Every year Christmas (and the many other holidays) roll around and somehow all of us seem surprised at just how much gifts really cost.
Oh yeah, and how many people you actually have to buy gifts for. By person #2 you’ve run out of ideas.
Luckily, you’re in the right place! I’ve got over 50 (inexpensive) ideas to help you get through the holiday season.
Fun & leisure
1. A streaming service subscription
According to the Leichtman Research Group, 78% of all U.S. households have a subscription to one, or more, of three industry-leading on-demand video streaming services: Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Hulu.
If you frequently stream shows with your friend, family member, or loved one, consider getting them a three-month subscription card to a service they don’t have or their tried and true favorite.
If you are unsure what subscription service you should choose, check out our guide to the best streaming services for more information!
2. A mixtape, custom playlist, or subscription to an audio streaming service
Music can elicit strong memories or feelings, but as we age and get busy, we tend to listen to the same few artists over and over.
Jog your friend’s love for music by creating a mixtape filled with songs that are important to them and that represent your friendship. To keep things fresh, you can also mix in a few songs from new artists you think they’d like.
Better yet, give them a subscription to a new streaming service, and have a custom playlist waiting for them when they log in for the first time!
3. A gaming subscription
In March of 2020, the World Health Organization recommended that we all stay inside and play video games to reduce the spread of COVID-19. This not only excited old gamers but also created many new ones! In fact, Nielsen found that 55% of U.S. consumers were playing video games in order to help cope with COVID-19 restrictions.
If your loved one picked up gaming as a result of the pandemic or has always been a fan, consider giving them a subscription to Playstation Plus, Xbox Game Pass, or Nintendo Switch Online, you’ll both be doing your part!
4. A magazine subscription
Call me old-fashioned, but it’s nice to take a break from screens and just relax with a magazine.
5. Comic books or graphic novels
Comic books and graphic novels fall into a “goldilocks zone” of engagement, requiring less mental effort than reading but better immersion than watching TV.
If you know someone who’s already big into comics, consider surprising them with a prepaid subscription to Marvel Unlimited.
6. A gift card to a local bookstore
Books are tricky gifts; the recipient may not want to invest hours into the book you gave them, so it just becomes clutter or a doorstop.
For that reason, the ideal gift for the voracious reader is a gift card to a local bookstore. I place emphasis on “local” because your local mom-and-pop really needs the business more than Barnes & Noble. Plus, your favorite reader is bound to uncover some amazing deals!
7. Board games
Board games are an easy and fun way to help your family, or your friends, bond. You can’t go wrong with childhood staples like Jenga, Trouble, Hungry Hungry Hippos, or Sorry. For competitive thinkers, consider a strategy game like Risk or Agricola.
While not technically a “board game,” one fun one to play is The Ultimate Game For Couples. Each card has a personal trivia question like “what’s my favorite animal,” so you can fault your knowledge of your partner or learn something new about them.
For the home
8. A meaningful, framed poster
Most folks in their 20s have at least one bare wall in their home. Oftentimes it’s because our posters from college didn’t survive the move, or simply because a frameless, peeling Transformers poster doesn’t really suit our adult lifestyle.
A bare wall in your friend’s home gives you a golden opportunity for an awesome gift. Grab a $10 poster of their favorite band, or even just a world map for them to plan their next global adventure, and slide it into a classy frame.
9. Desktop models or figurines
Is your colleague, friend, or loved one constantly going on about a certain car, book, or TV show? Show them you listen (or at least tolerate) their obsession by giving them a little model for their desk!
10. A kitchen tool
Sometimes the best gift ideas aren’t things people want, but what they need!
If your friend cooks a lot and still uses the same cheap tools they bought in college, they might really appreciate a high-quality, long-lasting kitchen tool.
For the right kitchen tool, consider one that they don’t have or one that they use every day. Examples can include a can opener, potato peeler, fancy corkscrew, garlic press, or even a nice pastry cutter!
11. Scented candles
There are two kinds of people: people who like scented candles and people who don’t realize they like scented candles yet.
