Great Gifts Don’t Have to Be a Budget Bummer. These Surprising Gems Are All Under $25.

The decidedly unfestive pressure of budgets can hamper the fun of the holidays each December. Even if you’ve tried to save up for gifts (not to mention travel, special meals, donations, and those addictive little peppermint chocolate squares my mom hooked me on), it’s easy to overspend and find yourself resenting the spirit of generosity that should animate the season. But it doesn’t have to be this way. That’s why this year, Slate writers and editors curated a guide of lovely items that happen to be inexpensive—charming, unexpected gifts we’ve received over the years that, at $25 or less, won’t drain your account, but will delight everyone on your list. Call them mere “stocking stuffers” if you like, but presented proudly and with good cheer, we think they deserve to be the main event.

Remember the “omg it has my name on it!” energy you’d feel as a kid when you saw one of those sparkly, personalized plastic magnets or license plates that hang on spinning racks at souvenir shops? A custom leather keychain that my best friend sent me for my birthday one year gave me that same excited feeling—while still being understated and practical enough that I actually use it. —Shannon Palus, features editor

A row of the multicolored leather keyrings recommended.

A friend got my husband and me a wine aerator as a wedding gift, something like these. If you are a Fancy Wine Person, you will know that aerating your wine—i.e., exposing it to oxygen—can enhance flavors and, at least according to Amazon listings, “double the value of your bottle” (or, as long as we’re trading in hyperbole: “make every wine taste like a million dollars”). We are not Fancy Wine People, and most often buy wine in six-packs at Costco—but now when we pour Costco wine using the aerator, it feels infinitely more special. —Mia Armstrong-López, managing editor of Future Tense

Red wine pours through an aerator.

My friend Emily is the wizard of hostess gifts—lovely, useful things like a packet of gardening gloves (you go through them fast). But best of all is this amazing “Spaghetti Monster” colander, which I use all the time. I’ve bought a bunch of fancy metal ones, but this is much more pleasant to use due to the eyeball handles. They make grabbing it off the shelf in passing easy, and they make turning pasta out into a skillet even easier. All colanders should have handles like these! —Laura Miller, books and culture columnist

The colander is yellow and has handles that are eyes on stalks.

Does your loved one own a home? Have a patch of earth they like to poke around in? Garbage bins they have to take to the curb? If so, these are the best all-purpose utility gloves out there, and I’ve used them more times than I thought I would when they appeared in a Christmas stocking some years back. I’ve even used them to take hot pans out of the oven. If you are giving a gift to an adult who is responsible for some bit of property, just know that the question marks that will appear in their eyes when they unwrap these puppies will be replaced with wistful gratitude some months on when they realize they can’t live without your thoughtful gift. (Thanks, Mom.) —Mary Harris, host and managing editor of What Next

Orange rubbery gloves say Wonder Grip on them.

In January 2022, Oscar Mayer, purveyor of deli meats and hot dogs, came out with its own sheet mask, presumably to capitalize on the long folk tradition of people putting slices of bologna on their faces like masks. The company’s gambit seemed to be that it would delight people like me, people who somewhat shamefully love a lunchmeat you are really not supposed to love past the age of 10 or so. And delight us it did—so well, in fact, that the masks instantly sold out, and I was devastated not to get one. So when a very dear friend managed to find one on eBay a little while later and surprise me with it, I was over the moon. The only problem now is that I love the mask too much to use it. What occasion could possibly be special enough? On the other hand, it would be tragic to open it one day only to find it dried up … I imagine this is how it must feel to own a very fine bottle of wine. —Heather Schwedel, staff writer

The packaging of the face mask looks like the packaging of bologna ... but it's a face mask!
Oscar Mayer

A while ago, my mom started a project of trying to lessen her consumption, particularly in the kitchen, which filtered down to her children in the form of practical Christmas gifts (Swedish towels, for example). One great item she discovered is Bee’s Wrap—it’s a strange waxy paper that you can basically bend into covering and storing anything you want. She mostly uses it for cheese, which is so much nicer looking in the fridge than cheese in Ziploc bags, but it can cover bowls, store bread and sandwiches, etc. Very functional, very cute, and just under budget, at $24.99 for a roll! Bonus: They also sell Swedish dishcloths. —Susan Matthews, executive editor

A sheet of waxy paper has honeycombs and the brand name Bee's Wrap printed on it.
Bees Wrap

