The Best Cheap Holiday Gifts (Because You’re Broke and That’s OK)

The Best Cheap Holiday Gifts (Because You’re Broke and That’s OK)

Anyone who says the art of gift giving isn’t about money is full of it (meaning, money and “stuff”). Money matters, and not just because we love the feel of gold doubloons on our bare cheeks; it matters because it’s one of the most necessary (albeit fickle) means for helping us show people how much we like them with flowers, paid electrical bills, and a gratuitous brewski after work. 

However, as we dig in our heels to the holiday season, many of us (hi!) are also realizing we have to be damn stingy with our spending this year. The global economy isn’t looking so good, and we’re trying to be extra careful with where we blow our loads. That doesn’t mean you have to settle for underwhelming and cheap Christmas and holiday gifts, but it does mean you have to get a little crafty with how you concoct the perfect prezzie. Every year, I bedazzle a bottle of poppers for my friend Scott’s birthday. It doesn’t cost much to put googly eyes on a bottle of Rush, but the memories? Priceless. Not that we remember them. (Too many poppers.) The combined nature of the gift (poppers and googly eyes) is what makes it feel special. Said another way: Saving money is about pairings, packaging, and knowing your audience.

We’ve assembled the best cheap holiday gifts for all kinds of people—the stoners, music snobs, food-lovers—that feel luxurious, creative, and painstakingly well-curated. None of them will feel like an afterthought, and most of them will cost under $30, so oil up your Amex and let’s order some recession-proof holiday glee.  

If you’re truly stumped on what to buy

Maybe you’re shopping for a coworker, or trying to find a gift for that one relative you don’t know very well. In this instance, it’s helpful to ask yourself, What are universal experiences? And what could I find that speaks to them? Therein lies your golden goose egg. 

Even if your lucky giftee doesn’t cook, they still eat food. This swankadelic bottle of French olive oil is a VICE editor favorite for its delicate, slightly nutty taste and beautiful design. The label is beautiful and suggests a price tag much higher than about 28 bucks.  

Nicolas Alziari

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

$27.99 at Amazon

Another universal, albeit shitty experience? Headaches. The TheraICEX gel face mask is another team favorite at VICE, because it’s ideal for sliding over your puffy morning face/aching noggin after a night of one too many martinis. That’s years of sweet hangover relief for only $30.

TheraICE Rx

Icy Headache Mask

$49.95$29.95 at Amazon

The best affordable gifts for food-lovers

We invite you to tuck in to the VICE gift guide for food-obsessed peeps for even more delish gift ideas, but these clever little culinary combos can also woo the Chef’s Table-lover in your life. Take Maldon salt, for example; it’s arguably one of the best sprinkle-able elements on our planet, and has climbed the ranks to be one of the best must-have items on Amazon. As one reviewer writes, “I know more than average about salt […] I read a book on it, and have tried some of the fine salts, smoked salts [but] I tried this for the first time on my poached eggs. Suddenly, I understand why, long ago, salt was so valuable it was used as currency. Yes, it was a clean, clear taste […] It is an almost surreal experience.” This magical, flaky meal-topper can be had (and gifted) for under 8 bucks a box. Pair it with a little acacia wood salt cellar for a *chef’s kiss* present. 

Ironwood Gourmet

Acacia Salt Cellar

$15$12.12 at Amazon

OK, here’s what you do to handle presents for the whole crew: Buy all of these pastries and breads IRL, and then fasten the corresponding, glutinous keychain around each one with a cheery red ribbon for a present that’s clever, tasty, and #meta. 

Bready Studio

Mystery Bread Charms

$10 at Etsy

This candle that looks like a sandwich is one of our fave finds of the year—a guaranteed win for anybody who likes sandwiches… or candles.

Friends NYC

Fancy Finger Food Sandwich Candle

$24.99 at Friends NYC

Because everyone likes fancy cheese on a fancy little plate. Under any other circumstance, it would be kind of “meh” to give your bud just cheese or just a single plate—but, combined? Classy. Cohesive. Delish. Serve up some Triple Cream Mt. Tam on a cabbage wear-inspired bowl, or go rogue and pair it with Coton Colors’ oyster-themed plate. 


