5 Gifts With Hidden Costs—And How to Handle Them

If you think the price you always pay for an item is listed on its sticker price, think again.

Some gifts carry hidden costs not factored into the advertised price – meaning more money will flow out of your pocket book or the gift recipient’s.

Before buying a gift that has user costs, Leah Ingram of SuddenlyFrugal.com, suggests talking about them with the recipient. “You don’t want to drop this super-expensive gift on somebody and have the gift recipient have all these expectations about how they’re going to use it and then they can’t,” she says. “It’s akin to giving an odd gift without a gift receipt without any sense of whether the gift recipient is going to like it. They can’t fully use it or appreciate it.”

Here’s a look at five gifts that come with strings attached in the form of extra costs.

Battery-operated toys and games

Some toys and games come with batteries included, but if you’re buying one that doesn’t, Ingram says it’s a nice gesture to buy batteries and wrap them alongside the main gift. This way kids won’t have to wait to play with their new toy, but once those batteries run out, it’s up to the parents to replace them.


Single-serving coffee makers like the Keurig or the Starbucks Verismo espresso machine require special coffee pods which can be expensive. Ingram suggests also giving a starter variety box of coffee pods to allow people to test out different brands and flavors.

Ingram adds that these single-serve coffee makers are ideal group gifts for someone who wants it and is willing to buy the cups or pods after they use up the initial box.


If you’re planning to give an iPhone or data-enabled iPad, consider who’ll be paying the hefty data charges. If giving as a gift, be sure to discuss who will be paying for the data.

“You have to have these conversions with the gift recipient or the parent’s of the gift recipient,” says Ingram. Electronics like these have other costs such as apps and music, so Ingram suggests including a $25 iTunes gift card if you can afford it so the recipient can start downloading songs or apps to get started.


A kitten or puppy may seem like an adorable gift, but they have expensive long-term costs. If you are buying a gift for other people, make sure they (or their parents) can afford the time and cost of a pet.

Pets command a lot of responsibility to care for, but also demand spending a lot of money on food, toys and vet bills. Even adopting an animal can come with high upfront and ongoing costs. “My husband joked that our dog was the most expensive free dog that he ever owned, because there was a $200 expected donation that came along with the adoption,” says Ingram. “You definitely have to keep that in mind.”

Gift certificate to a spa, salon, or restaurant

Gift certificates allow the recipient to indulge in a special treat, but there are added costs with gratuity and it can be hard to stick to the gift card amount.

“If you gave me a $50 gift card to a spa, I may choose to get the $35 manicure and use the balance for the tip,” she says. “Otherwise, I’d say the tip falls onto the gift recipient. It just ends up getting too complicated if you have to start thinking about tip.”