2020 may have been rough, but telling your children that Santa has contracted covid will certainly send them into unbearable spasms of grinchiness. No good parent wants to disappoint their little monsters, and that’s not even mentioning all the siblings, friends, colleagues, and other cherished people in your life.
So, with the holiday season not far off and a birthday always around the corner, it makes sense for us to think a little about gifts that are packed with fun and meaning but don’t cost a bundle. To make this a little easier, we’re going to share with you a list of some of the best inexpensive gift ideas.
These are organized in categories, though many can just as easily work for people of any age. Which you end up choosing will often depend on how much time you have to spend. Gifts that require more than a moderate amount of work on your part are shown with (DIY) in the title; these are also usually those that give you the most bang for your buck. Don’t worry if you’re busy, though: you’ll find several creative, thoughtful presents here that only need gift wrapping.
Table of Contents
- 1 Kids up to 12 Years Old
- 2 Bug Collection Kit
- 3 Rubber Band Gun (DIY)
- 4 Yellies
- 5 Hand-Decorated Clothing (DIY)
- 6 Teenage Girls
- 7 Facial Steamer
- 8 Bullet Dotted Journal
- 9 Custom Poster (DIY)
- 10 Beauty Samples
- 11 Teenage Boys
- 12 Fastrack Hockey Game
- 13 Laser Tag Kit
- 14 Folding Multitool
- 15 Build-Your-Own Trebuchet Kit (DIY)
- 16 Students and Young Adults
- 17 Set of Herbal Teas and Teapot
- 18 COGZ
- 19 Homemade Preserves (DIY)
- 20 Millennials
- 21 Herb Planters (DIY)
- 22 Letter Writing Set
- 23 Vintage Clothing
- 24 Cocktail Accessories
- 25 Couples
- 26 Deliver all Their Meals for One Weekend (DIY)
- 27 Introduce Them to Winemaking
- 28 Plan an Inexpensive But Romantic Date for Them (DIY)
- 29 Sushi Making Kit
- 30 Older People and Retirees
- 31 Book of Memories (DIY)
- 32 A Cool Gardening Gift Pack
- 33 Puzzles with a Difference
Kids up to 12 Years Old
An imagination is a terrible thing to waste. While a child is still capable of inventing their own world, they don’t really need glitzy toys to inspire them – a stick and a rock are all they require to have fun. Don’t, therefore, spend a small fortune based on this month’s TV adverts – try these cheap gift ideas instead.
Bug Collection Kit
As interested as their parents may be in education, you will want to get their permission before encouraging their kids to start bringing things that creep and crawl into the house. If you pass this hurdle and they’re already outdoorsy and interested in science, you can’t go far wrong with this bug catching kit or even a simple butterfly net.
If you like, you can also include a microscope that’s surprisingly powerful for its size and price as well as rugged enough to survive a child’s idea of “careful” use. Once you pick up an old fish tank at a thrift store for use as a terrarium, you have an inexpensive gift package that looks hugely impressive and may be used for months or years.
Rubber Band Gun (DIY)
This simple, safe weapon requires absolutely no money or carpentry skill to make, yet is a huge amount of fun especially when several people are hunting each other. If you own a jigsaw, however, or know someone who does, you can boost the charm factor significantly just by gluing a clothespeg to the top of a piece of wood cut into a pistol shape. The longer the distance between the clothespeg and the end of the “barrel”, the further it will shoot.
It’s natural to scream when you see a spider. These cute, furry monstrosities will actually turn and run at you when you do!
Yellies spiders come in various color schemes and are larger than you’d expect. They require batteries to run, of course, and you may want to slip a couple of dead ones to the parents just so they have a reasonable excuse for why the thing stopped working. Especially when several children get involved with chasing/being chased by these adorable little arachnids, things can get pretty loud.
Hand-Decorated Clothing (DIY)
Apparel brands don’t matter too much to children, nor quality to their parents – they’re just going to outgrow their clothes, anyway. So, why not pick up a bunch of T-shirts, hats, and other stuff as cheaply as you can and turn them into personalized gifts?
If you don’t want to spend too much on supplies like applique patches, glitter pens, and dyes, you can simply get some fabric paint, write “*J*I*M*M*Y*” on a shirt and run an iron over it (you may want to write something else if the child’s name isn’t Jimmy). The sky is the limit with this kind of project, though, and any craft supplies you have left over will come in handy as soon as the next kid you know has a birthday.
A person on the verge of womanhood is under an incredible amount of pressure. Insecure about her appearance, her place in the world, and what her future may hold, she can probably use all the support she can get. Small yet thoughtful gifts will help a great deal in this regard.
Acne is no-one but hormones’ fault, but it can easily ruin a person’s self-confidence. A good diet and exercise help to control it, but there is a kind of shortcut to better, clearer skin: a mini-sauna for your face.