Scented candles make great gifts for a few reasons. First, they’re affordable; even the Mercedes of scented candles, Yankee Candle, sells big ones for under $30. Second, you can still make a scented candle personal; if your friend loves a certain scent, like pumpkin or cinnamon, or even if they just like the scents of fall, there’s a candle for virtually everything.
12. A Wi-Fi extender
Unless you’re sitting next to your router, you’re probably not getting anywhere near 100% of the internet speed you’re paying for. That’s no bueno, definitely since working from home is on the rise!
Luckily, you can spread joy (and bandwidth) by giving someone a $25 Wi-Fi extender for their home. It’s the perfect gift for the friend who keeps dropping off Zoom (involuntarily).
13. A resilient desktop plant
Desktop plants can provide aesthetic appeal and a trickle of mental health. I’m a big fan of aloe vera since it’s visually unique, practical for healing kitchen burns or sunburns, and only needs watering twice a month.
And yep, you can buy an aloe vera plant on Amazon.
14. A personalized Christmas ornament
Obviously, this is one you’ll want to give earlier in December, but I love ornaments as gifts because nobody expects to receive one, and they can bring joy for decades.
You can also commission an artist to design one for you on Etsy. Just be sure to give your Etsy artist plenty of lead time, since they tend to get busy this time of year!
15. Gardening tools, big and small
A gardening tool is a perfect gift for a new homeowner. Even if they don’t garden as a hobby (yet), yard work tools are essential for keeping property healthy and increasing its value. For example, a $10 set of pruning shears can help your friend keep her trees healthy and prevent $800 limb removal later!
16. A special cookbook
Cookbooks have a reputation for being a contrived gift and many end up becoming paperweights. But like all gifts, this only happens when the giver hasn’t made it personal enough.
For friends who don’t cook but want to, a beginner cookbook that combines low-cost, low-effort recipes is ideal, like Budget Bytes.
If your friend is already an amateur chef who likes to dazzle guests, consider a funny, edgy cookbook like What The **** Should I Make For Dinner?
17. A personalized cutting board
Even non-chefs use cutting boards to cut pizza, chop veggies, and more, so having a high-quality one can make a big difference.
Better yet, get them a personalized one. They’re under $25 on Amazon, and can really lend a personal touch.
18. A photograph in a nice frame
Among the most emotionally charged (and affordable) gifts you can give is a photo of you and the recipient that evokes a positive memory.
Since large photo prints are $1.50 at Office Depot, you can spend the rest of your budget getting a high-quality frame.
If you’re thinking of giving a photo to your mother or significant other, I recommend getting a laser-engraved frame on Etsy for around $50. Include your names and the date that the photo was taken, and better yet, an inside joke. The extra money spent will be so worth it when you see their reaction to your gift.
19. A really nice set of stationery, a fancy pen, and stamps
About two years ago I received a handwritten letter from a student thanking me for speaking at her college and for helping her. It probably took her four minutes to write and put in the mail, and it still makes me feel good years later.
Handwritten letters hold magnitudes more power than emails or DMs. Therefore, surprising someone with a nice set of stationery can help them build or rebuild meaningful connections with dozens of people.
20. A journal or notebook with a personal forward
The practice of keeping a journal can boost mindfulness, focus, reflectiveness, gratitude, and overall joy.
You can amplify those feelings by leaving your loved one a personalized note in the front of their journal. Best of all, high-quality journals cost around $15.
21. A homemade coupon book
The ultimate in personalized (and affordable) gifts, you can create a “coupon book” for a loved one and write-in things like “one home-cooked meal” or “any movie of your choice.” Get creative!
You can buy a premade coupon book with tear-out coupons, or a stack of fancy coupons with gold lettering both under $10. If you are on a tight budget, you might even consider creating your coupon gift entirely from scratch!
22. A jar of handwritten message capsules
This is my #1 favorite gift to give a loved one due to its impact on the giver and the receiver.
Amazon sells little “love jars” of 50 plastic capsules, each with a tiny blank slip of paper inside. On each slip, write out one reason why you love or appreciate the person, and gift them the jar for Christmas. Not only will they appreciate you more, but the process of writing 50 reasons why you love them will make you appreciate them more!
