How to Find or Fill a Holiday Gift Basket Under $25

Gift baskets and box sets abound at holiday time. Retailers bundle similar products to take some of the legwork out of shopping and perhaps sell a bit more along the way. Consumers look to inexpensive gift baskets for recipients they don't know well but must acknowledge with more than a trifle -- clients, customers, distant relatives. Even for those near and dear, you can choose a gift set in line with their tastes.

Whether you're shopping at department stores or mom-and-pop shops, it's not uncommon for large gift sets to cost $50 or more. Popular websites such as GiftBaskets.com offer free shipping on high-priced baskets, but generally you pay shipping if you buy online, and that ups the price ante -- sometimes by a lot. On a $25 gift basket, a $4.99 shipping charge amounts to about 20 percent.

Locating an affordable option may take some sleuthing, but you can find cheap gift boxes filled with gourmet food items, although the quantities are small. Hickory Farms stocks a Beef Hickory Sampler Gift Box ($10) and The Lakeside Collection offers gourmet chocolate or nut gift boxes (also $10).

Even the venerable Harry & David, famous for its fruit baskets and "tower" stacks of goodies, offers a handful of options in the $30 range. Gifts.com peddles similar but cheaper gift sets, and shoppers can search by price on a sliding scale. The gift baskets under $25 tend to include sweet treats such as candies and cookies. For a chocolate lover, the Ghirardelli Latte Mug Gift Set ($18) uses a mug in place of a basket.

While the vast majority of low-cost gift baskets are food-focused, a spa basket may be especially welcome at holiday time, when everyone is so frazzled. DermStore carries a set of Holiday Renewal Must-Haves ($20) -- a cosmetics bag of travel-size aromatherapy bath oil, masks, and the like, which could make an ideal gift for someone racking up frequent flyer miles over the holidays. Origins offers an inexpensive gift set of rejuvenating masks ($22.50).

Sometimes a gift basket can save you money on products that cost more sold separately. For example, a $25 Vanilla Bean Noel gift set from Bath & Body Works contains shower gel, body lotion, and fragrance mist -- a $39 value -- plus a gift box. Even with a buy-two-get-one-free deal, the contents would total $26.50 without the box. On the other hand, why spend $25 on a Classic Coca-Cola Gift Basket at Overstock when you can pick up a six-pack of glass bottles, some convenience-store candy, and a bow for a fraction of the price?

Perhaps the best approach is to use a pre-curated gift basket as inspiration for a cheaper, more personalized gift. You can customize an attractively packed gift basket on a site such as Build a Basket or Design It Yourself Gift Baskets, but both charge hefty fees. Instead, start by picking up a cheap and festive basket at the dollar store or a place like World Market, where this gift basket ($5.99) comes complete with clear plastic wrap, raffia ribbon, and a gift tag. If you have the time, you can save even more by DIY-ing a basket out of "upcycled" items such as grocery bags and newspaper. Here's one video tutorial to show you how.

Then head over to a local gourmet shop or any retailer that specializes in items the recipient would enjoy. For a movie fan, fill a holiday basket with a gift card from a nearby multiplex, a few bags of microwave popcorn, and a box of Raisinets. Know a pet lover? Try this best-selling deshedding tool from Amazon, along with a cheap chew toy and some treats. A tea drinker would appreciate a vintage cup and saucer retrieved from a secondhand store, accompanied by a selection of teas and maybe a sweet or two. For a gardening enthusiast, fill the basket with seed packets and browse a garden center for tools on sale out of season. Wrap the whole in colorful cellophane, and voila -- a cheap holiday gift basket.