One way to steam your pores open is to lean forward over a bowl of hot water and drape a towel over your head to make a tent, but using an inexpensive, specially designed gadget works much better. This particular model emits electrically charged steam to penetrate skin more quickly and effectively, and includes a set of blemish removal tools similar to those a beautician might use.
Bullet Dotted Journal
It’s pretty well known that writing down your feelings, goals, and accomplishments helps to organize your thoughts and, in fact, makes you happier. How do you encourage someone to start the journaling habit, though?
The “bullet” diary system, which combines a little bit of structure with plenty of freedom to practice your creativity, may be the answer. This example is much more than a simple notebook: with stencils, stickers, multi-colored pens, and decorative tape included, it’s the perfect tool for a young woman to keep track of whatever she may be going through.
Custom Poster (DIY)
We’re all automatically inspired (or de-inspired) by what we see on a daily basis. This is why it’s so important to create a home environment that energizes you.
For teenage girls, waking up to a picture of a soothing landscape, a photo of their family, or any of a variety of designs you can download or have made to order may be just what they need to start the day on the right foot. As long as you bring the picture on a flash drive, almost any print shop can create a pretty good-looking poster-sized blowup from it, though you may have to shop around a little if you want something special like printing on canvas. Expect to pay about fifteen bucks for an 18” by 24” image, and about the same for a reasonably nice frame.
The typical teenage girl is still experimenting with makeup, trying to find the style and products that make her look her best. They don’t always want advice (at least, not from anyone who isn’t doing tutorials on Youtube), but you can always help out by providing her with some supplies.
A girl just starting out with doing up her own face may appreciate a gift box that includes all the necessities – nothing spectacular, but a good way to start exploring the possibilities of shade and color. Older teenagers may enjoy getting something that allows them to compare how they look in different hues of lipstick or experiment with bringing out their eyes.
If you’re really in need of a cheap gift that’s also stylish, you can also request free samples from a variety of manufacturers, including Sephora, PinchMe, and Skinceuticals. Offers like these come and go frequently, so keeping an eye out and liking your favorite brands’ Facebook pages is a good way to land tons of free makeup and personal care products. Collecting these over time will soon give you a drawer full of stocking stuffers any teenage girl will love.
The trouble with male teenagers is that they are trouble. Any of them will be perfectly happy to receive a closet full of guns, a sportscar, or a sword and suit of armor for their next birthday. Maybe a helicopter, if you can manage it.
Not only can you probably not afford any of the above, it’s also probably best to restrict them to pursuits that are both safe and legal. This doesn’t have to mean “boring”, though, as you’ll soon see:
Fastrack Hockey Game
If there’s one thing that will get teenage boys off their phones, it’s this rapid-fire tabletop game. There are no complicated rules to confuse them: simply shoot the pucks through the “goal” as quickly as you can while preventing your opponent from doing the same to you. This game is nearly as much fun as a foosball table and can offer a challenge to players of nearly any age.
Laser Tag Kit
This gift is indeed on the expensive side, but it can also be shared among several members of the same family – instead of fighting over their toys, they can now fight with their toys. Each set includes four pistols and four vests.
While the quality isn’t fantastic, this is still a much cheaper gift than regular visits to a laser tag range. With the ability to turn nearly any location into an arena, it will also help to get couch potatoes off their Xboxes for once.
Fixing things around the house – leaking taps, wonky cabinet doors, and clogged garbage disposals, for instance – is a skill every boy should learn. (Girls, too, but boys seem a lot more eager to get started). Building up a collection of quality tools is incredibly expensive, but this cheap Leatherman-style multitool can help the aspiring handyman take care of a surprising variety of problems.
There are few things as satisfying as pulling out one of these when nobody else has a screwdriver, saw, or can opener handy. Interestingly at this price, the pliers are spring-loaded, while the blades lock into place to prevent injuries.
Build-Your-Own Trebuchet Kit (DIY)
Let your son or nephew rock his next science fair with this fully-functional trebuchet. Assuming that you have some basic woodworking tools or can rope in the help of a neighbor who does, all you need to do is work through these detailed instructions to cut and drill all the pieces to size – then leave it to the teenagers to assemble and test it. Assuming you shop around, the lumber should cost you no more than about $40, and much less if you can scrounge it up for free (just asking at construction sites often works). This is one cheap gift that’s sure to become the envy of every kid on the block.
Students and Young Adults
Trying to build a life or even just make it to the end of the month without starving can be stressful. This leaves twenty-somethings with way too few opportunities to pamper themselves – luckily, you can come to their rescue with a timely yet cheap gift. Ideas for what to give a person in this age group often involve either self-care or having fun with friends – which by itself is a form of self-care.
