Updated on 09.16.14

Great Gifts Under $10 I’d Love To See Under My Tree

Trent Hamm

When I started working on this post, I was trying to make a list of Christmas (or other winter holiday) gift ideas under $10 that would be great to give for family gift exchanges, as stocking stuffers, and so on. I easily made a list, but then I realized when I read through it that I actually would not like it if I received most of this stuff. If I wouldn’t like these frugal gifts, why would I ever recommend these things to you?

So I threw out the list and started over.

This time, not only did it have to be a good gift under $10 to make the list, it had to be one I would like to receive. Perhaps my tastes don’t match yours or the person you’re giving the gift to, but at least these gifts are known to appeal to someone.

Twelve Frugal Gifts I’d Love to See Under My Tree

High-quality basic tools

My toolbox is filled with one dollar screwdrivers, most of which are stripped to some degree. A good, top quality screwdriver designed to last for years and years and years is a wonderful gift for a handyman – and can easily be found under $10.

Homemade powdered mixes

I mentioned my hot chocolate powdered mix a few days ago, but I like any homemade mixes: spice mixes, popcorn flavoring mixes, and so on. Just mix it up and put it in a homemade jar and I’ll like it.

A memory stick full of memories

If you have a USB memory stick sitting around, load it up with pictures, videos, and song files that express fond memories of the relationship you have with that person. Include a bunch of pictures of you both, your families, and so on. These can really be awesome.

A paperback novel that the giver really loves

Think of the one book you’ve read in your life that had the most impact on you (or perhaps a small handful). See if it’s available in paperback. Bingo – great inexpensive gift. Even better, put a note inside the front cover that explains why you loved the book so much and why you want to share it.

A “coupon” for a big favor

When my wife and I recently had a baby shower, one person gave us a coupon for a night of babysitting of both of our kids. It was the best gift we received, and it only cost the recipient a piece of paper. This is a great gift for parents, especially ones with multiple younger children – it’s hard for them to find time together.

A single pair of very warm, high quality socks

Seriously, I get a pair or two every year and they’re among my favorite gifts. Nothing’s nicer than warm feet, especially if you live in a climate with a very cold winter.

A container of homemade cookies

The container doesn’t have to be anything special – a large Gladware container will do. But the inside should be filled with the best homemade cookies you can possibly turn out.

A day of volunteering

Similar to the coupon for babysitting but with more appeal to the environmentally and socially minded folks, a day of volunteering can be a great gift for someone. Agree to spend a Saturday volunteering for the local charity of their choice, doing stuff like hammering nails or picking up trash. Better yet, agree to go with the person on a volunteering outing, or offer to watch their children so they can participate.

An old-fashioned safety razor

This sounds completely crazy, I know, but you can usually find a beautiful one if you ask around at resale shops for far less than $10, and then package it up with some razor blades. I am a big fan of shaving the “old fashioned” way, with a safety razor, though I don’t always do it (I sometimes use a cheap disposable in the shower when I’m in a big hurry). If you know of a young man who is shaving with disposables, give this as a gift and just see what happens.

Quality pens

I have a burning, undying hatred for cheap pens, but the cost difference between a cheap Bic and a decent pen makes me often stick with the cheap ones. Because of that, I love a great pen as a gift, one of the low-end types you buy at a real pen store, not in the office supply section at Target. You can usually get a very nice pen for general use for right around that $10 sweet spot.

A picture frame

Go find a nice, simple, elegant picture frame and gift it. Often, people feel obligated to put some picture inside the frame. Don’t. If you want to give some pictures, give several in an included envelope and say that they can choose one of those or anything else they might want.

A heartfelt, handwritten letter or note

This one seems absolutely bonkers to some, but it is often the best gift someone can possibly give, especially to someone estranged. Sit down and take some time to just write a handwritten letter to someone important in your life. Tell them honestly how you feel about them, and if the relationship is strained, and put to rest any bad feeling you might have about the situation. It will leave you feeling much better and will often move the other person to tears.

