I just love a license to shop

By Mir
October 23, 2006

The lovely barbie2be writes:

Dear Wise and Lovely Mir,

As a member of my company entertainment committee I have been asked to come up with five gift ideas for our company holiday party raffle. My first thought was of that portable DVD player that you posted about but I am completely dry on any others. I believe last year we spent up to $200 each on 8 or 10 gifts. Any ideas, oh wise one?

Wait. Did you just ask me if I have any ideas on… things to shop for? I feel faint. I mean, if this question came with a bowl of ice cream, I could die happy right now.

Let’s all enjoy a moment of silence to savor the idea of having $2000 to spend on frivolous things. Ahhhhhh.

Okay, let’s get down to business.

My first thought is going to have nothing at all to do with the shopping, but is a general note about raffles. Is this a raffle where you buy tickets and everything goes into a big drum? If so, consider allowing folks to purchase tickets and then drop them into separate drums for each possible prize. That way, the person who’s dying to win the moss-covered three-handled family credenza can drop all of her tickets into that, while the people torn between the digital camera and the spa certificate can divide their tickets appropriately. People will spend more money on raffle tickets when they’re assured of winning something they want. (And even if this is the sort of thing where the tickets are free, people will enjoy it more if they’re not in danger of winning something they really don’t want.)

Okay. So! What’s a great raffle prize in the $200 range, or possibly for even less? I’m so glad you asked!

Spa certificates. Granted, this is something with maybe a bit more appeal to women than men, but not necessarily. Have a ritzy spa in your area? Do you think your male coworkers would turn down the opportunity to have a nice full-body massage with Helga? That’s what I thought. Plenty of people would love a spa trip but never fork over the money for it, themselves.

Frugality tip: Go to the spa in person to purchase the certificate, and be sure to let them know it’s for a raffle. Ask if they can include “a little something” to put with the certificate itself. They will likely give you a little basket of sample products or a spa bathrobe to include, for free.

Wine basket. Wine aficionados and fresh graduates too poor to buy wine alike will enjoy a few bottles of the good stuff. (This is another reason to allow folks to choose what they want to win; you don’t want a teetotaller winning this.) A good red, a nice white… maybe one of those new-fangled blends I’ve been seeing a lot (which, okay; I don’t understand a shiraz-cabernet-merlot, but I’ll take their word for it)… a nice opener and a decent stopper set and maybe even something like this beverage chiller and you’ve got a really nice package. Have even more money to spend? Include a cute little cheese board and slicer.

Frugality tip: You’ve got time; buy the wine on sale. The accessories can likewise be found on sale nearly anywhere. While Amazon will have all sorts of useful offerings, consider the clearance at your local kitchen or home goods store, as well.

Digital camera or camcorder. Yes, everyone has a digital camera by now. And you’re certainly not going to be able to offer a Canon Rebel or anything like that, so what’s the point? The point is that many people have sucky cameras, or have dropped their cameras in their beer (*ahem*), or have a kid who wants a camera, or or or or. People like digital cameras. Trust me. For a raffle you want to find something small and compact but with enough features that it’s still going to be useful. As for a digicamcorder, the good ones are going to be out of your price range, most likely, but keep your eye on the Friday Sale at Amazon and on the specials at Dell. Both of them often feature something around $200, and if you save money on the other prizes, perhaps you can go up to $300 or so and find something fabulous!

Frugality tip: For cameras and accessories, if you don’t have something specific in mind, I suggest you search Overstockicon for a great deal. (Just be sure to read the reviews before you buy.) They will often have an unbeatable price and—as you well know from reading here—they always have coupons.

iPod, baby. Who doesn’t want an iPod? No one. The Nanos are now under $200.

Frugality tip: Mark my words here, because you won’t hear me say this very often: Just buy it from Apple and pay full price. If you want a deal, consider going refurb, but you want their customer service and it’s worth the money.

One word: SCOOBA. I don’t have time at the moment to figure out the difference between this model and this one, but either way, I promise you will have people clamoring for it. It’s a bit out of your stated price range, but again, if you save money on other items, you could spring for one. If this seems too pricey, just go for one of the many Roombas (although I will recommend against refurb for a prize, given that they do seem to often have problems; iRobot’s customer service is excellent, but no one wants to win something broken).

