When I travel, it's on a budget. (Surprised?) But of course, I still like to get a few things to remind me of my trip. The last vacation I went on, a Caribbean cruise in February, I budgeted $200 for souvenirs and spent $203, including gifts and bottles of alcohol (cheaper in the Caribbean!). Here are my tips for great souvenirs on the cheap:
Buy local goods. No need to buy the same T-shirt branded with a different location. Get something that's really original. A great example of this is local food or liquor. When we were in St. Maarten on our honeymoon, we brought back local Guavaberry Rum, which we've never seen anywhere else. Last week my husband came home from his business trip in Hawaii with chocolate covered macadamia nuts. He bought them at Sam's club for $14.
Check out art. Here's something that will last forever and always remind you of your trip. The best part of buying a piece of local art is that it's authentic and unique. Often times you'll find pieces that are handmade. Not to mention that you're supporting local businesses, rather than imported goods mass produced.
Bargain, bargain, bargain. Lots of the best pieces are found in small shops. You can almost always get a better price on the pieces you find. The trick is knowing what you want to spend, then offering less than that so you settle on the price you have in mind.
Have a signature souvenir. Everywhere we go, my husband and I pick up a locally brewed beer, save the bottle and fill it with sand (or when we go skiing - snow). Since we would be buying the beer anyway, we get a great addition to our collection and they only cost $2 or $3. Similarly, my dad collects shot glasses from all his destinations. Other ideas could be key chains, magnets, spoons - anything that you enjoy and can find uniquely. They often cost very little and help assuage the need to buy something.
Make a budget and stick to it. Be realistic and disciplined. It's easy to get out of control when you're on vacation, but eventually you have to return to reality - and you don't want the souvenir of credit card debt to come with you. I use a cash system for souvenirs, and when it's up, it's up.