Finding a really great gift doesn’t require breaking the bank. In fact, some of the best gifts may cost you next to nothing, and there are bound to be people you don’t want to spend all that much on anyway.
“Really, a great gift is timing-dependent,” says writer Drew Millard. “As in, any gift is kind of great if the giftee isn’t expecting to receive it. Like, one time a friend came over to my house and was like, ‘I saw this and thought of you so I bought it,’ and handed me a golf-themed ashtray. I was overjoyed.” (Fittingly, Millard just wrote a book called How Golf Can Save Your Life, out this May.)
When it comes to gifts, the dollar amount doesn’t really matter. What you should try to do instead is put yourself in the headspace of the person you’re shopping for. What do they like to do? What’s something they’d really like to have? Go for gifts that are in line with their personal interests. “Unexpected gifts are more about a physical object representing and reaffirming the connection you have with another person,” says Millard.
Whether you’re shopping for a significant other, a parent, a friend, a coworker, or a neighbor who you don’t even really know that well, they’ll love these gifts. And you’ll love them too, because you won’t be spending loads of cash to give something awesome.
Inexpensive Film Camera
Are you shopping for someone who likes to take photos? “Get them a disposable camera or a film camera — like this one that’s under $50 — then go take some photos together,” says Ashley Hosmer, a Portland-based creator. This gift does double duty: You’re both giving something thoughtful and committing to an activity to do together (which costs nothing).
Tarzian West Mortar and Pestle
Special tools for the kitchen are big hits that don’t necessarily have big price tags to match. “I’m a big home cook but I always get super stressed when I’m making a recipe that calls for crushed spices,” says Emilie Friedlander, co-host of the podcast The Culture Journalist. “I asked my dad for a mortar and pestle for Christmas, and he got me this really nice, heavy stone one from Cole and Mason. It’s only about $30, but it’s saved me a lot of anxiety while trying to pull together dinner after a long day of work.” As a gift, this checks a number of boxes: It’s inexpensive, it’s thoughtful, and it will be useful for years to come.
Louis Sherry Chocolates
Supposedly good things come in small packages, and Louis Sherry Chocolates are proof. “My go-to gift for under $100 is Louis Sherry Chocolates,” says Jensyn Gagne, a St. Petersburg-based marketing consultant. “They come in metal tins with a variety of colors and designs that you can choose from — they’re the perfect gift for almost anyone.”
You can never have too many candles. Need a hostess gift? Candle. Need a gift that seems nicer than it is? Candle. Need a gift for literally anyone in your life? Candle, candle candle. And Nest candles also come in beautiful packaging, so you don’t even really have to wrap it if you don’t want to.
Sometimes a good gift is one that makes people think. “Chokepoint Capitalism explains in a really comprehensive way that major tech companies have stacked the deck against creative workers and figured out a way to wring more money out of our work than the creators do themselves,” says Friedlander. “Before this book came along, I just hadn’t seen anyone explain how this is playing out in so many different industries and impacting so many different kinds of creators at once, from musicians and actors to journalists, podcastors, and YouTubers. My co-host Andrea suggested that it should be required reading for anyone working in the entertainment and media industries, and I agree. It just might be my go-to gift this year.”
A Bucket of Flaky Salt
You can’t go wrong with food! “For people who I don’t know that well, like neighbors or colleagues, I go the route of elevating an everyday item,” says Hosmer. “Everyone eats, right? So a go-to gift strategy for me has been elevating pantry items: fancy flaky sea salt in a giant bucket, squeeze bottles full of delicious olive oil, a jar of chili crunch or my favorite soy sauce (if you’ve only had Kikkoman, be prepared — there is no going back once you’ve tried this).”
Fly By Jing Sichuan Flavor Set
To that end, a Fly By Jing gift set can make a great gift. This one includes a jar of chili crisp, a jar of chili oil, chili crisp vinaigrette, a sauce, and a spice mix. Fly By Jing’s offerings are undoubtedly delicious, and this gift is pretty universal in that it works for people you know well and those you don’t.
Wood and Marble Wine Chiller
Anyone can bring a bottle of wine as a host gift, but it takes a special person to gift a wine chiller. And what makes it even better? Mark & Graham offers personalization options — and the price is still under $100. This is an impressive gift that’s not too bad on the wallet.
Foodheim: A Culinary Adventure
Eric Warheim is a comedian-turned-bon vivant who approaches cookbook writing with the comedic sensibilities that made people love him as one half of the avant garde comedic duo Tim & Eric. His cookbook is excellent and quirky, and is a great fit for a foodie who also loves comedy. Cookbooks make great gifts in general, so if this one isn’t exactly the right fit, go for one like Alison Roman’s Nothing Fancy or Samin Nosrat’s Salt Fat Acid Heat.
When buying gifts, Hosmer suggests elevating items the recipient already owns. Most people already have bath towels (and if they don’t, that’s another conversation). But these cute, breathable cotton ones are a nice twist on a staple, and they’re $18 each. Towels are one of those things people aren’t chomping at the bit to go buy for themselves, which is why giving them is nice and unexpected.
Books are a gift you can tailor to the recipient. Hosmer has a great example with a little added flair. “This past Christmas, I was pretty proud of a gift I gave a new friend,” she says. “We have the same taste in books and scents and I knew she wanted to read Book Lovers by Emily Henry but hadn’t purchased it yet. I got her a copy of that. Plus, the main characters both wear the fragrance Book by Commodity, so I paired a travel-size version of it with the book. It’s a scent I knew she’d like and I thought being able to smell it when she reads about it would elevate the experience. I got her both for under $50.”