Apparel and accessories
23. A hat, a scarf, or a pair mittens
Sometimes, the best gift is the one the recipient didn’t even realize they needed.
Socks have pulled a 180 from their former reputation as “the worst Christmas gift.”
Today’s socks are warm, fuzzy, and adorable; get your loved one some socks featuring their favorite cute critter.
25. A nice tote bag
Thankfully, bringing your own reusable tote bag to the grocery store has become an enduring trend. Therefore, a cool, artistic tote bag represents the perfect combination of personal and practical.
26. Travel pillow
Anyone who travels frequently knows the value of products that help them travel in comfort. If your loved one loves to travel, or has a trip coming up soon, consider gifting them a high-quality travel pillow.
27. Creative keychains and leather key pouches
If someone on your Christmas list has a key ring the size of a janitor’s, they may appreciate a fun addition to their collection in the form of their favorite cartoon character.
Even someone like me who doesn’t like keychains will still appreciate a beautiful leather strap with their car manufacturer on it or a leather sleeve for their keyfob.
28. Affordable jewelry
Not all jewelry has to be expensive to be appreciated. Affordable jewelry comes in two variants: small jewelry and costume jewelry.
Small jewelry like bracelets, rings, and necklaces can be made with quality materials but still fall below $40. For something personal, consider a birthstone bracelet!
Costume jewelry looks fun and fancy but without the cost. For your friend who constantly likes to dress up without the cost, consider a big, “chunky” necklace!
29. Leather wallet
Guys are stubborn, and we tend to only replace things when they fall apart in our hands.
Therefore, if you’re shopping for the guy in your life, consider getting him a nice leather wallet. His old one is probably falling apart and even causing him back problems!
30. Leather belt
Speaking as a guy, a nice new leather belt is almost always appreciated. We tend to keep our old ones for too long, and a new one feels nice and looks sharp!
A quality leather belt that’ll last us for years can cost as little as $30.
Food & drink
31. A loaf of homemade bread
Consider surprising someone on your nice list with a big loaf of homemade bread! If you’ve never baked bread before, invest in a homemade bread maker and surprise everyone on your Christmas list with your new hobby!
32. A personalized mug
I know what you’re thinking; everyone has way too many mugs. And that may be true, but if you see someone using the same bland mugs every day, they probably don’t have a favorite mug yet!
You can purchase a personalized mug with a photo and caption for under $20. That way, your loved one can relive a pleasant memory or inside joke every time they take a sip of joe.
33. A pour-over coffee starter kit
Coffee connoisseurs love pour-over coffee because while slow, it’s the most essential and pure way to make a cup of joe.
If your friend loves coffee but hasn’t graduated to fancier homemade methods, consider giving them a pour-over coffee starter kit for under $30.
34. High quality bartending supplies
35. A box of chocolate
What’s the one gift that never, ever gets returned to the store?
Even the nicest box of chocolate from reputable brands like Ghiradelli will cost less than $30 and will provide your friend or loved one a potent source of relief from pandemic stress.
36. A custom six-pack of craft beer
Whether they’re just graduating from Natty Light or have already consumed more craft beer than a Trappist monk, your friend who drinks beer will always appreciate a six-pack of something interesting.
Most grocery stores and package stores will let you mix-and-match a six-pack of craft beer for $10. It’s a great way to help your friend expand their horizons and share some of your own personal favorites.
37. A good $10 bottle of wine (plenty abound)
This is the ideal gift for someone you don’t know very well, and have about two minutes to spend on their gift. Ask them what kind of wine they usually like to drink, and bring them a $10 bottle of that variant.
There are five types of wine in the world (white, red, rose, dessert, and sparkling) and roughly a trillion wineries, so the chances that you buy something they’ve never tried are high!
38. A bottle of fancy olive oil
I personally have a weak sense of taste and even I can tell when a meal has been made with high-quality olive oil. Therefore, for anyone on your list who cooks, a nice bottle of olive oil is a great way to affirm their hobby while greatly enhancing the taste of their meals!
