Written By
Published Nov. 19, 2021

Giving gifts on a budget can get very tricky. If you plan to spread holiday cheer widely, those small purchases can really add up. Whether you need some cheap gifts for co-workers and distant relatives, plan to attend a White Elephant holiday party with a price limit, or just need to keep the spending down this year, this list has you covered. After all, the best gifts under $50 can make someone just as happy as a present that breaks the bank. 

Cuisinart SG-10 Spice and Nut Grinder

Fresh Ground Spices

The Cuisinart SG-10 isn’t a flashy kitchen tool, but it’s good at what it does.

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Price: $39.95 (down from $75.00)

A spice grinder acts as a mini blender you can use to blitz whole seeds for spice mixes (or whole beans for your coffee). It’s one of those niche little kitchen tools that can really amplify certain kinds of cooking. You can get a decent model for extremely cheap, but Cuisinart’s SG-10, which is frequently rated among the best of them, currently goes for $39.95 on Amazon. It isn’t going to change someone’s life, but it’s one of the few things I know of you can get someone the best, most luxurious version of a gift for less than $50.

Zojirushi Stainless Steel Vacuum Insulated Mug

Keep Their Coffee (And Their Spirit) Warm

Everyone who tries Zojirushi’s insulated mug says it’s the best for keeping hot beverages from chilling on the long march to the office.

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Price: $27.99 (down from $45.00)

If you know, you know. Japanese kitchen equipment manufacturer Zojirushi is generally regarded as one of, if not the best manufacturer of niche culinary tools. Its offerings include rice cookers, coffee makers, and, yes, travel mugs. Over the years, I’ve heard friends, colleagues, podcasters, and YouTubers give off-hand rave reviews about the Zojirushi mug’s ability to keep your hot drinks hot for longer than your average commuter cup. If you know someone returning to office life this year, this will help keep their morning coffee a little hotter each morning.

Wax seal stamp kit

Give Their Correspondence Gravitas

If they have a pen pal, a wax seal kit will their letters look very special.

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Price: $19.79

If you have someone on your list who sends letters (or likes the idea of sending them), a wax seal will make their correspondence more luxurious and theatrical. Both of those are qualities that I, for one, would look for from a piece of physical mail in 2021 and beyond. As you might expect, the price of a seal can get very expensive, but this stamp kit costs less than $20 and comes with a set of either nature- or night sky-themed designs; two things that we love here at PopSci.

Mugooler Collapsible Popcorn Bowl

The Best Popcorn Container

Collapsible bowls are always helpful, and popcorn is always delicious.

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Price: $12.99

As recommended by Gee Thanks, Just Bought It, a podcast where experts and pundits evangelize their favorite products, this collapsible, microwave-safe popcorn bowl is marketed specifically for making popcorn, but is also just an incredibly helpful thing to have in the kitchen.

Poj Studio Incense Kit

Smell Better, Feel Better

POJ Studio’s incense kit makes it easy and fun to create your own incense.

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Price: $52.00 (It’s two bucks over. Give me a break)

An incense making kit offers a double dose of relaxation: The process provides a fun activity, and the incense you make serves up a little aromatherapy. This kit from Poj Studio, which specializes in traditional Japanese crafts made with sustainable practices, comes in three scents including Yuzu and Sakura. This is a great crafty gift for people who don’t have enough time to do crafty things: The process of making the incense only takes 30 minutes of active work. (The incense has to dry for a couple of days after, but they’re just leaving on a shelf). It may be just over the $50 line, but this gift is great because almost anyone can enjoy it.

North Spore Mushroom Grow Kit

Mushroom Garden in a Box

North Spore’s “grow your own” mushroom kits let you grow and harvest your own mushrooms in a small box.

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Price: $29.99

Lots of amateur gardeners try their hands at growing vegetables and herbs. What about mushrooms? North Spore makes a series of self-contained “spray and grow” kits that give you all the tools you need to cultivate a small crop of delicious, colorful mushrooms in just a couple of weeks. All you need to do is cut open the package and spray the spores with water a couple of times per day. Since the mushrooms grow out of the box, you don’t need to have any outdoor space to try it, either. If you know someone who dreams about having a garden, but can’t because they live in an apartment, this feels like a really cool, rewarding choice.

