and toppings
  • Board games and brownie mixes

Recommended for:

Foodies, families, coffee drinkers, tea drinkers, pizza fans, oenophiles, coworkers, friends, in-laws, bosses.

2: Handbags and Computer Bags

The bags we carry say a lot about our personal style. Handbags, computer bags, evening clutches, wallets, shoulder slings - in a lot of ways, they've become as important as the rest of our outfits and accessories. And because we tend to switch them out by season and outfit, the opportunity to find a good bag for the right occasion can be pretty simple.

Before you start to shop, take note of the gift recipient's bag inventory and ask yourself a few questions, such as:


  • Do they need quick access to things like cell phones, MP3 players or baby bottles?
  • What colors do they wear - and do they match their bags with each day's outfit?
  • Do they gravitate toward prints or solids?
  • What materials do they seem to like?
  • Do they go for hip and trendy (and less expensive) bags or sink money into designer brands?
  • Do they tend to schlep around with one big bag or lots of smaller ones, such as purse, computer bag and wrist-strap wallet?
  • Do they need room for things like umbrellas or gym clothes?
  • Do they carry a laptop?
  • Is the recipient a commuter who might need space for shoes?
  • Do they go out a lot? If so, do they like clutches or evening bags?

Recommended for:

Friends, parents, tweens, teens, young adults, coworkers, sisters, wives, brothers, husbands, travelers, commuters, workout buddies, social butterflies, accessory hounds.

1: Fantastic Fleece

Topping our list of 10 sure-fire holiday hits this season: fleece. From blankets to socks or scarves, this material has become an increasingly popular holiday gift. And for good reason.

Fleece products are typically machine-washable, lightweight and durable. Because they are derived from plastics and other synthetic materials, they're often considered to be both environmentally friendly. In addition, fleece products can be as low-cost or high-end as manufacturers want to make them. A simple polyester throw to use while drinking hot chocolate in front of the fireplace can be a great budget-friendly pick for this year's shopping list. A mountaineering, skiing or climber's-grade jacket with fleece and windproof materials? That might be a little more pricey.

Sure, there are a few disadvantages to using fleece products. They can be flammable, so avoid putting them in the dryer or using while too close to a campfire is not recommended. Fleece may also attract pet dander, pet hair and dust, so allergy sufferers beware.

Recommended for:

Men, women, family, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, kids, outdoorsy types, hikers, skiiers.