Every year there are a few gift requests that make their way onto just about everyone's holiday shopping list. The scramble to buy one of these hot Christmas gifts before the shelves empty leaves little time to figure out how to get a must-have item for less. But by shopping around, seeking out cheaper alternatives, and applying some smart holiday shopping tips, anyone can save money on the most sought-after gifts this year.
Related: Is Black Friday the Best Time to Buy the Year's Most Coveted Toys?
Hatchimals arrive in a colorful speckled egg. After about 30 minutes of tapping and rubbing the egg, the creature inside starts to break out. The interactive toy is in line to be one of the year's hottest gifts for kids, and parents appreciate that it encourages screenless play (there's no app or connected video game). Hatchimals have a suggested retail price of $60, and while limited stock is sending prices soaring to more than $200 at some retailers, the cute egg-encased creatures were $50 at Target and Toys R Us as of mid-November.
Physical photos are back in vogue, and there are several "instant cameras" that can snap and print a picture in minutes. Some of these cameras cost hundreds of dollars before taking the cost of film into account, but the Fujifilm Instax Mini 8 sells for about $50 to $70 at Toys R Us and Amazon. Available in seven colors, it gets top reviews from consumers and editorial review sites. A two-pack of film (10 sheets each) costs about $11 to $20.
Pokémon Sun and Moon will be released Nov. 18, just in time for the holidays. The Nintendo 3DS-exclusive games are available for pre-order, and some quick comparison shopping reveals there are already price discrepancies. While many retailers offer the game for $40, Toys R Us lists it for $32. Also look for Black Friday or Cyber Monday deals on these games, as retailers might try to capitalize on this year's Pokémon craze.
Game nights are resurgent. While some of the most popular games are expensive (if they're even in stock), some retailers offer buy-one-get-one deals that let shoppers stock up on several gifts at once. The popular Cards Against Humanity sells for $25 online and at many game shops, but the maker offers a free printable version of the game on its website. Although it takes about an hour to print and costs about $10 in ink and paper, this is a frugal way to get a popular gift.
Star Wars toys are perennial favorites, and Disney's acquisition of the franchise is leading to many new movies -- with accompanying paraphernalia. The good news for shoppers is there are options at just about every price point. Browse ThinkGeek's Star Wars collection for inexpensive gift ideas, including a few items exclusive to the site.
It's hard to find a discount on the popular Echo smart-home setup from Amazon, but a recent 24-hour sale dropped the price to $140.39, and Google just released a $129 competitor. Keep an eye out for discounts on the Echo, Echo Dot model, or bundle packages in Amazon's Black Friday Deals Store, which opened Nov. 1 and will offer deals through Dec. 22. If that fails, consider buying a certified refurbished Echo for as little as $120 rather than the standard $180.
The lack of an audio jack on the new iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus could lead many people to put Bluetooth headphones on their wish lists this year. Jabra Move Wireless headphones are a high-quality option at a mid-tier price. Available in black, red, and cobalt, they sell for $100 or less and have hundreds of positive reviews on Amazon, as well as expert endorsements.
A USB battery pack is a welcome gift for just about anyone with a smartphone. Balancing cost, capacity, weight, and size can be tricky, though. A 2.7-ounce "lipstick-size" stick by Anker ($13 to $16) holds 3,350 mAh of power -- more than enough for an iPhone 7, for instance, which has a 1,960 mAh battery.
The virtual reality headset landscape is expanding quickly. While high-end models ($400 to $800) are tethered to a computer or gaming console, there are starter options available that use a smartphone for the immersive video. Google Cardboard is perhaps the least expensive, at just $15, but there are also slightly pricier (and more comfortable) options such as the Samsung Gear VR (about $60).
Gift cards are often a good choice for hard-to-shop-for relatives and friends. Frugal shoppers can find plastic and electronic gift cards selling online for less than their face value. Look on Gift Card Granny, an aggregator of online gift card marketplaces. Warehouse clubs such as Costco also sell discounted retailer gift cards. Non-store gift cards that can be used anywhere don't typically sell at a discount, but sometimes there are deals around the holidays.