A giant 33.8oz bottle California Olive Ranch, considered by many to be the best in town, costs less than $20.
39. A hot chocolate gift set
A hot chocolate gift set with a mug, truffles, wafers, and more makes a perfect White Elephant/Dirty Santa gift because it’s so evocative. You see it and you immediately picture huddling by a fire sipping sugary decadence with a loved one.
Even the fanciest ones go for less than $35.
40. Pancake mix
If hot chocolate by the fire makes for a perfect winter evening, homemade pancakes in pajamas defines the ideal winter morning.
I think pancake mix makes an excellent gift during a pandemic especially because learning a new recipe to share with others in your bubble is a perfect way to stave off both boredom and loneliness. Plus, when you inevitably eat too many, it’ll motivate you to hit the gym!
I mean, do I really have to say more? Cookies are the most likely gift to be consumed on the spot!
Trust me, you can never go wrong with a tin of cookies.
42. Travel-sized hot sauce
You probably know someone who puts hot sauce on everything. I’m that person in my bubble; I pour it on everything from eggs to ham sandwiches, and I’m super bummed when it’s unavailable for me to spice up a meal.
Therefore, travel-sized bottles of hot sauce are perfect for the spice-loving lunatic in your life. It represents the rare blend of half-joke half-practical, and they’ll love you for it.
Best of all, you can grab a two-pack for $7.
43. Epsom salts
The idea behind Epsom salts (which come from Epsom, England) is that they break down into magnesium and sulfate in warm bathwater, which in theory get absorbed into your skin for extra relaxation.
What we know for sure is this; a 3lb bag of Epsom salt costs less than $5, lasts for months, and says to the recipient “I love you and think you deserve relaxation.”
44. Bath oils and bubble bath
While Epsom salts are more affordable and practical, bath oils are just… nice. They look nice, they smell nice, and they make bathing feel bougie and delightful.
A travel pack of 10 costs under $35, and why not toss in some bubble bath for fun?
45. Winter skincare kit
If someone on your list has just moved from south to north, they may not yet realize the devastating impact the cold, dry winter will have on their skin.
46. A three-month subscription to Birchbox
Buying makeup for others can be a challenge. Even if you know what colors they like, you may not know what brands or chemicals they’re sensitive to.
Luckily, there’s Birchbox, a subscription service that sends boxes of makeup samples for your loved one to try each month. After three months they’re sure to find their next favorite product!
47. A quality sleep mask
Sometimes you stumble upon a product under $20 that changes your life. For me, that was a high-quality sleep mask.
There are two schools of thought surrounding sleep masks. You can get one filled with fancy ingredients like lavender and flax seeds, but personally, I prefer a contoured one that blocks 100% of light like the one that I wear every night.
48. Men’s personal grooming kit
After Movember, your man is probably looking a little extra scruffy.
Why not send a kind and subtle message by giving him a nice personal grooming kit this Christmas?
49. Dog and cat toys
Be careful around cheap plastic toys, since they can be easily destroyed and pieces can be swallowed. Instead, I recommend giving rope-based toys, since dogs can play tug-of-war with their owners or safely gnaw on them on their own time.
As for cats, there seems to be a greater variety of cat toys than dog toys on the market. This means you can buy your cat-owning friend something more personal. For example, they apparently make tea bags full of catnip, which was perfect for my friend, the tea expert/cat mom!
50. A light-up dog collar
With the days becoming shorter, more dog owners will be walking their dogs at dusk or later. To help keep you and your pup safe on the roads, it wouldn’t hurt to give Kanye Westie a little extra visibility at night with a light-up collar.
51. A pet toy box subscription
Maybe your friend recently adopted a dog or a cat during the pandemic, and you’re not sure what kind of toy they like yet!
Christmas gift shopping can be pricey and stressful, especially during a pandemic. However, just a little thoughtfulness and strategy can go a long way.
You don’t have to spend much to make someone smile on Christmas morning, just show that you care. Hopefully one of the gift ideas on this list will help you do just that.