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  1. Lauri says:

    I will second the socks mention. Two years ago my sister-in-law bought me two pairs of thick wool socks. They are still my favorite socks in winter and one of my favorite presents in recent memory!

  2. Megan says:

    Great list, Trent! A lot of the items on it come back to what gift giving really should be, a thoughtful extension of the relationship between gift giver and gift receiver.

    In a way I’d almost be curious to hear the ten gifts that got the axe, to know if they’re anything that anyone would enjoy.

  3. guinness416 says:

    These are all excellent gift ideas, and I agree I’d be very happy to receive any one of them. It’s often the little, useful things that make you say a week or even six month later “wow, I’m really glad Jane got me that”. Among the presents I’m still using from last year are a hand-knitted scarf and a little gardening package that included twine, seeds and a fork. My husband is still toting around the “car emergency kit” someone assembled and gave to him. Great post.

  4. Beth says:

    I have a really nice pen that I got from a boyfriend maybe ten years ago – he’s long since fallen by the wayside, but boy do I love that pen. The bonus of having a *nice* pen is that people don’t think you’re weird when you make them give it back if you lend it to them ;)

    To add onto the memory stick idea – I found this great free software called XnView that lets me add tags, captions, etc. to the picture, and when I upload those pics the metadata stays associated. It’s not the easiest interface, but adding a bit of data to the pictures would probably be really appreciated by the recipient.

  5. Jayne says:

    What a great list! You’re right on about most of these kinds of lists- full of suggestions for things I would hate.

  6. 10KPortfolio says:

    I really like some of these ideas. The memory stick full of memories is very meaningful. I might have to use one or two of these gift ideas, thanks.

  7. sara says:

    One of my all-time favorite presents was a friend’s *used* watercolor supplies. She had taken a class, and wasn’t going to pursue the hobby, so for a birthday gift she gave me her pallet, brushes, and large nice-quality paper that was painted on one side. I am an artist, but it was a set i never would have purchased all at once, and it would have been an inappropriately expensive set for her to buy for me new. Being given all the supplies to get started in a hobby would be a wonderful gift, even if they are “gently used”.

    Along this line: a nice paintbrush is a wonderful gift for an artist friend, and can be had for under $10 at an art supply store.

  8. Jen says:

    I’m with you on the socks. I asked my parents for funky knee-high socks (in plentiful supply at Target right now) this year. They’re great for windy Midwest winters!

    Quality art paintbrushes can also be nice for applying makeup. Natural, soft bristles are best unless you’re working with thick creams or theatrical makeup–oil brushes with synthetic bristles work well for those.

  9. Anne says:

    Not to be a pen snob, but… well, I am a pen snob. :) There are no nice refillable pens under $10. IMO the highest-quality pen you can buy under $20 is the Lamy Safari, and many people shun these because they are plastic.

  10. Paul says:

    I have tried the old fashioned safety razor, after finding out about it here, and I love it so much I am going to get my father one for Christmas. Glad to see it made your list Trent!

  11. HB says:

    This is a great list. I’d like any of these too. Also there are a lot of easy handmade things that pple like such as stenciled t-shirts and homemade scarves.

    I would like to see the axe list too :)

  12. Oswegan says:

    A growler of high quality micro brew.


  13. debtdieter says:

    I gave a friend a good bath pillow and bath gel last year.

    He’s a lawyer and makes a fortune, but he still says that my gift was the most thoughful one he received and how much he loved them. (He likes to take long soaks with a glass of scotch to unwind after a long day)

  14. Allison says:

    I completely agree with the previous comments about hand-made scarves and such. I knit scarves, baby hats, and ski hats, and these gifts receive WAY more attention and use than most of the gifts I’ve bought for people.

