The holiday shopping rush isn't upon us yet, but you can do yourself—and your wallet—a favor by getting a head start.
The average holiday shopper is expected to spend a "conservative" $548.56 on gifts this holiday season, according to the National Retail Federation's annual holiday consumer spending survey. Although the economy has improved over the past year, more than half of shoppers surveyed said the state of the economy will affect their spending plans.
Fortunately, you can still find innovative gifts while sticking to a budget. U.S. News asked gift experts for their recommendations—all under $50:
Whiskey stones. Cassie Kreitner, editor of TheGift.com, doesn't recommend gifting alcohol since people have their own preferences, but says it's a good idea to go with an accessory, like these stones. Unlike ice, the flavor- and odor-free stones chill your spirits without diluting them. ($20)
Whimsical animal wine opener. These bottle openers are also playful conversation pieces, says Dana Holmes, editor-in-chief of Gifts.com. Each animal has a part that detaches to serve as a corkscrew: The seal has its ball, the pig has its curly tail, and the bull has its horns. ($40 each)
Vinderpants. Lindsay Roberts, TheGiftInsider.com's gift expert, says this is a cute gift for any host or hostess with a sense of humor: underpants for your wine bottle. They also hide the label of a bad vintage—an added plus for those with a really tight budget. ($9)
Fifty Shades of Chicken. From vanilla chicken and bacon-bound wings to dripping thighs and mustard-spanked chicken, each recipe from this cookbook—written in a sultry, sexy voice—is sure to satisfy the palates of fans of the original novel, says Kreitner. ($14)
Chanukah cookie cutter. Kreitner says it's easy to whip up some delicious, festive cookies with this three-piece cutter, which comes with cutouts in the shape of a Menorah, the Star of David, and a dreidel. ($3)
Instagram calendar. Your recipient can make a page-a-day calendar with 365 photos from their Instagram feed. The paper is thicker than most tear-off calendars, and he or she will be able to relive memories every day, says Kreitner. ($40)
Bear Grylls survival kit. This kit comes with all the basics a man would need to survive in the wild. "Guys like to feel like they can take care of business, and the kit is a great gift for that," says Holmes. She says it also follows this year's trend of gifts that inspire men to explore the great outdoors. ($17)
Tea infusers. These come in every shape and size, says Holmes, including this Tea Rex one. The tea drinker need only put loose tea inside the Tea Rex, close and hang him from a mug, and fill with hot water. ($11)
DIY cheese-making kit. Holmes says this kit is perfect for the cheese lover and DIY enthusiast, who can use it to make mozzarella, ricotta, goat cheese, and other varieties at home. ($26-30)
Caviar manicure kit. This is a unique twist on nail polish, says Holmes. Apply a base coat and put the pearlescent beads on top to give them a 3-D caviar texture. ($25)
Peas-in-a-pod necklace. This accessory is a modern take on the engraved necklaces parents wear to feel close to their kids, says Roberts. It's also humanitarian: The company donates a portion of the profits to the charity of the recipient's choice. ($37)
Terrarium. With this gift, your recipient can create a miniature world inside a glass container. The moss seeds take about seven days to grow, which results in a "mini, mossy world that's a nice, green accent to your home," Holmes says. ($38)
Appcessories. Holmes likes these products because they enable kids to turn their iPhones into interactive games. AppFishing comes with an adjustable reel that detaches for left- and right-handed players, and makes the free Appfinity World Fishing Challenge an interactive adventure. The AppFinity App Blaster is a gun kids can take laser-tagging with their friends. ($15 and $21, respectively)