Set of Herbal Teas and Teapot
Some teas are calming, some energize you, others just taste really nice. All you need to figure out is how many different kinds you want to buy, wrap a couple of bags of each in brown paper, and pair it with a cute teapot you found at a thrift store or online.
You’ll almost certainly have a bunch of teabags left over (they really start to lose their flavor after about three months). Don’t worry, though: any you don’t consume yourself can just make it into a few more inexpensive gifts that are sure to bring a smile to the faces of those you love.
You can learn the rules of this board game within five minutes. Getting good at it, however, is anything but simple: there are even national COGZ tournaments. It is also endorsed by Mensa, a club whose only requirement is that its members have to be smarter than 98% of the general population.
What makes it so attractive as an inexpensive gift is that you can download it for free and simply print it out. This may require some fiddling with glue, card stock, and scissors to get right but, considering that many board games cost over $30, this do-it-yourself option is certainly a bargain.
Homemade Preserves (DIY)
Nobody ever said no to pickles, jams, or jellies made from scratch. People appreciate all the work that goes into creating these. Cooking up a batch will indeed take you most of an afternoon, but you’ll have enough gifts to delight your entire family when you’re done.
In terms of cost, this gift requires you to purchase some canning jars. Don’t expect to ever get these back, but at least they’re not too pricey and they do look great on a kitchen shelf. In addition, you’ll also need a large amount of fruit or vegetables – perhaps your local farmer’s market is worth a visit? Just remember that your jars have to be completely sterile when you fill them. Owning a pressure cooker will be a great help, but just washing them with a weak bleach solution seems to do the trick as well.
At least if you go by the stereotype, millennials are a kind of in-between generation: technically adults but still having fun; making money but not financially stable; uncomfortable with conformity but not willing to embrace a truly bohemian lifestyle either. Certainly, this doesn’t describe everyone between the ages of (approximately) 25 and 35, but it is true that finding a perfect yet inexpensive gift for the typical millennial can be a challenge. Don’t break your brain trying to come up with one, though, at least until you’ve checked out the following:
Herb Planters (DIY)
Fresh herbs always taste better than dried and actually cost a lot less when you grow them yourself. Few people ever take the time to actually do so, though, which makes a set of potted herbs great as a cheap gift.
Though some plants may need some special care, you generally just need to fill a wide, shallow container with potting soil, sprinkle a few seeds around, and cover these with a thin layer of soil. Once they’ve developed their second set of leaves, select the strongest plants and gently transplant them into their own containers – plastic party cups work well for this. Basil, parsley, sage, thyme, and chives are all easy to grow from seed – which costs practically nothing.
How exactly you’ll present them as a gift depends entirely on your budget and how much time you’re willing to spend on this project. You can create a gorgeous herb planter out of scrap wood (or buy one ready-made), give them in their seedling containers and let the other guy work something out, or use whatever quirky containers you find at your local thrift store.
Letter Writing Set
Writing letters on actual paper is nearly a lost art. I’m guilty of this too: it’s difficult to tell if my own longhand script is in English or Arabic. All this just makes a real handwritten letter more special than ever. Effort goes into every single one, and you’re not going to waste all that time just to write: “BRB, TTYL, LOL”.
If you want to nurture this classic habit, why not give your friend some decorated writing paper and envelopes that suit their personality, so that each recipient can see at a glance who the letter is from? If you like, you can round out the package with an inexpensive fountain pen to add a little additional elegance to their penmanship.
It’s not difficult to define the difference between “vintage” and “old”: old is ugly, while vintage is stylish, often in some unique way. Finding the vintage needle often is like digging through a haystack, but it’s also a great way of obtaining cheap presents that will truly be cherished.
You can search for these items either in second-hand stores around your neighborhood or online. Just remember, while you’re searching, that there’s often a big difference between what you’d like to wear and your friend’s personal style.
In case you haven’t noticed, today’s adults are much more likely to entertain at home than hang around in bars or spend big bucks in restaurants. This opens up a wealth of opportunities to the wily shopper looking for cheap gifts:
One possibility is to get them a stylish cocktail shaker that works, for the amateur barman, just as well as one costing three times as much. If you have a little money left over in your gift budget, throw in a set of flavored syrups to help them get started on expanding their mixology repertoire. Alternatively and depending on their tastes, you can also get them a nice decanter set or some ice cube trays that will make the experience of socializing at home just as pleasant as going out.
Buying or crafting a cheap gift that not only one but two people will enjoy sounds like it should be twice as difficult. Actually, you don’t have to find something that will appeal to the interests of both people in the couple: just think of something that they can do together or that will remind them of their love for each other.