    I am lucky that I managed to turn a fun hobby for myself into a simple and affordable (just the cost of yarn) gift for so many of my loved ones.

    now I just need to turn it into a small business…

  15. Monica says:

    I also knit scarves and hats, and although the financial cost may be low (especially if you buy sweaters from thrift stores and unravel them, like I do!), the cost in my time is very high. Not so much for a hat, but definitely for a scarf. Even if it is a very basic pattern it takes hours of work. (You can cut down a bit by using bulky yarn but I don’t like the look of bulky yarn much.) So in that sense I don’t consider it an inexpensive gift at all.

  16. Jen says:

    I second the socks.

    I get my husband socks every year and put them in his stocking (stockings in his stocking). He has large feet and normal size socks are too small, and large size socks are harder to find. He hates shopping, and really appreciates that I take the effort to find this hard to find item for him.

  17. Jillian says:

    Monica makes a very good point about the time involved with making handmade gifts. The materials may be cheap, but how do you value your time?
    This year I decided to sew satin bathrobes for half a dozen of my friends. The pattern is a really simple one but they still take about 8-10 hours work each, so there’s no way I’d make one for friends I know wouldn’t appreciate it. Much easier to buy them chocolate and they’d still be just as happy.

  18. s says:

    @Oswegan: Spoken like a true Oregonian.

    And I second (or third or tenth or whatever) the socks thing. I ask for socks every year :).

    I also recommend (unless you’re really sure the person will like it) giving things that are “consumable”. Like the hot cocoa or cookies ideas. Or the “free babysitting” or other “certificate” type gifts. Aside from many people just not wanting clutter, it actually causes a lot of grief (for me at least) to have to deal with what to do with a gift that I don’t like. If I can’t return it or use it, I always feel bad just “getting rid of it”.

  19. Thomas says:

    I really suggest quality pen. Yes, they are more expensive, but they last much longer, than what you paid for them.

    Even in our country, where dragons lives and we eat neighbourgs kids, when hungry, one can buy many thousands cheap pens for minimal wage. But, you’ve to store them, you’ve tu trash them and always have three with you, because they break easy.

    I’ve received Parker pen as a gift and used it for many years, until it finally breaked (and for that time, I had only once had to replace ink-container) and I was unable to apply warranty because of missing receipt/original package box.
    Now I’m using Fisher for two years and great pen too – no problems with writing, ink,…

    As they’re quite expensive I also care about them more and don’t lose them :) So conclusion is – shall I use two pens over more than six years, or pay many times more for hunderts of cheap pens? I choose first.

  20. Lisa says:

    I`ll second the comment about getting people consumable items. I just don`t want any more *stuff*

    There are a few little items I have been very specific about but other than those things, please nothing for me!

  21. Pepper says:

    I love to do cookies and baked goods during the holidays. This year I’m cooking a meal for my Xmas present to the people I work with.

    Nowadays, shopping is so hectic, and cooking relaxes me. Best part is, nothing will go to waste!

  22. PiFreak says:

    3rding the consumable comment. I’m only 16, and I have enough stuff to last me a lifetime.

    I’m a huge non-makeup wearer, but wouldn’t mind getting some that I would be willing to wear.

    That being said, makeup is a tough gift to shop for.

    My advice is to get some tans, sparkly, and browns for eyeshadow for someone. They can create a natural look that even I’m willing to wear. Another great “girly” gift I got was a lotion set, with small samples of different scents of lotion. It lets me try different scents and see what I like.

  23. Louise says:

    Ditto for the socks, also hand knitted bed socks are wonderful to receive. By far my favourite gifts are those that are practical. I love to receive things that I use regularly and that I would have to buy as a replacement. Some of these things include – my regular brand of sunscreen, a good bottle of olive oil, anything practical for the house such as hand towels or bath towels, walnut oil (more expensive than the olive oil and one that I can be quite stingy about buying for myself), almost any strong blue cheese, olives, home made pesto, my brand of mascara. One of the reasons these are the nicest gifts is that they show the giver actually knows the real you. Any causal friend can give you bath salts that you wouldn’t use in a pink fit, or an ornament that completely clashes with everything you like, but only a true friend knows you well enough to understand that your particular fetish is eating stinky blue cheese in bed while wearing warm socks, red flannel pyjamas and watching a b grade action movie!

