Giving gifts to parents and relatives might as well be impossible. They always tell me to never get them anything, but I always want to, because let's be honest, even if we aren't living under their roof and they aren't paying for our schooling anymore, we have cost them a fortune. So, although they tell me to not waste my money, I feel like it's my duty to show some gratitude.
One year I got all three of us tickets to see the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. That was by far the most expensive present I've purchased for them, and the most awesome. With very little money to spare this year I decided to put together a little basket of ethnic southern foods. You know, Louisiana hot sauce, grits, Moon Pies (in Mobile, AL they drop a Moon Pie on New Years, dead serious) Cajun spices, and an ornament that says "Merry Christmas, y'all." Adorable, I know. This would work for where ever you are living, assuming it isn't the same city as your parents or extended family. Just put together things that are native or common in your area that might not be for them. This whole idea is pretty cheap.
Another cheap idea is making them a CD. I know that sounds weird to make a mix tape for your parents, but I did it when I first moved to the South for my job. I mailed a CD to them and I could tell they really loved it. Here are a few songs you can put on it. Oh, and they're country songs but my parents hate country and they still liked these songs because of the lyrics.
This year I also made them something. I bought one of those square frames that are shadow boxes. That means you can put 3-D things in them without them touching the glass. So I printed out three different pictures of me with my parents, bought some scrapbook paper and some pearls that stick in scrapbooks, I already owned these little black square tiles that look like they could almost be scrabble pieces but they're black and not wooden. So I cut the scrapbook paper into a square, used another piece of scrapbook paper that was in the same color scheme (I was going with gold) to add kind of an accent. I glued the pictures onto the paper, clued the tiles to say family across the bottom of the paper, used the pearls to accent and then pained the word "Love" in cursive in the free space. Sounds like it took lots of time but it really didn't I gave them something they can put in the house that doesn't just look like I threw it together. So there's another idea.
Happy gift hunting. You could always go with the tie or robe idea. I mean, everyone needs those things. Not ties of course but you get my drift.