If life were the Hallmark channel, Christmas shopping would be picturesque and easy. Snow would fall softly outside of cozily lit stores, Bing Crosby’s dulcet tones drifting from within. In one gloved hand would be several shopping bags of successful purchases, in the other, a hot chocolate—or, maybe, a credit card with no limit and no bills.
In reality, however, it’s often more like stress-clicking through page after page of Amazon search results, poring over absurdly pricey gift guides, and hunting through your email inbox for coupon codes. Christmas shopping is expensive, and that’s to say nothing of the difficulty of choosing just the right gift for everyone on your list.
We’ve rounded up some of our favorite gifts—either that we’ve given or received—for you to consider for your loved ones this year. Best of all, they’re as inexpensive as they are beloved: all of them are under $30, with some as low as $10 (as of this writing). Read on for our picks.
The YETI mug
Why? Let me count the ways. First, it can actually help moderate your caffeine consumption, because there’s no pressure to drink your coffee too fast; it will still be hot in another hour. And when one cup of coffee can stretch over the course of a morning, you may not even need the second or third.
Second, and perhaps a little counterintuitively, it does not actually keep your coffee that hot for that long. Some of the other products out there on the market are frankly a little too extreme in their insulation, and I’m not interested in scalding my tongue at all, let alone three hours after I’ve poured my coffee.
And finally, between its myriad color options and its clean, modern look, it is widely appealing aesthetically. (You can even add a monogram or logo if you order it directly from their website.)
– Laura Loker
Cookbook: Twenty Dinners
I leave this cookbook on my side table as a snare for unwitting passersby—if anyone remarks on it I go off for ten minutes about the photography, the writing, the food. Full disclosure, no one really gave me this book—I fell in love with it at a bookstore—but it would make the perfect gift for anyone you know who is stuck in a cooking rut or is setting up their first kitchen.
The cookbook is organized into twenty dinner menus, grouped by season. That seasonal rhythm and the stunning photography that accompanies the recipes make the cookbook a joy to read cover to cover. The recipes are occasionally on the fancy side, but the focus on seasonal produce and simple food means they’re not unreachable; they’re just elegant alternatives for date night or a cut above the usual dinner-guest fare.
The authors also offer practical, realistic advice on everything from picking produce to buying knives. The chapter on cocktails is a whirlwind tour, narrative-style, of tons of classic cocktails, complete with recipes—and that’s not to mention the chapter on coffee!
It’s a beautiful book, with gorgeous photography, lots of white space, and a thick, matte hardcover. Even if your intended recipient never cracked the cover in the kitchen, it would be a lovely gift as a coffee-table book.
As an added bonus, Twenty Dinners is currently retailing well under twenty dollars!
– Emily Lehman
Some years ago, when my husband and I were living in an urban area with one shared car that he drove to work, I bought a used scooter to do some solo errands, and—who am I kidding—just to enjoy the thrill of riding a scooter. My husband and loved ones were slightly terrified I’d get into a wreck and die, but ultimately they were happy that I was happy. All this led to my favorite gift of all time: red leather biker gloves from my husband.
When we moved and got a second car, I sold my scooter, but I still love and wear my red biker gloves. They work great for winter and bring an adventurous feel to my daily errands. It sort of reminds me of when Michelle Jaconi shared in a Verily interview how she drives a pickup truck to work even though she doesn’t need such a vehicle for her DC-based job, simply because getting in the seat transports her to an adventurous driving experience.
Leather biker gloves are fabulous for mobility, since many are designed for a snug fit protecting your knuckles often leaving fingertips open, maintaining access for touch-screen devices; there are also designs that cover all your fingers as well. If you live somewhere that gets cold during the winter, gloves are the warming accessory everyone wants but many don’t splurge on for themselves. Also, gloves can be like the socks for hands—even if you have a pair, there’ll be a time you’re missing the match, so it doesn’t hurt to have an extra on hand.
– Mary Rose Somarriba
I have always been a great lover of word games, but Bananagrams is by far my favorite. It’s sort of like Scrabble, in that it involves building interconnected words. But it’s MUCH faster—rather than accumulating points, agonizing over which play will earn you the most, it’s all about speed. The goal is to be the first person to use all your letter tiles, no matter how simple the words may be. A round only takes a few minutes, and the more people you have playing, the faster it goes!
There are many reasons I love this game, but one is that it can be played with both small and large groups. My husband and I often play it one-on-one, but it’s also super fun to play with extended family or friends. It’s also easy to learn, so you don’t have to spend a lot of time explaining things but can get to playing fairly quickly. All the letter tiles fit neatly in a little banana-shaped pouch (hence, the name), making it easy to store and transport. And it’s only about $15, so definitely budget-friendly!
If you know someone who already enjoys Bananagrams, you might consider getting them Bananagrams: Party Edition—along with letters, there are tiles with pictures that instruct players to do certain tasks (or bestow them on others), like taking a lap around the table, playing while standing on one foot, or completely messing up someone else’s letter grid. It’s a great game for small gatherings (though best played with more than two players), and it’s sure to create a lot of laughter!
– Kellie Moore
Doss SoundBox Touch Portable Speaker
I love listening to a good podcast or audiobook while I’m cooking, cleaning, or working around my home. Before I had the Doss SoundBox Touch Portable Speaker, I used headphones or just turned the volume up on my phone. But that was an imperfect strategy, because I didn’t always have a pocket to stash my phone in, or I’d move out of earshot of my phone, inevitably missing a critical part of the podcast or book I was listening to.
Admittedly, I was late to the bluetooth speaker party, believing that it was an excess accessory I didn’t need to clutter my home. Maybe you know someone like me? This is a gift they might not buy for themselves but I’m certain they’ll be glad they have.
This speaker not only makes it easier for me to listen while I work, it has such great sound quality that I no longer really enjoy listening to music or podcasts on my phone if I don’t have it hooked up to the speaker (or headphones).
The speaker uses a bluetooth connection that automatically syncs up once your phone has remembered. It’s lightweight and small, and therefore easy to move around your home or even take on a trip. And at less than $30, it’s on the less expensive end of the tech-accessory spectrum.
– Meg McDonnell
As you hit the stores (whether online or in person) this year: we wish you luck!