Frugality tip: Right now you can use the OCTSAVER coupon at Amazon for an additional $25 off qualifying items, which probably makes them the cheapest place to buy one.

Restaurant gift certificate. Got a swanky restaurant around that everyone raves about? Dinner out on the town is a luxury for many, and this one is sure to be a crowd-pleaser if you pick a well-known place that most folks consider a bit too expensive.

Frugality tip: It’s hard to get a deal on a certificate like this, but as the saying goes, if you don’t ask you don’t get. Tell them you’re interested in a $100 certificate or whatever, and ask for a 10% discount. They might say no, but they might say yes.

One night at a swanky hotel or B&B. Don’t make it anywhere too far away, but again, this falls into the category of a welcome luxury which many would never purchase for themselves.

Frugality tip: See above (re: if you don’t ask, you don’t get). Also be sure to utilize available discounts if allowable: AAA, certain credit cards, and other memberships often entitle you to a price break. There are also a plethora of savings options on the internet, but they may exclude the purchase of gift certificates, so you’ll have to ask.

Cleaning or landscaping service. This is one I hesitate to include, because it really depends on your locale and environment. If your office is filled with rich people who have housekeepers, this isn’t going to be too exciting. But if your sense is that people might find this a boon, check it out.

Frugality tip: Again, make sure to tell whomever you’ve chosen to purchase from that this is for a raffle and involves publicity for their business. They may well give you a discount if you point out that you can’t wait to promote them. Some businesses will outright donate their services to something like this. Shop around.

Mmmmm… steaks. Unless you work in an environment that is predominantly vegetarian, consider a gift package from Omaha Steaks. (They do have more than just steaks, by the way.) They have lots and lots of specials and their food is superb; I’ve never heard a bad word about them. You’ll have to look around the site and maybe call customer service to figure out the best way to do it; do you buy a gift certificate or just “reserve” a package to be delivered once the winner is drawn? I’m not sure what would be your best avenue, but I bet they’ll be happy to help you figure it out.

Frugality tip: Don’t let me ever catch you buying something there that’s not on special. There is always a sale at Omaha Steaks. Ha! I went and looked, and here’s a great deal now, good through 10/31/06.

Broaden the possibilities. The preceding are just a few ideas. Think about more than just stuff. A fancy item that’s a luxury is a really neat thing to win, sure. But also consider services and experiences. I’m sure some readers will be able to chime in with some more ideas, too (please do). And whatever you decide upon, be sure to ask for a discount!


  1. Great ideas Mir!

    I had an additional thought of a ticketmaster gift certificate or local theater gift certificate. I would love money to spend on any event tickets.

  2. What about event tickets? Professional sports, theatre, concerts…

  3. Hee!

  4. For digital cameras/video cameras, check out your Target sales paper. There’s a camera on sale for $129.99 (I’d provide a link to it but it’s unavailable online). It’s BOTH a digital camera and a video camera. AND it’s an mp3 player. I work at Target and these have been selling like hotcakes.

  5. One quick thought on the wine basket. The wine charms are readily available, cheap and I don’t know anyone who doesn’t LOVE getting some or who has enough.
    Oh, and I completely agree about keeping the raffles separate. I hate buying tickets when there’s a bunch of things, but I get no choice. The other option I always like is the first winner get’s their choice, second theirs on down.

    btw, I just wanted to say I love, love, love your site, and think you’re pretty!

  6. We had a company raffle just last weekend at the company halloween party. Big hit items were the ipod, psp, a mini4 wheeler (for the kids)(It was a Halloween party and employees have a LOT of kids), plane tickets, golf clubs, etc. Some things were smaller, like movie passes or family passes to the local amusement park. This allowed money for a grand prize of a big flat screen TV.

  7. All great ideas! Thanks so much, Mir and everyone!

  8. pretty AND clever. so very clever. (are you a cleaver, too? because i almost typed that)

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