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Yay! Spend loads less on hottest holiday gifts

No matter what your budget is this year, chances are you want to be able to give some of the most sought-after gifts of the season. Well, TODAY financial editor Jean Chatzky has found them for you — at two wildly different price points.

Against a backdrop of job losses, falling home prices and money woes, here is a comparison of the hottest gifts of the season alongside similar items that are much less expensive and that won’t cause after-holiday spending remorse.

SLEEPING BAG COATS
High: Norma Kamali Sleeping Bag Car Coat: $600; NormaKamaliCollection.com

Thanks to fashion’s recent affinity for the ’80s, famed designer Norma Kamali’s vintage-inspired styles — like this coat — are now more popular than ever. Available in black, 100 percent nylon.

Low: Norma Kamali Sleeping Bag Jacket: $35; Walmart.com

Thanks to a recent partnership with Wal-Mart, those wanting high fashion can now get it at a lower price. This sleeping bag jacket is part of the NK for Wal-Mart line, which also features everyday wear, dresses and swimwear. Available in black, made of nylon, features a sash tie closure.

BALL THROWERS FOR DOGSHigh: GoDogGo Tennis Ball Launcher: $119.99; GoDogGoInc.com

The award-winning GoDogGo is the world’s only automatic ball thrower for dogs. Simply put tennis balls into the launcher and watch them fly anywhere from 15 to 30 or more feet.

Low: Chuckit Ball Launcher: $5.39; Amazon.com

The best-selling Chuckit Ball Launcher is a cheaper alternative to the GoDogGo Tennis Ball Launcher. While it may take a bit more energy than the automatic launcher, thanks to its design, the Chuckit ensures your hands stay slobber-free while playing fetch.

INFINITY SCARVES
High:
Echo Single Infinity Scarf: $45; Bloomingdales.com

Last year the trend was the traditional scarf. This year the infinity scarf is the hot item when it comes to fighting cold. This scarf from Echo Designs is made of acrylic material and is available in a variety of colors.

Low: Mark Warm Weather Turtleneck Scarf: $15;shop.meetmark.com

A cheaper alternative, this infinity scarf (also made of acrylic material) is available in black or magenta.

HELP IN THE KITCHEN
High:
“Mastering the Art of French Cooking — The Essential Cooking Classics,” Box Set, by Julia Child: $89.95; Borders.com

Thanks to the success of this year’s blockbuster “Julie & Julia,” master chef Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” surged to the top of the best-seller list — 48 years after its initial release. This collection features two volumes and more than 100 instructive illustrations to help you cook like the legend herself.

Low: “The French Chef With Julia Child,” 3-Disc Set: $24.95; Overstock.com

If there’s someone on your list who could use a cooking lesson from Julia, but you don’t want to shell out the $90 for the boxed book set, this lower-priced DVD set will do the trick. The three DVDs feature 12 episodes of her Public Television program “The French Chef."”

STATIONERYHigh: Garden Bough Stationery Cards by Kate Spade: $151 for 25; Crane.com

Personalized stationery is something everyone should have on hand. Printed on high-quality cotton paper and featuring matching envelopes, these cards from Kate Spade can be personalized with your choice of ink.

Low: Vine Personalized Stationery Set $25 for 16; Etsy.com

A similar, yet less expensive alternative to the Kate Spade cards, this personalized set from Etsy seller SilhouetteBlue is available in nine different colors and comes in a white gift box.

FANCY NANCY GIFTS
High:
Madame Alexander Cloth Fancy Nancy Doll: $33.91; Amazon.com

Based on the beloved character from Jane O’Connor’s children’s books, Fancy Nancy items are popping up on the holiday lists of young girls everywhere. This cloth doll is 18 inches tall with sparkly detailing and is sporting her signature pink sunglasses.

Low: Fancy Nancy Dress Up Stick-Ons Game: $9.97; Amazon.com

If you need a Fancy Nancy item for a youngster on your list but want to spend a little less, this Fancy Nancy game is a great alternative. Dress your Fancy Nancy doll using the stick-on pieces and win the game. Ages 3 to 6.

