Your holiday gift budget is probably a little smaller again this year.
Your holiday gift budget is probably a little smaller again this year. According to the National Retail Federation, families are expected to spend $704.18 on holiday gifts, slightly less than last year and significantly less than 2007's $755.13, before the Great Recession punched us in the pocketbooks. Yet the desire to give, for most of us, remains strong. And happily you can still give thoughtful, luxurious gifts on a shrinking budget: Just use "daily deals" websites such as Groupon. Sounds tacky? You haven't met Stacey Vermillion, who blogs about deals at savvyshopper614.com. Her real talent is not only finding a good deal, but packaging it in a way that makes it a great gift. Last Christmas, Vermillion bought deals for restaurant meals and cooking gifts for foodie friends and "paired them with spices and olive oil in pretty gift baskets." She also sent loved ones to the spa: "I printed (the deal) on nice, colored paper and put it in a fancy gift box, then I put it in a gift basket with hand lotion and an inexpensive mani-pedi kit," she said. "The presentation was great and no one knew I didn't spend a lot." Don't think your only option is printing out the certificate and giving that as the gift. Vermillion once snapped up two deals for spa services, plus a discounted restaurant meal, and treated the recipient to a girls' day out. They all get to bond on a dime, and no one knows how much she spent. Who wouldn't love to be the beneficiary of Stacey's savvy shopping? And with the proliferation of daily deal and discount sites, there truly is something for everyone. Groupon recently offered half-price products at The Body Shop, and experiences such as bowling and flight lessons. LivingSocial had half-price deals on everything from roller skating to flatware, while Eversave had deals on car detailing, massages and gourmet coffee. PlumDistrict, a deal site just for moms, had discount designer shoes, high-end cosmetics and kid's clothes. Don't forget to look at sites such as Homerun and Tippr, which had discounts on organic cosmetics, photos gifts, video game rentals and bartending classes. Daily Deals Columbus offered half-price gift certificates for locally-owned restaurants and greenhouses, while Columbus-based Faveroo had deals on ballroom dance lessons, OSU Buckeye gear and spa services. Don't limit your shopping to daily deals only. Other sites offer great deals as well. For instance, Dine Originals Columbus sells gift certificates for dozens of fine, local restaurants at a 30 percent discount, so you'd pay $17.50 for a $25 certificate to a restaurant such as the Clarmont or Granville Inn. Even Val-pak, the company that sends giant stacks of coupons by mail, has daily deals on its web site for bowling, massages, comedy clubs and desserts from fancy bakeries. Saving is just a question of waiting for the right offer to come along. -- Denise Trowbridge is a self-professed money geek, who has written about personal finance, banking and insurance for The Columbus Dispatch and bankrate.com. She blogs about very personal money issues at middlepathfinance.com. Denise tries not to talk about money at cocktail parties, but sometimes she just can't help herself.