20 Gifts UNDER $20

A few days ago, I saw a “Presents Under $50” list that made me roll my eyes HARD and then ask my family to roll THEIR eyes, too, because my own two were an INSUFFICIENT NUMBER of eyes to roll in response. It wasn’t the general idea of presents under $50. I’m at least theoretically all for that. It was this specific list that caused the eye gymnastics. 

First, the list called its 30 items “white elephant gifts,” which, at least as far as I understand it, means these are the items the list-makers assume are good for either a) general gift-giving appealing to all sorts of people when you don’t know who’s going to end up with them, and/or b) gag gifts. I mean, if you’re spending $50 on gag gifts, more power to you, friend. Also, I want an invitation to your party, please, because that would be a cool cross-cultural experience for me. But at no time, in the history of my life upon this fine earth, have I ever, EVER spent $50 on a white elephant gift. 

Second, the list called $50 the “sweet spot price,” and “cool, cheap presents,” and “affordable.” Which… maybe… except for the fact that…

Third, the list includes items like:

  • a $47 mini mug
  • a $16 velvet hair ribbon
  • a $35 hair comb
  • a $45 bottle of handwash clothes detergent
  • a $10 one-time-use, plastic drinking straw 
  • and more items that made me cock my head to the side and go… what??

For a while, I thought the list must be satire — surely it was a joke — but a little sleuthing uncovered the fact that it’s legit. That’s when the eye rolling began. And when I started typing in all caps. PLEASE HELP ME UNDERSTAND WHO SPENDS $16 FOR A STRIP OF VELVET. PLEASE HELP ME UNDERSTAND $35 FOR A COMB. I mean, does the comb LIGHT UP? Does it BRING ME A BEER FROM THE FRIDGE? Does it MORPH INTO A GENIE AND OFFER ME THREE WISHES? I’m on a Need to Know basis over here — I NEED TO KNOW HOW THIS IS EVEN A THING. I can get 3 YARDS of velvet ribbon at Joann Fabric for $4, y’all. And a 3-pack of hair combs is $0.99 at the grocery store… or, if you want to be extravagant, you can get a fancy comb with a HANDLE for $1.49. Right? I mean, a small bottle of detergent for A TASK I REFUSE TO DO costs $45? And that’s a “cool, cheap, sweet spot” gift? Gah. Don’t worry about me, friends; I’ll just be over here hyperventilating on the floor.

Eventually, once I forced my eyes back down out of my forehead, I decided to put together my own list of gifts for under $20. Because clearly SOMEONE MUST. While $20 STILL may not be the “sweet spot” for gift pricing, it’s a heck of a lot sweeter than $50. Besides, the prices for the gifts below go down as low as $5, AND they’re not gag gifts. There’s stuff in here for kids and adults, bigger presents and stockings, picky teens, travel gear, jewelry, and more.


{And…psst… A BIG HUGE THANK YOU to all of you who helped put together this list of BETTER STUFF for $20 or less. You’re the raddest.}


Fred Bonehead Folding Dinosaur Comb, $14 — OK; I couldn’t resist starting with a comb. While I must admit, $14 is still, in my opinion, too pricey for ONE COMB, this one is a far cooler version than the $35 number, AND it’s fun enough to perhaps convince my kids to actually use it. 


4M Science Kits, $9-17 — a wide variety available, great for kids elementary age on up. Tin can robot pictured. Other options include crystal growing, kitchen science, potato clock, hover racer, water rocket, weather science, solar rover and more.


Mobile Phone Camera Lens for Macro and Wide Angle Photos, $15 — Not gonna lie — I’m hoping Greg reads carefully enough to put this in my stocking. Highly rated mobile phone clip-on lens to improve photo quality. Two lenses in one… a wide angle and a macro lens. Excellent for amateur photographers who want to up their photo quality. (THAT’S ME, GREG.)


Stainless Steel Reuseable Straws , $7 — Honestly, who wants a one-time-use plastic straw for $10 when you can get SIX REUSEABLE straws for $7? This one’s a win, and it comes with cleaning brushes. Hooray!


