Your toddler can't keep his hands off your cell phone. Your 8-year-old is sitting at your laptop every time you turn around. And your husband has hinted that he wants a new Blu-ray player. Gift lists aren't easy to decipher or pay for these days, especially when they involve electronics. In fact, in a recent poll, Motherboard Moms told us they're most worried about the price of electronic gifts and buying something that will not be obsolete next year. What's the answer? Doing your homework, says Jeanette Pavini, a household savings expert for Coupons.com in Mountain View, California. So we've done it for you! Here, Pavini and other experts save your budget with a gift guide you won't have to reboot.
*Note: Prices listed are retail, but you can find sales and discounts.
Even little kids are getting into the fun of shooting family videos these days. And it's easy for them with smaller, easier-to-use models. One our experts like: the Kodak Playsport. Read Flusser, owner of Artistech, a consulting firm for computers and high-end audio-video systems in New York City, says it's great for kids: "It's a very high-definition video that also takes camera stills. And it's waterproof up to 10 feet so you can take footage underwater—really fun for kids." Another option: the Flip. Both are simple to use with few buttons and no whistles (mom's favorite feature because she will be the one asked how to operate it!). Cost for either is about $150.
For the best buy on a video camera or any electronic, Google the words "coupons code" and the item you're looking for. It will tell you where to find the best bargain, says Pavini.
One hot item is Vtech KidiZoom, advertised for kids 3-9, easy to use, colors bright as crayons, and probably tough enough to stomp on without breaking—not that you'll want to. It takes photos and movies—and you can hook it up to the TV or PC for a slide show. Tracey Frost Rensky, parenting expert and CEO and Founder of Citibabes in New York City, says it's great for art projects. Cost: about $60.
Another good option that's a little pricier: the kid-proof Olympus Stylus Tough, around $250. It's waterproof, shockproof, and a great family camera that won't break or become obsolete for years—two prerequisites that end up saving you money, says Pavini.
"The iPad is one of the top sellers for kids and families," says Nicholas Perez, computer specialist and Apple expert in Chicago. "The system is sturdy and has a lot of educational applications. My 5-year-old practices her letters onscreen through Word World," he says. Cost: starts at about $500.
Vtech also has a reader for young children. "A kid can use it in the car or grocery store, practicing his reading while you're out," says Perez. Cost: about $60.
To save money on most electronics: Skip the warranty if you have to pay more than 10 percent, says Pavini: "An extended warranty is only necessary if you're buying a new type of technology [which the readers are not]." Also, check with your credit card company: if you buy with its card, they may offer a warranty program.
If you're a shopper who wants a little extra protection "just in case," you'll love this Buddy Child Tracker: Put a little clip on your child's belt loop, and if he goes astray you can pinpoint him from a Smart Phone or any laptop that has the Internet. "Moms love it," says Perez, "especially in big cities where there are lots of crowded situations." Cost: about $99.
Apply for the store's instant credit card, and you can probably get 15-20 percent off the price of a child tracker or any electronic, says Pavini. Some smart shoppers we know pay the full bill and then cancel the credit card.
Beats by Dre are so funky that basketball star LeBron James wears them almost as a fashion accessory, says Mark Mettler, a merchandising expert in Framingham, Massachusetts. "These headphones offer a little extra bass," says Mettler. Cost: about $190 and up. That's pricey, but they offer great hearing protection and won't need to be replaced next year. To save dough, make sure you fill out all rebate offers before you leave the store, says Pavini: If you wait until you get home, you probably won't do it.
For smaller ears, consider LoudEnough volume-limiting earphones, which reduce volume by 30 percent compared with regular ear buds. They filter out background noise so junior doesn't have to play full blast. And the earphones' metallic shine makes your kid look briefly like she's from another, cooler planet. Cost: about $28.
Before you take any headphones out of the box, talk to your kid about listening safety, says pediatrician Gwenn Schurgin O'Keeffe, M.D., FAAP, author of Cybersafe and CEO and editor-in-chief of Pediatrics Now, a website/blog on child health, parenting, and social media. Teen hearing has taken a hit lately and hearing-loss prevention needs to start young.
Most kids get (or ask for) an MP3 player by the time they're between 5 and 8 years old, according to a recent Motherboard poll. Many of them will ask for an iPod, which is very kid-friendly, but there are other options too, experts say. Take a look at the SanDisk Sansa CliP (4GB), says electronics consultant Flusser: "It stores 1,000 songs, and you can throw it at a wall and nothing will happen." For about $15, you can sign up for music services like Napster or Rhapsody and fill your player with music. "That's a very good option for a family because you're allowed three players per account." Cost: about $50.
Here's a device that's popping up on holiday lists this year: The Livescribe Pulse Smartpen records audio as you write. Put the pen down on your notes and it fast-forwards to that spot in the audio. And kids can transfer anything they draw or write to a computer. "A lot of parents use it at work or at home," says electronics expert Perez. Cost: starts at about $127.
For families, Nintendo Wii is still king, and here's why, says Flusser: "All its games are very interactive, with a lot of family and group games that are kid-friendly and appropriate. And many of the games involve exercise." Cost: about $200 with a game thrown in.
Nothing's hotter these days than a network 3D Blu-ray disc player like the Internet- ready Sony BD-S570 with built-in Wi-Fi, the latest upgrade of DVD players, says Flusser: "It's high-definition quality but much better—beyond the quality of a movie theater." And you can stream in movies from the Internet or your music collection from your computer. You'll also be able to watch movies, games, and TV in 3D. Get out the special specs, kids. Cost: about $200.
Keep your receipt on this and other electronics you buy, noting how long the store offers a price adjustment (the standard is 14 days, says consumer expert Pavini, but some places offer 30): "Stores will be shaving prices, especially as they get close to the holidays."
Here's a bonus item that has a lot of WOW! factor if you've won the lottery this year or have a fairy godmother who wants to give you something really, really big: a 3D TV. This type of TV is getting a lot of buzz. It offers sleekness, amazing picture quality (including 3D), plus access to anything on the Internet. "The best value is a huge 55-inch one," says Flusser. Cost: $2,400. Knock this price down by asking the store if it sells "open box" or refurbished models, suggest Pavini: "You can get a deep discount, usually with the same warranty."
If it's not in the cards, you can at least show off your electronics IQ by dropping it into conversation: "Well, honey, I found a good buy on that 3D TV but thought we should wait until the technology and economy stabilize a bit." Who knew Mom was such an electronics whiz!?