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 24 bucks.
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 $35.
Does your lucky recipient have a mouth? Do you have a hunch that they might enjoy skincare, or would like to avoid the fate of cracked winter lips? The Laneige lip mask is a cult-fave lip-saver that has earned a 4.7-star average rating from over 17,600 reviews on Amazon, and it even made it into the bridesmaid gift bags of Emily Mariko’s crew (a very specific, but trusted source for living life deliciously/like a wealthy Bay Area person). Give your giftee the $24 lip mask with a box of strawberries, or cop Sephora’s gift bundle that includes the lip mask and a berry lip balm.
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.
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.
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.
Tinned fish is so hot right now; embrace it.
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).
Picasso, Van Gogh, Hemingway, your mom—everyone who’s anyone hot and creative has used a Moleskine journal, or wanted to try one. This is the Grandpa’s-leather-jacket of writing journals; the kind of notebook that just gets more buttery with age.
Speaking of leather—have y’all tried painting on your old leather jackets/berets/fanny packs yet? It looks cool, and is the perfect hermit-y winter activity. Plus, you can breathe down their neck while they paint to pressure them into embellishing their jawn with “This [redacted] is reserved for [redacted].”
For that friend who’s always stressed
We all have a bit of Virgo in us, amiright? Find your perpetually stressed-out bud some relaxing essential oils to sploosh in the shower, such as eucalyptus (which can help alleviate congestion) or lavender (a scent many find calming/très fairycore). Pair it with a bundle of actual eucalyptus leaves with (you guessed it) a dapper red ribbon, and voilà.
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.
The best gifts to make music snobs happy
Don’t get intimidated by this task, young laird. May we humbly suggest wooing the vinyl-lover in your life with the weirdest album you could find at Goodwill or an indisputable banger—such as this Patsy Cline album—and a set of industry expert-recommended record sleeves? It will make you look like you know your shit.
Don’t underestimate 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.
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 4.4-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.
ICYMI, streetwear candles are a thing. Help your brother in Christ light this sneak up in praise of Raf, and the drip shall floweth.
… 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.
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.