HyperX Pulsefire Haste Gaming Mouse

Competitive Clicker

The HyperX Pulsefire Haste is one of our favorite esports mice. You don’t have to break the bank to get competitive gear.

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Price: $43.25 (Down from $49.99)

Gaming-related gifts tend to be on the expensive side, but you don’t have to spend a ton of money to get a great gaming mouse. In fact, most of the best esports mice tend to be fairly affordable, because they’re relatively stripped down. The HyperX Pulsefire Haste is one of my low-key favorite mice that I’ve reviewed in the last couple of years, thanks to a comfortable shape and a lightweight design.

LEGO Super Mario Starter Kit

Mario Maker IRL

Lego’s Super Mario Adventures line lets you build levels and then play them out, no console required.

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Price: $47.99 (Down from $59.99)

Building with LEGO is a meditative, fun, and creatively rewarding pastime for kids and adults. Playing Super Mario games can also be meditative and fun for both kids and adults. (Let me have this one, please). Thus, this Super Mario-themed LEGO kit, which lets you build and play your own levels, is a perfect fusion of fun, relaxation, and creativity.

If LEGO Mario doesn’t sound like a great fit for your person, there’s a whole range of small-to-medium-sized LEGO kits that cost between $25-50, including a TIE Fighter from Star Wars, a Ferrari, and a Bonsai. They’d all be great gifts under $50 for anyone who’s a kid at heart.

Maldon Sea Salt (3.08 lb bucket)

Sprinkle a Little Fancy on Your Food

Maldon “finishing salt” is perfect for adding a pop of flavor and a little visual flair to your cooking.

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Price: $24.40 (Down from $31.16)

Edible gifts are a hard needle to thread, because they’re ephemeral. You don’t want to send something that’s going to be devoured in an instant. You also don’t want to send something that might take so long to eat that it might go bad. Maldon Sea Salt, a luxury “finishing” salt, which you put on top of your cooking to make it look and taste extra fancy, solves this problem. It’s not for chowing down, but for letting your favorite chef make their cooking feel a little more special.

Logitech Studio Series Desk Mat

A Colorful Mousepad for Creators

An XXL mousepad can be a game-changer, and these come in nice colors!

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Price: $19.99

As I’ve made abundantly clear, I love xxl mousepads. It gives you room to stretch out and wave your mouse around without worrying about wandering over the edge of your mousepad. This year, more and more non-gaming companies have been getting in on the trend, including Logitech, which just released a set of colorful ones as part of its creator-focused Studio series. Each of the three Studio Series mousepads matches one of the colorways for Logitech’s new Pop Keys wireless mechanical keyboard, which I like quite a bit.

CamelBak Eddy+ Insulated Stainless Steel Water Bottle

Stay Hydrated

If you want, need, or love sport bottles, Camelbak makes the best.

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Price: $33.35 (Down from $36.00)

So we have an insulated mug for hot beverage drinkers, but what about an insulated sports bottle for water? I’m a huge fan of Camelbak’s water bottles, which are durable, well-made, and have that fancy nozzle that sprays water in your mouth when you bite down on it. This insulated stainless steel model is on the pricey side for a water bottle, which makes it a great gift for anyone who either works out a lot or likes to carry a water bottle around to make sure they stay hydrated.

Ruff Dawg The Ball XL

A Good Ball For A Good Dog

Ruff Dawg’s the Ball XL will survive even the most enthusiastic play sessions with a pup.

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Price: $21.75

I heard about this Ruff Dawg toy from a friend who said he was impressed at how the ball, which is solid rubber, has held up during playtime with his girlfriend’s mini cavalier Bernedoodle. It comes in a few very bright neon colors, which makes it easy to spot in tall grass, and it’s apparently easy to clean. It checks all the boxes for a great gift under $50 for a person on your list who loves their dog more than anything… Or your dog. 

Paddywax Relish Lavender + Thyme Candle

A Classic Gift

Gifting a nice candle is a time-honored tradition. This one, from Paddywax, will make a good impression.

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Price: $30.78

Paddywax a fragrant, aesthetically pleasing candle is one of those sub-$50 gifts that never goes out of style. For the person who loves and frequently buys candles, your choice can convey so much about how well you know the person you’re shopping for. If they don’t… Well, everyone could probably use some more soothing smells in their day-to-day.