Pinheiro Cabbage Bowl

$29.49 at Amazon

The best gifts for your artsy buds

Whether your giftee is a tattoo artist, photographer, designer, fanfic writer, or just a babe with a streak of the poet, buying gifts for ~*~creatives~*~ can feel daunting. Start by thinking about how you can replenish some of their most-loved creative tools, such as a disposable camera, which is one of those things that creatively inclined peeps always like to have on hand (especially for NYE). 


XP2 Super Single Use Camera with Flash

$25.95 at Amazon

Being artistic is all about looking smart and cool while appearing to put in the minimum effort, and nothing says “I’m a creator who is too busy to do math (or buy a nicer watch)” like a classic calculator watch. You don’t even have to learn how to use it (most who own these don’t); what matters is that this is a timeless gift that cool people love.


Vintage Calculator Watch

$29.95$23.50 at Amazon

Art people love knives. You know—they have to cut canvases, open cans of paint, carve weird shit, do knife hits, stuff like that. So get ‘em a really cool pocket knife.

Buck Knives

371 Stockman 3-Blade Pocket Knife

$28.99 at Amazon

Picasso, Van Gogh, Hemingway, your mom—everyone who’s anyone hot and creative has used a Moleskine journal, or has wanted to own one. This is the Grandpa’s-leather-jacket of writing journals; the kind of notebook that just gets more buttery with age. 


Classic Hard-Cover Notebook

$20.25 at Amazon

The best gift for smokers

Every friend group has one, bless ‘em. Not that we’ve ever touched a cig in our lives, Mommy, but there’s nothing worse than having your smoker friends, whether they rip through Marlboro Reds or their chamomile rollies, cop your lighter every time you hang. Why not give them a lighter with personality? Wrap up this Grateful Dead x Online Ceramics lighter or planetary-themed Zippo with a fresh pack of their favorite poison, and they’ll love you forever. 

Online Ceramics x Grateful Dead

BiC Lighter

$36$32 at Grailed

Don’t underestimate the power of novelty 

The power of novelty is REAL. We’ve sussed out the strangest/most potentially cursed things you can bring home from Amazon in this VICE article, but we also suggest shopping for some novelty items that can help embellish items they already own; the Crocs-lover deserves headlights for their toesies, while the pal with AirPods should get a case shaped like a potato. 


Pearl Boba Tea Airpod Case

$15$5 at Smoko


Headlights for Crocs

$18.95$17.99 at Amazon

For the sneakerhead

Look, your streetwear-savvy pal is busy. They’re so focused on getting the winning bid on that Issey Miyake top on eBay or drooling over the latest unisex Hokas that they don’t even have time to polish their precious sneakers. That’s where this shoe cleaner set comes in handy; it has a 4.5-star average rating on Amazon and is equipped with a handy travel pouch, travel-sized versions of a cleaning foam, brush, microfiber towel, and a cleaning apron. The Jordans will sparkle.

Jason Markk

Limited Edition Shoe Cleaner Gift Set

$25$20 at Amazon

Eradicate stress with this one easy trick

Need a gift for someone who is always stressed? We looove earthy, caffeine-free soba tea, and think it’s a killer gift for anybody who could use a little help relaxing. Throw in this chic infuser for under 10 bucks.


Loose Leaf Tea Infuser

$9.99 at Amazon

BFF commemorations 

… These always go hard, because you’re also giving your person the gift of knowing that you think they’re better than all of your other friends. Plus, you get to keep half of the present, which is really what this season is all about. Bestow one-half of this necklace upon the Spock in your life.


Star Trek Friendship Necklace

$15.99 at Amazon

Last but not least, don’t skimp on the presentation. Deck out your present in some bows, ribbon, and snazzy wrapping paper to elevate your giftee’s unboxing experience; build a faux cake out of your Amazon Prime boxes, and pop out of it with your gift. Then you can sit back, sip some ‘nog, and enjoy the clams you’ve saved this holiday season.   

The Rec Room staff independently selected all of the stuff featured in this story. Want more reviews, recommendations, and red-hot deals? Sign up for our newsletter.

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