Infrared Flying Hover Ball, $12 — This looks like an amazing gift for older kids, teens, and grown-ups like me who think we’re still children. We’ll be launching these on Christmas morning. Sure, a lamp or two may get broken, but let’s be honest; that was going to happen with or without dueling hover balls. 


BEAST Double Wall Stainless Steel Tumbler gift bundle, $18 — You know what I hate about stainless steel tumblers? The fact that they’re handwash only. Not this one, though. This one’s dishwasher safe and comes with some of those stainless steel straws I mentioned above. I’ll take this over a $47 mini-mug any day, no matter how cute that mug is.


Handcrafted Cutting Boards, Cheese Boards and Coasters at Swamp Otter Designs, starting at $15. The board pictured is handmade with cherry, walnut, red oak and maple, finished with food-grade mineral oil, measures 8”x7.5”x1.25”, and sells for $15. Beautiful AND supports a small business owner and artist. 



Ladies’ Owl Socks, 5 pair, $14 — Guess what’s going in my kids’ stockings this year? Yep! These have already arrived at my door. 


John’s Crazy Socks, $6-12 per pair — John has a very cool story! Click that link to learn more. He sells ALL KINDS of cool socks, most for $6/pair. I’m currently trying to decide between Talking Goat Socks, Nasturtiums, and Portraits of Barack Obama. I just need to find out from John how well those Obama socks are going to soak up my tears. 


Sterling Silver Mesh Chain Bracelet, $19 — I bought this bracelet for myself two years ago, and it’s become my all-time FAVORITE. I wear it almost daily. It lays beautifully on my wrist without flipping, the mesh adds visual interest to a basic bracelet that goes with everything, and the price is right. Love this one.


VERO MONTE Slipper Socks, 2 pair for $20 — choice of grey or white. Classic sock slippers in white and grey options. 


Long-ass, Fast Charging, Durable iPhone Cable, $11 — While technically “long-ass” isn’t part of this product’s name, it should be. That’s what makes it great. It’s 6’ long, Apple certified, and charges FAST. 



Hummingbird Purse Mirror by New Hampshire Pewter, $16 — A lovely artisan product, this is the perfect small mirror to carry for those of us who care about such things. 😉 


Never Trust An Atom (They Make Up Everything) T-Shirt, $8 — Also available in a women’s v-neck, these are awesome science-geek-approved daywear. I get Greg a geeky shirt for Christmas every year. He always needs new t-shirts, and the price point is perfect. Last year’s shirt pictured a cat and a box and said, “Schroedenger’s Cat Wanted: Dead and Alive.” There are hundreds of clever shirts to choose from once you start looking online, and most are under $10. 



Handbag Hook, $5 — I love mine! This sucker unfolds so that the disk in the center can be placed on a table, and the linked metal around the disk forms a hook. It’s an easy, reliable way to hang my purse on the table when I go out. No more putting it on the floor, and easy to carry in my bag with me. Holds a surprising amount of weight.



Mini Backpack, available in 6 color combinations, $7 — I felt like I was taking a risk with these when I bought them for my kids last year. I mean, a $7 backpack can’t be perfect quality, can it? I took a risk and bought two anyway, and they’re one of my best purchases. We’ve been using them for 18 months now, through several trips, as kids’ daypacks. They’ve been awesome. Perfect size for kids to carry their own gear! Up mountains, through airports, they’ve been fantastic. The adults keep borrowing them, too.



Gerber Paraframe Knife, $17 — High quality, durable, all purpose knife. My 11yo bought this one with his birthday money last year on the recommendation of my father, the Marine. It has lived up to every expectation. Gerber makes excellent products, and this knife has served my kid well while camping and whittling in the backyard. My favorite part is it sharpens easily and maintains a sharp edge which (believe it or not) helps reduce the risk of injury. Has my child cut himself with this knife? YEP! Sure has. Even though a Marine trained him in its use. Nothing a bandaid can’t fix, though, and a great knife to learn on. 