  24. kim says:

    Every year I write a short story (or two or three), along with a poem or song or heartfelt blog-style article and create a small booklet. I print it in color with scanned hand drawn illustrations or appropriate clip art, so that it is book style when I fold the sheets of paper in half, I use a high quality cover sheet (usually some beautiful paper that looks handmade from the Xpedex store) and hold it all together with elastic cord. It’s simple, lovely and the people I give these to in lieu of Christmas letters or cards or throw away gifts keep them.

    If you aren’t a writer, you could do a pictoral history of your year with charming pictures of the kids, the pets, the household projects, etc. along with captions that briefly tell the story. Grandparents, and dear friends who don’t live nearby would particularly enjoy this type of gift.

    Another gift I give is herbal tea mixes from my own garden. In a pretty jar (you can chop the dried herbs in your coffee grinder, food processor or blender) together with a box of empty tea bags (available at more and more stores) or a tea ball, along with instructions for how to make it and a brief handwritten note…viola! A wonderful personalized gift from the heart. Cheap in $, but costly in time and thoughtfulness.

  25. Schizohedron says:

    Lots of goodies on this list, but the last one’s fantastic. A handwritten letter would make me absolutely plotz. I mourn the sunset of this form of communication.

  26. Deb C says:

    I have to agree with Pepper that the best Christmas presents I have ever given are certificates for a complete dinner, from salad to dessert. These go to working Moms and Dads who truly appreciate a wonderful, warm meal that they do not have to make themselves. When I make the certificate I list a few choices for dinner (i.e., spaghetti and meatballs, roast chicken, lasagna, etc). They make their choice and let me know the day and time. Since I am a stay-at-home Mom I simply make double of what I’m making for them. I make sure to shop at sales so I have the extra ingredients on hand. There is no waste and it doesn’t cost me a fortune.

  27. Carrie says:

    A wonderful list!! I drew my brother-in-law’s name for the gift exchange this year and he’s a tough one to shop for. These gifts are fantastic ideas and will work for years to come!

  28. Baker says:

    If you are looking for a good quality screwdriver get a Klein. They are in the electrical aisle at home depot not by the hand tools. They last for years under daily abuse in commercial construction so for normally household use you probably will never have to replace it.

  29. vh says:

    Consumables are especially ideal for us old buzzards. When you reach a certain age, you already have everything you want, and heaven help ya, you do NOT want another piece of junk to find a place to store or to feel guilty about giving to the Salvation Army. Food. Homemade jams & jellies. Delicious no-cook-it snacks. Booze.

    I’m with Oswegan: “A growler of high quality micro brew.” A little Wild Turkey would be nice, too.

  30. dwalker says:

    Great list! I would put the paperback book at the top of my list. I’m a hopeless booklover and would cherish any book given to me but it seems I never get books. I guess everyone thinks I buy the books I want, but I would be overjoyed with the gift of several paperbacks. The addition of the note describing the choice would just be the icing on the cake.

  31. f1ower says:

    If you are going to get a present for a kid or young person, think about what they do. I played with Barbie dolls until I was 15, but my brothers (or their gf/wife) got me bath stuff since when I was about 8. I always wondered if they thought I needed to bathe more (and since I bathe every day, that would be a little much). I would have been sooooo thrilled if they had gotten me a $5 barbie, instead.
    And if you know a knitter/crocheter, even if you think they have a lot of yarn (or too much yarn, or enough yarn to make a planet cozy – like a tea cozy, but for the earth :) ), give them a gift certificate for a yarn store. I promise, there is nothing better than having someone realize that $10 for yarn/needles/accessories is what a knitter/crocheter really will be thankful for. (Think about it…they might make you socks…)

  32. dm says:

    A great list, thank you!

    I so agree with the coupon/voucher idea – last year we made a pact to spend very little on each so I made some vouchers* for my partner for small treats that could be redeemed at any time. A foot rub, washing up for the day, but mostly things that I couldn’t post here for a family audience ;-) He was absolutely delighted with it and we had great fun negotiating the redemption of those vouchers for the first few months of 2007!