PRACTICAL GLOVESHigh: Men’s Echo Touch Sport Glove: $30; Echodesign.com

There are few things more annoying than having to remove your gloves every time you need to use your touch-screen mobile phone or iPod. These gloves feature special fingertips that enable you to scroll, type and more without taking your gloves off. Available in gray, black and navy.

Low: Dots Gloves: $14.99; ThinkGeek.com

Similar to the Echo gloves, but at a lower price point. The fingertips of these knit gloves are made from material that conducts against your bare skin, so your devices register the touch of your fingertips, enabling you to use your tech devices with ease.

IPOD SPEAKERS
High: iHome Color Changing Speaker: $49.95; Amazon.com

Recently, Apple released an iPod Mini that can record video. This color-changing speaker dock features four color-change settings and a handy carrying handle. The dock will charge and play almost any iPod model.

Low: Building Brick iPod Speakers: $19.99;ThinkGeek.com

A cheaper alternative to a docking station, this tiny speaker system for your iPod is powered directly from your device, eliminating the need for batteries. It’s small, but it features an “active bass system” for high-quality sound.

POCKET CAMCORDERSHigh: Flip MinoHD Camcorder 2nd Generation: $229; Amazon.com

The newest model of the Flip camera can record up to 120 minutes of HD video using 8GB of built-in memory. Charge with flip-out USB arm and plug it into your PC or Mac.

Low: Kodak Zi8 Pocket Video Camera: $149.99; Amazon.com

A less expensive version of the Flip, the Kodak Zi8 records HD video. Charge the camera right from your computer, or use rechargeable batteries with its included adapter.

Even lower: Jazz DV151 VGA Digital Video Camera: $36;Amazon.com

The Jazz camera is the least expensive of pocket camcorders. While it doesn't record in HD, reviews tell us that for the low price, the video recording quality is acceptable — even for YouTube.

GIFTS FOR ROCKERS
High:
Xbox 360 and The Beatles Rock Band: Xbox, $199.99 + The Beatles Rock Band, $139.99; Amazon.com

This is one of the most highly anticipated video game releases of the year. To play, you need to purchase an Xbox 360. Included in the Beatles Rock Band are the Rock Band standard instrument controllers: guitar, drum kit, microphone and USB hub and guitar strap. This video game was actually developed and co-created by the Beatles themselves, and features never-released conversations among the band during Abbey Road recording sessions. If you’re a little rusty at first, don’t take it personally. In a recent interview, Paul McCartney himself said he lost twice at the game — on the easy level.

Low: Electronic Rock Guitar Shirt; $29.99; ThinkGeek.com

If you don’t want to break the bank by buying Rock Band, consider the Electronic Rock Guitar Shirt. Each of the buttons on the neck of the guitar represents a major chord, allowing you to play dozens of classic rock songs. To play, simply strum the included magnetic pick over the shirt’s strings. The shirt also includes a mini guitar amp speaker that clips to your belt.

WARM BLANKETS
High:
Chic Stuff Cashmere Throw: $184.99; Chicstuff.com

This year we’ve seen consumers shying away from flashy items and buying more necessities — like socks, underwear and blankets. This three-ply, 100 percent cashmere throw is sure to keep you warm on chilly nights. Available in ivory, red, black, camel, gray, celadon and smoke blue.

Low: Old Navy Performance Fleece Blanket: $10; oldnavy.gap.com

Keep cozy this winter with a performance fleece blanket from Old Navy. Available in solid or printed styles, and machine washable.

TELEVISIONS
High: Insignia Advanced Series 32-inch TV: $529.99;Buy.com

According to a recent survey by Consumer Reports, one in five adults say they plan to purchase a television set during or after the holidays. This 32-inch flat-panel HDTV includes a table-top stand and remote. Energy Star qualified.

Low: Vizio 32-inch VW32L Widescreen 720p HDTV LCD: $320.99;BestBuy.com

This 32-inch widescreen HDTV also includes a table-top stand and remote.

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