Deliver all Their Meals for One Weekend (DIY)
Nothing beats home cooking, especially when that cooking is done by somebody else. If you have any skill at all in the kitchen, you can take a huge load off your friends’ minds for a few days and give them more time to spend with each other, catch up on household chores or do whatever they prefer.
You can prepare food for them and your own family at the same time, meaning that it won’t take that much of a bite out of your schedule. With a little planning, you can also create pretty impressive meals without straining your budget.
Of course, this is only an option if you live fairly close to them. Other things to keep in mind are that you’ll want to drop off breakfast the night before and perhaps buy some extra containers – they’ll presumably be using their own plates.
Introduce Them to Winemaking
Fermenting wine is the perfect couple’s activity: both partners have to rely on each other, patience is needed, and the result is something that has to be shared to be enjoyed. It may sound hard (it’s certainly not straightforward) but things generally turn out all right as long as you follow the instructions.
This winemaking kit may not turn them into master vintners, but it’s a cheaper gift than a case of plonk and comes with everything you need to get started. It makes about four bottles of wine per batch. The fruit, obviously, is not included – you may want to grab a couple of pounds of blueberries, grapes, or plums so they can start experimenting right away.
Plan an Inexpensive But Romantic Date for Them (DIY)
Chances are that most of the couples you know would like a little more romantic us-time in their lives, but can’t really summon up the energy, creativity, or cash to create a memorable date. You don’t have to leave them at the mercy of Netflix and popcorn, though: why not tell them to reserve one night for a “surprise”, pick them up with a picnic basket in the trunk and drive them to one or two activities they’ll both enjoy?
The beauty of this is that you take all the pressure off them, as you’ll ideally stay nearby to deal with any requests they have or problems that turn off. The whole night out can end up costing you less than fifty or a hundred dollars, depending on what kind of night you plan for them, and is guaranteed to be remembered fondly for years to come.
Sushi Making Kit
Relationships are all about making mistakes…and you can say much the same thing about learning to make good sushi. Just like with fermenting their own wine, trying to master this art is the perfect couple’s activity and comes in pretty handy when they have friends over.
As it turns out, you don’t have to face the grueling apprenticeship sushi chefs in Japan undergo to start churning out fair-to-middling sushi. A semi-authentic rolling kit takes much of the manual labor out of the process and includes five pairs of chopsticks besides. If this basic bamboo mat seems like too little for the occasion, you can also throw in a couple of nori sheets or this fun-looking set of shaping molds.
Older People and Retirees
Once you get to about 60 years of age, the two things you should have plenty of are experience and time. The first is usually a blessing, except when younger people refuse to listen to your obviously excellent advice. Having too much time on your hands, on the other hand, can become a real burden: how are you supposed to fill all those hours you used to spend working?
Now, your favorite grandparent, aunt, or uncle won’t have to spend quite so much time in front of the TV. These gifts will help to keep their minds active and limber while they enjoy their sunset years.
Book of Memories (DIY)
Unlock your inner journalist and start quizzing family members, former co-workers, prior neighbors, and whoever else you can find about your older family member. Look online for newspaper front pages of significant dates, borrow and scan old photographs – get creative!
Getting a custom book printed is less expensive than you probably think, at least when you average the cost over several copies you can hand out to other family members. You can select the type of binding, paper, and printing quality, so the possibilities really are endless.
A Cool Gardening Gift Pack
If you know an older person, you’ve probably heard them mention that fruit and vegetables no longer taste like they did in the good old days. This isn’t just their imagination: modern plant varieties are designed for productivity rather than flavor.
Since these seeds haven’t been altered to thrive on chemical fertilizers, you may want to supplement this cheap gift with a vermicomposting bin, but don’t bother buying one. You can achieve much the same thing with a couple of plastic containers and a little ingenuity for a practical, inexpensive gift. While you’re at it, build one for yourself to turn your kitchen waste into great gifts for your gardening friends: vermicast – organic material that has been eaten and discarded by earthworms – typically sells for upward of a dollar per pound at the store.
Puzzles with a Difference
It’s difficult enough to keep your mind in shape when you’re in your twenties and active. Once you’re older and don’t have that much to do, it becomes essential to take on fun, challenging projects.
Did you know that National Geographic offers three-dimensional puzzles of the beloved Taj Mahal, Notre Dame cathedral like it was before the fire, as well as several other iconic buildings? Assembling them is huge fun with or without the help of grandchildren, and they make great conversation pieces once finished. If architecture isn’t their thing, you can also get them mechanical contrivances to build or let them play 3D Tetris. Whichever you go for, an older person is sure to enjoy whiling away a couple of hours with these puzzles, which are often on sale for under $30.
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Hopefully, you’re well on your way to making someone’s day by now. If you still need a little inspiration, check out our other gift page for some inexpensive Christmas gifts that are sure to please, whatever time of year it is.