Edibles! After months of convincing me they were legal and OK to use here in California, my wife bought me my first tin of edibles. Years of marijuana panic from my family and others made it hard to accept that we could have a dispensary legally deliver a weed product to the house. But I’m so grateful, because as it turns out, I needed those gummies, and they truly opened my mind up to another way to relax. If you live somewhere where you can do the same legally, and the person you’re thinking of is game for some THC, I couldn’t recommend them more. —Joel Anderson, staff writer

A box of Kraft Mac & Cheese Spirals—my favorite kind of mac and cheese! Of course, it’s super cheap and I could buy it for myself, but receiving such a specific gift of something I loved was an unexpected delight. It was a reminder that I was seen by this person, that he was familiar with the little things in my life that bring me joy! —Anna Gibbs, science intern

The classic blue box design of good old Kraft Mac & Cheese (spirals edition).

Candle warmer! I’m a candle freak, and the Bath and Body Works subreddit has always recommended buying a candle warmer, which is basically a small overhead lamp for your candle. I bought myself one and its benefits are endless: They melt wax instead of burning it so your candles last four times longer, there’s no flame so you don’t have to babysit it, and it’s technically a lamp, so you can create a really cozy reading nook/candle situation. —Candice Lim, co-host of ICYMI

It's a wood and glass lamp that hangs over your candle.

This chili oil with crunchy garlic is a perfect topping, great on eggs, sandwiches, rice bowls, roasted vegetables, whatever. It’s a lurid, nearly phosphorescent red, which makes people very nervous when they open it. Also, this is like $15 and you get two jars; one for your loved one, one for you. —Dan Kois, staff writer

The jar of garlic chili belies its phosphorescent contents.

After a decade of writing The Far Side, cartoonist Gary Larson released this delightfully humble book where he dissects what makes his humor work (and a few times it didn’t). When I was a teenager, my parents must have given this “prehistory” to me, and I’m sure I appreciated it then, but I actually appreciate it more now—and have even given it to other grown-ups as a gift myself. As a person who does creative labor (uh, I think of it like that, anyway), I just find it inspiring to see someone reveal their process so candidly. Bonus: It’s funny. If you want to be fancy, you can splurge on a hardcover version. —Mary Harris, host and managing editor of What Next

The cover of the book about The Far Side features an illustration of a boy looking up at a dinosaur skeleton in a museum.

A coffee warming plate. I’ve been gifted several of these in the past (people know I like coffee), and this one doesn’t heat the coffee too much and scorch it like the other ones I’ve gotten. Plus, it turns on automatically with the weight of a mug placed on top of it, it makes a satisfying click, and you don’t need to fiddle with any buttons to use it. —Jonathan Zuckerman, website developer

A white coffee warmer is like a thick coaster and has a very aesthetically pleasing white cup of coffee on top.

Why should you buy Banana Hanger Modern Bananas Holder Organizer with Durable Wood Base Sturdy Metal Hook for Home Kitchen Countertop Useful Simple Charming Design Tree Stand Hanging Fresh Food Storage Container for your friend or loved one, as my loved one did for me? Banana Hanger (for short) will, in one fell swoop, elevate the fruits above the counter, making it so they ripen perfectly evenly, and also turn them into a pretty little sculpture for your kitchen. I don’t know why it’s Amazon’s Choice in the category of Egg Baskets, but I don’t even care! —Rebecca Onion, senior editor

This is a little wood circle with a nice black half-arch coming out of it elevating bananas.

The best inexpensive gift I have given myself is a cheap bidet. If you can get over the slight weirdness of giving a bidet to someone else as a gift, rest assured that you have just changed their life for the better. Recipients will find themselves using less toilet paper and feeling cleaner. The downside is that they won’t be able to travel again without cursing most hotels’ lack of a handy butt-washer, but never fear—you can also gift them a travel bidet, which is handily at our price point. —Jenny Zhang, senior editor

A black water bottle-looking item has a gift bow on it.