Camping Hammock, $18 — Speaking of outdoor gear, hammocks are just all-around rad and an ongoing favorite of my kids. This one is highly rated and comes with straps and carabiners for hanging. 



Flingshot Slingshot Flying Screaming Monkey, $7 — For parents who have lost their everloving minds and simply no longer care what gets broken. You thought the hover balls were bad? I have no doubt these are worse. Which is why we’re getting at least two. I DID discover there’s a way to dismantle the screaming portion, though. I mean, I AM out of my mind, but I still have some standards. 



Bottle of Wine: Myriad Options Under $20 — There’s a reason a bottle of wine is a perpetual favorite. The bottles are often lovely, you can find very decent wines at reasonable prices if you know where to look (hint: ask the wine merchant at Trader Joe’s for the best bottles at your price point), and it’s always classy. Pictured here: wine I love from Anne Amie in Oregon’s beautiful Willamette Valley


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13 responses to “20 Gifts UNDER $20”

  1. Thanks, Beth! I ordered a couple of these things, and a couple of the “people who bought this also looked at ….” items also. I HATE those “under $50” articles with a passion. And I think we are just smarter than people who spend that kind of money.

  2. YOU. ROCK!
    The flying monkeys were here years ago, and apparently we used them a LOT as I know I eventually tossed them from the arms being so stretched out, and our sound boxes gave up after a few weeks. My crew is a lot competitive, what can I say? We enjoyed them thoroughly!
    Your list gives me hope that I can be cool mom. Thank you tons!!

  3. The bracelet and slipper sock links both go to the owl socks, rather than the intended item. Thought you’d want to know so you can fix that!

  4. There is a FREE gift waiting for your address so it can get to your stocking (or Greg’s, whatever suits you best), but since you seem to ignore your emails (or maybe your mailbox thought my message was spam…), it will be late… And why is everything cheaper on your side of the ocean?! I have two stainless steel straws and one brush, cost me more than 7 dollars if I remember well. But still, am happy, cause they are being used – often. We are trying the “no” presents (for the adults) this year. Will turn into “almost” no presents but still, interesting exercise! Please also visit EmilyMcDowells studio, they have more cool gifts under $20 (They might want to get to know you by the way – I think there could be a nice collaboration – should have thought of that before, would have waited before placing my order. I’d love a waiving in the dark mug or card or magnet – please?). Can we try to get any “cheap under $50 lists” banned though? Please, please, PLEASE?

  5. Yeah, those “under $50” lists filled with crazy overpriced stuff always make me a little nuts. Spending $50 in our family would make it a “major gift” not some “white elephant” present. YOUR list, though, is pretty cool.

    We actually *have* those stainless straws and love them (Christmas, last year!) and I’m thinking of putting the mobile phone camera lens on my own list this year — that seems like a good price for something a blogger could definitely use. And the stainless steel insulated tumblers! I normally drink my water out of a mason jar with one of those cute lids (and, yep, one of those stainless steel straws!) but my poor little grandson keeps dropping them on the floor and canning jars may be tough but they are definitely *not* unbreakable!!

    Hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday season! Or, at least, that you survive it! 😉

  6. #1 – do not get the flying monkey unless you hate the person you are gifting. They will fly and scream around your house for weeks, then randomly come out again and inopportune times and scare the crap out of you!
    #2 – the hover ball is super cool and a piece of crap. I got it for $5 at FiveBelow last year. Worth $5 and it’s definitely $5 worth of entertainment, but not $12! I’m super cheap, can you tell!? 🙂

  7. I am in charge of our family Bingo Extravaganza prizes this year. Which means that I need to get about 20 prizes somewhere in the $5-$8 range that will satisfy anyone from a 10 year old girl to teen boys to grown adults. I could just get lots and lots of chocolate, but variety is good, so I’m thinking a screaming monkey and maybe something else will find their way into the pile. Also, my 15 year old needs the Atom shirt in his stocking.

  8. I can guarantee you there was nothing on that list of gifts under $50 that I would like better than a $20 gift card to Powell’s.

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