  33. Dasher says:

    Unusual spices are really fun gifts for people who like to cook. A tiny amount of a valuable spice is the perfect price.

    One of my favorite recent gifts was a makeup holder in a bright color so it wouldn’t get lost in the bottom of my purse. Another favorite is a mixing bowl I use at least once a week — I always think of that friend every time I use it.

  34. tnaz says:

    Years ago, I bought a techie relative a domain of his own name (JoeRelative.com). I bought him a 3-year deal for about $30, but you can get one year for as little as $10.

  35. Shek says:

    My roommate lost his hard drive data on his laptop. Most of the work data was saved but he lost all his puppy’s pictures. Well, I have all those pictures on my computer and will put it all on a cd for him. I have a spare 11X17 frame lying around and will print the best picture for the frame.

  36. Melanie says:

    Another one for under $10: go to a movie rental store that sells older/no longer used DVDs and VHS movies for $3-5 each. Buy one of the movies the recipient would enjoy. Throw in some microwave popcorn and a few boxes of their favorite candy. This can cost as little as $5, and is PERFECT for younger kids who want to watch the same movie over and over and over, and who don’t care if it’s used.

  37. A in NC says:

    Just reviewing these comments more than a month after xmas and have some thoughts.
    “consumables” rock for gifts. Add to it:
    -movie tickets
    -pretty stamps
    -Netflix subscription or Netflix online gift certificate (netflix is the best website ever!)
    -big frozen pan of homemade lasagne

  38. Kelly says:

    Reqwired Bookmarks would be an amazing addition to that paperbook. They are $8.00 and handmade in Colorado.

  39. Melaniesd says:

    One of my favourite gifts was a variety of nice teas. My best friend knows I enjoy them and I cherish the tea chest it came in.
    I also recieved a wonderful homemade “bits and bites”.
    I am blessed to have 3 grandparents still alive. My grandfather loves my homemade pies so that is what I give him for gifts. He really enjoys that and looks forward to the pies.

  40. partgypsy says:

    All great ideas. I think I would like everything on that list (except maybe the straight razor).
    I ended up making old fashioned gingerbread cookies and giving those along with bags of pistachios for gifts for children’s teachers, coworkers. Though I felt strange not getting more personalized gifts everyone actually seemed real happy to get them. And I had a lot of fun making and decorating them.

  41. Marie says:

    Be careful with the coupon idea. I did that for friends one year who said they appreciated it when they got them, but who actually felt cheated out of a gift. Not everyone understands these things… (FYI: That year, I really could not afford gifts, but my friends were in the habit of exchanging.)

    BTW, my coupons were for things like babysitting, car wash, housecleaning, etc. I tried to make them significant chores.

  42. Sharon says:

    I like to get old Craftsman hand tools from estate sales. They are much better than current tools, and dirt cheap this way.

  43. Michele says:

    I make gifts for my friends instead of buying them something and the two most requested are sugar scrub or salt scrub and homemade breadcrumbs. For sugar scrub I take two cups of sugar and 1 cup of dried rose petals from my garden (I save & dry them all summer) and put it into a food processor. With the blade running, I add almond oil until it’s smooth. I add a drop or two of rose oil essence and put it into a pretty canning jar and tie a beautiful garage sale or thrift store real silver spoon with an intricate design to it. Salt scrub is the same, but I use table salt, not kosher, it is too chunky to use as a scrub! I also sometimes make the sugar scrub with brown sugar and add a little vanilla extract for a lovely smell. For breadcrumbs, I save bread ends in the freezer and put them into a food processor with frozen basil and parsley from my garden, fresh grated parmesan, a couple of peeled garlic cloves and a little salt and pepper. I grind them up and put them into a pretty canning jar. They should be refrigerated and I add a tag with a couple of recipe suggestions. I always get lots of compliments.

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