Native heirloom beans. Get behind them! They last forever, are fiber-rich and nutritious, and buying them supports sustainable and Indigenous practices, which the world definitely needs more of. Goya could never. I cannot recommend Ramona Farms tepary beans enough; they are drought-resistant beans cultivated for over a millennia by the Akimel O’odham and Tohono O’odham. I also love the Rancho Gordo-Xoxoc Project, in which every product promotes small farmers in Mexico growing native plants. The ayocote beans are so delicious in a chili or salad, not to mention gorgeous, and I highly recommend ditching your bodega oregano for the Oregano Indio. You cannot go wrong with these beans—I promise they will convert you. Become a bean stan today and share the love. —Shasha Léonard, systems administrator

Black beans in a nice woven basket.
Ramona Farms
Oregano leaves both in a jar and in a nice wooden bowl.
Rancho Gordo

My ex-father-in-law gave me a little plastic pan scraper that changed my life! I love to roast chicken, and this little thing helps me easily get all the best bits off the bottom of the pan to use for drippings or to make gravy. Sure, you could use the old spatula you already have. But I promise that you will get more off the bottom of the pan, and more easily, with this little tool! —Hillary Frey, editor in chief

A small kitchen scraper is blue and white and has a rolled raised edge to grab.

My mom often gives me extremely thoughtful, for-no-reason care packages that feature small items from the self-care aisle of health-food stores. One of them contained these lemon essential-oil towelettes. They are phenomenal. You know how if you’re on a long flight and it’s gotten kinda stuffy and then someone pulls out an orange and peels it, the scent kind of freshens everything up? Opening one of the little packets (they come individually wrapped) was a lot like that, but more intense. It was the first time I really understood the place of the word “therapy” in “aromatherapy.” The scent made me so happy! I felt alive and energized! It seriously changed my mood. The package says they can clean your keyboard, and I’m sure that’s true, but they really should be sold as an antidepressant in towelette form. —Jenée Desmond-Harris, writer, editor, and Dear Prudence columnist

A bag of the towelettes has a big bright lemon on it.
Herban Essentials

There’s something so satisfying about receiving a set of Mildliner markers. Staring at that rainbow of soothing pastel shades, there’s a sense of open-ended possibility—maybe you’ll finally start bullet-journaling this year, or reread a favorite book and fill it with aesthetically pleasing annotations. You can use them to mark up a big ol’ pile of court documents, if that’s your thing, or to give a little pizazz to your daily to-do lists and take the edge off what might otherwise fill you with an atmospheric sense of dread about the inexorable forward march of time. Anyway! What were we talking about? Oh yes! Cute highlighters. Good gift all around.
—Braden Goyette, news editor

The markers are arranged in a sunburst shape.

Magazine subscriptions are blasphemously cheap. Their rapid devaluation in recent decades reflects the collapse of print media and the withering of the journalism industry—and makes them wonderful inexpensive gifts! For me (and, I suspect, many millennial peers), print magazines still hold connotations of luxury. And one of the most luxurious subscriptions you can bestow on a loved one is a year of Architectural Digest. My sister gave me one last Christmas, and it has been a cherished source of aspirational jealousy ever since. I will never be able to afford most of the furniture and real estate featured in the magazine—though it did turn me on to a pair of reasonably affordable candlesticks from the MoMA store—but that provides much of the fun, leading me to travel down new rabbit holes and imagine new lives by Googling phrases such as “Paolo Pallucco chair how much” and “wall of marble how much” and “Madrid apartment how much.” I like the exercise of looking at other people’s design choices and thinking about what makes them appealing or repulsive to me. I’ve also enjoyed the convenience of always having a few issues around to pack for a beach trip or plane ride, ready to be discarded on site—lightening my carry-on!—when I’m done. —Christina Cauterucci, senior writer

This magazine cover has a room with ornate walls, a pink couch with matching curtains, and a dark wood coffee table.
Architectural Digest

OK, this is breaking the rules a little bit, but the best inexpensive gift I’ve ever given has got to be a squirrel table—a little picnic-bench feeder for, yes, squirrels. It will cost you around $20.
I gave one to my parents in 2020 when I couldn’t visit them over the winter holidays, and while it didn’t ease the pain of separation, it did give them a fun new thing to look out the window and observe. There are a bunch of squirrel tables for sale online; some even come with miniature picnic-table umbrellas, though that feels a little extra to me. In the center of each squirrel table there is usually a small trough for corn, or an upright nail to hold a corncob in place. Buy some animal-feed-grade corn and set it up and it will not take long for fat suburban rodents to appear. (I don’t think I’d recommend this gift for a loved one living in a dense city.) The squirrels will make quick work of the corn, and you may find yourself ordering bags of hog food to keep up with the demand. But unless your loved one has a squirrel phobia, they will be absolutely delighted by seeing these creatures sitting at a picnic table, humanlike, making an absolute mess. Great for all ages! —Natalie Shutler, politics director

A squirrel with pointy tufts on his ears sits at a tiny picnic table with paws to his mouth.