Giving Great Holiday Gifts That Cost $10 or Less

Holiday gifts don't have to empty your wallet.

And trying to think up ideas that trim the costs without limiting the fun can give you a headache. Instead, just have some fun with it, says Hillary Mendelsohn, author of "thepurplebook" series of shopping guides and founder of

"When you're spending less, it's about using your imagination, it's about color, it's about thoughtfulness," she says.

"Gifts are meant to be thoughtful (and) not necessarily expensive," Mendelsohn says. "And this is where that comes in more than any other gift -- when you're in a pinch to spend just a small amount of money."

Looking for an inexpensive but fun gift and have no idea where to begin?

Here are nine ideas to get you started. And -- best of all -- they fit a variety of giving situations, from hostess gifts to presents for hard-to-please relatives to your Secret Santa pick at the office.

Books or Glassware

Think you can't find a book for $10? Check out your bookstore's bargain table, and you'll likely find some terrific selections for just about every age and interest including food, pets, sports and science.

If your giftee prefers e-books, don't forget Amazon's "Kindle Deal of the Day" and "100 Kindle Books for $3.99 or Less" or Barnes & Noble's "Nook Books Under $5 or Less."

Another great gift for neighbors, newlyweds and anyone who has just moved into a new home? Glassware.

Everyone thinks of giving stemware in sets of six or eight. But for $10, you can bestow a beautiful pair of wine glasses, highball or low-ball glasses. Or -- for anyone who enjoys a warm cup of tea, coffee or cocoa -- a beautiful pair of glass mugs.

Or you can opt for one mug and a half-pound of good coffee.

Supplies With Style

Even if you work at a computer 10 hours a day, sooner or later you realize you need office supplies, says Christopher Lowell, designer and author of "Christopher Lowell's Seven Layers of Organization," and host of the weekly Web series, "Ask Christopher."

One great gift for a co-worker or admitted workaholic is to pull together an attractive selection of much-needed supplies -- think oversized or color-coded -- and package them so the recipient can store, grab and use them easily. Post-It Notes, push pins, paper clips and scissors fit the bill.

"Find a really cool container that goes with the person's decor," Lowell says. And, from beautiful glass jars to faux Chinese takeout containers in a variety of colors -- there are a lot of options. "Really stuff this thing," Lowell says.

Gourmet Cheese

Got a cheese lover in your life? Give them a taste of what they love, a new variety to try or a nifty gadget.

For cheese fans, consider a half-pound of something creamy and delicious such as English Stilton or Irish Cashel Blue, says Laura Werlin, the James Beard Award-winning food writer and author of "Laura Werlin's Cheese Essentials: An Insider's Guide to Buying and Serving Cheese."

Depending on the price, you might also be able to include a jar of something sweet, such as preserves or fig compote, or something salty, such as nuts or crackers, she says.

Another great combination: a salty selection, such as blue cheese or a good Parmigiano-Reggiano, and a small jar of honey, Werlin says.

If your cheese lover has a penchant for Brie or Camembert, consider giving a whole wheel of Camembert (standard size is about 8 ounces) or a wedge of Brie, she says.

Or go for one of the cool tools. Werlin says to buy a cheese planer, a knife specifically for slicing hard cheeses, or one designed for soft cheeses. Find them online or in stores for $10 or less.


You can actually get a nice bottle of wine for $10, Werlin says. The secret is to have a vendor you trust who can make a solid recommendation.

Wines in this price range include:

  • Beaujolais Nouveau: Traditionally released annually in late November and consumed within the next few seasons, "this is not a wine you save, this is a wine you drink," Werlin says. "It's meant to be fun." A good one is Georges Duboeuf.
  • Cava: A Spanish sparkling wine that is often affordable, Werlin says. One budget-priced selection she likes is Jaume Serra Cristalino Brut. If your budget allows, pair it with a few ounces of Manchego cheese for a gift with a Spanish theme.
  • Prosecco: A popular Italian sparkling wine, "it's a good way to have bubbly without having to pay a bundle, and I know people who prefer it over Champagne," Werlin says. Zonin is a brand that is good as well as budget-priced. If you can, add a chunk of Asiago cheese for an Italian-themed gift, she says.

And one way to test if your vendor's recommendation hits the mark: Buy two bottles and sample one before you give the other, Werlin says. "In the end, there's no substitute for tasting."

Music or a Few Well-Chosen Apps

Whatever it is you want to do, there's probably an app for that. App lovers often find the best ones through word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and family, Lowell says. "Then you say, 'How did I live without that?'"

So if you know of a couple of amazing apps, give them as gifts, he says.

Most apps these days run anywhere from 99 cents to $2.99, Lowell says. And that gives gift-givers plenty of leeway to select a few that really suit the needs of their recipients, he says.

In a similar vein, you can create a music playlist. On iTunes, songs run from 69 cents to $1.29 -- which means you have a lot of choices if you have a $10 budget.

"It's the emotional equivalent of the old mix tape," says Lowell. "Say it with music."

A playlist can also make a great hostess gift if you're going to a holiday party, he says. "A lot of times people get the party going, but they forget about the music."

Great Memories

USB drives are multimedia tools, and you can use them for photos, music or a slideshow.

"Download photos from times you spend with these people and wrap that in a fabulous box," Lowell says. You can include things such as songs you all love, pictures of the last vacation you spent together, or whatever would be fun and meaningful.

Or give them one great photo, Lowell says. "Most of us take pictures with our smartphones, and they stay on our smartphones."

So select one good shot of your recipient, and crop it on your computer. You can even render it in black and white for an artsy look, he says. Then print it and put it in a frame with matting.

"Who doesn't want a photo of themselves looking fabulous or their family looking great?" Lowell says.

Secrets, Candy and Rare Money

Looking for the perfect gift for someone who really loves your culinary specialty? Give them the recipe. You can package it up with something you use to make the dish such as a wooden spoon or your super-secret ingredient.

Or maybe your recipient has a weakness for a particular type of candy. Get an old-fashioned candy jar and fill it, Mendelsohn says. "It's the most colorful gift in the world."

And if the kids in your family have never seen a $2 bill -- or, like many people, don't even know they're being printed -- that can make a fun gift.

"Get them a couple of $2 bills and a couple of gold dollars," Mendelsohn says. And, best of all, you should be able to find them at your bank.

For Emergencies

Sometimes the gift that's valued most is the one someone can reach for in an emergency such as a flashlight for the glove compartment.

A couple of others that can come in handy:

A prepaid phone card. "It's the kind of thing that's only $10, but you stick it in the visor of your car," Lowell says. "If you run out of minutes, you know there's always an emergency amount of 10 to 15 minutes on that card."

A gas gift card. The tank is nudging toward "E" and so is your wallet. Having an emergency gas card might not get you a full tank, but it will buy "enough to get you to where you need to be," Lowell says.

Indulge Favorite Hobbies or Give a Piece of Childhood

Have a friend who thinks about fishing most of the time?

Hit the sports shop and buy a great lure, Mendelsohn says. "You only buy one, but it's the one he doesn't have."

Or, if you know the person is getting a bicycle for Christmas, you can buy a bell, she says. "The bell is the joy of riding the bike."

Or tap into their happy childhood memories.

"Get them their favorite childhood book," Mendelsohn says, adding that this has been one of her go-to gifts ever since she received it as an expectant mom. "It's one of the best presents I ever got."