Socks, bubble gum and a deck of cards. Cool gifts inside your Christmas stocking or just fillers? That depends on your perspective. But one thing's for sure -- a well-stuffed Christmas stocking is a great thing to give, as well as receive.
Stuffing stockings is often a balance of budget, practicality and size. After all, gifts need to be small to fit in the stocking but also useful and somewhat significant, even if they're not pricey.
"When I was growing up, stockings were a big deal in my house -- they were what I looked forward to most on Christmas morning, and my mom went all out," says Kendal Perez, savings expert with Coupon Sherpa.
Since stockings are a fun add-on to traditional gift giving, there's often an expectation that they'll be something special, like dessert after a nice meal.
Blogger Tanja Crouch loves stocking stuffers, too, a tradition she inherited from her mother.
"Our son loves finding clothing gift cards and chocolate-covered cherries in his, and my husband is happy with new bow ties," Crouch says, noting that her favorite stocking surprises were theater tickets one year and black and white striped mittens another.
Felicia Ramos-Peters of GetHolidayHappy.com likes to put five preplanned items in each stocking.
"Far too often we save the stocking stuffers for last and usually throw in meaningless small items," she says. "To avoid that, put aside a budget and write down on your Christmas list specific small gifts for your loved one."
Ramos-Peters suggests pricier items for adults like earrings or a watch, while kids will enjoy budget-friendly items like toys and candy.
Need ideas? Coffee lovers might enjoy a bag of their favorite blend; chocolate enthusiasts would like a bar of gourmet dark chocolate; and music fans would appreciate a gift card to download new songs. Toiletries like nail polish, hand cream and lip balm are practical small gifts, too.
"We believe that good stocking stuffers should be fun little trinkets that are lightweight, and perfectly sized and weighted for stockings," says Michelle McKool, owner of online gift boutique Premier Home & Gifts, who recommends monogrammed scarves, jewelry or a small wristlet for women; cufflinks, a money clip or a wallet for men; and a personalized mouse pad or personalized harmonica for kids.
*Set a Budget
Expect to spend $40 to $80 on stocking stuffers for teens and adults, and $20 to $40 on kids' stockings, suggests McKool, who recommends three to four items per stocking.
While how much you want to spend on stocking stuffers can vary, it's essential to set a budget and stick to it.
"I recommend shoppers set a budget beforehand because it can get out of hand quickly," says Perez. "It's deceiving, since you may spend $5 to $10 on each item, but when you have 10 items, that could be $100 just on the stocking!"
Perez advises having a few physically larger items to fill some space in the stocking.
"My mom always put an orange at the toe of the sock to fill that space," she says, noting that citrus is cheap during the winter months.
Other big items can include a pair of pajama pants or an e-reader case.
While you don't want to overspend on stuffers, that doesn't mean you should buy impractical or cheap items. Avoid dollar store toys, says Perez, who explains on her blog, "It may add quite a bit to occupy space, but [kids] won't play with it."
Stockings are a "fun personalized touch to top off your Christmas morning festivities," says Ramos-Peters, who offers three tips for stocking stuffers:
1) Think small. "Save the stocking for small items such as jewelry, make-up, small toys, accessories," she says, explaining those items could otherwise get lost of accidentally thrown away with the wrapping paper.
2) Get personal. "Stockings are typically customized with the names of our loved ones or have some kind of personal touch based on the recipient's personality," she says. "So why not continue with that notion and stuff with items that are personal or custom?"
For example, she suggests including items with the recipient's favorite team logo or breed of dog. "Putting really personal items in the stocking will let them know that you put in time and effort."
3) Focus on fun. Stocking stuffers don't have to be so serious. "Whether it is something silly like bacon-flavored candy for dad or a gag gift for your brother, think outside the box and just have fun," says Ramos-Peters.