This Lavender and Thyme candle from Paddywax comes highly recommended for its fragrance and deep color. There’s a whole wide world of candles in every scent, color, and price you can imagine, so don’t be afraid to poke around and explore the space. 

Kerf Wireless Charging Block

Naturally Charged

Kerf makes iPhone peripherals out sustainably harvested wood.

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Price: $39 (Varies based on wood type)

Wireless charging is slowly taking over from its corded counterpart. It’s extremely convenient for desk- and/or bedside phone charging. Instead of buying another hunk of black plastic to keep on the nightstand, Pennsylvania-based tech company Kerf makes sustainable phone peripherals out of locally sourced wood. This wireless charger, which is basically just a handsome block of wood, works with any Qi-compatible wireless charging devices, including Apple, Samsung, and Google Pixel phones.

Now, it’s worth pointing out that the $39 model comes with a detachable USB-C cable, but doesn’t include its own power supply, so your giftee will need to retask a power brick for the charger. (You can buy one with a charger included for an extra $20). Kerf will also do custom engraving upon request. Even if you end up spending more than $50, this gift is a really nice way to elevate a fairly mundane aspect of someone’s everyday life.

Xbox Game Pass Ultimate 3-month subscription OR PlayStation Plus 12 month subscription OR Nintendo Switch Online 12-month subscription

New Games Every Month

PlayStation Plus, Sony’s online subscription for the PlayStation 5, gives you a few free games every month that you can access as long as you’re a subscriber. In November, 2021, subscribers got access to one of my favorite games of the year, “Knockout City.”

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Price: $19.99-$59.99

Buying the best gifts for gamers is so complicated, am I right? Luckily, there is a relatively inexpensive way to give the gamer in your life more games over the holidays. All three console platforms—PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo Switch—feature services that allow you to play multiplayer games online and offer up some free games, making them relatively foolproof gifts under $50.

For PS4 and PS5, PlayStation Plus offers up a free set of games each month, which are available so long as you’re subscribed. For PS5 owners, it also opens up a collection of essential PS4 games, some of which have been enhanced for the new hardware.

Get Back to The Classics

Nintendo Switch Online subscription gives you easy access to a selection of NES and SNES games, including some of the greatest games of all time.

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Nintendo Switch Online grants you access to a curated library of retro games from two of Nintendo’s classic consoles, the Nintendo Entertainment System and Super Nintendo Entertainment System. (There is also a more expensive Nintendo Switch Online “Expansion Pack” that adds games from more classic consoles, but you will need to give a Nintendo eShop gift card from your person to buy it themselves).

The Closest Thing to “Netflix for Video Games”

An Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription provides access to over 100 games on Xbox consoles, PC, and other devices via cloud streaming.

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My favorite of the three for Xbox consoles and Windows PCs, is Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, which provides access to a Netflix-like library of over 100 games that you can download and play whenever, including every Microsoft-published Xbox exclusive.

All of these services are fairly essential, so you may find that they already have active memberships, but you’re still sparing them the maintenance cost of the console, even if that’s the case.

Forbidden Desert board game

A Better Game Night

Recommended by multiple members of the PopSci team, “Forbidden Desert” asks players to work together to survive.

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Price: $21.17 (down from $24.99)

One of the Popular Science team’s favorite board games, Forbidden Desert is a cooperative experience for between two and five players, who must work together to explore an inhospitable desert to unearth treasure from the ruins of a forgotten city swallowed by the sands. Players systematically excavate each space on the board to find parts of a flying machine to win, while contending with limited resources and obstacles like sandstorms that may block their path and slow the dig. If Forbidden Desert doesn’t sound like your cup of tea–though, c’mon–a board game is generally a great gift for families and people looking for a new group activity that gets you away from screens.

Shine 24k gold rolling papers

Good as Gold

If you’re going to put in the time and care to roll your own, why not make them sparkle?

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Price: $39.94

Look. You could use these SHINE rolling papers made of edible 24k gold for all kinds of things. I, personally, am recommending you give them to someone who likes to smoke marijuana and lives in a state where it’s currently legal. The gold doesn’t really enhance the experience beyond its aesthetic appeal, but that’s not the point.

Radiate Portable Campfire

Firestarter

Radiate lets you carry a campfire in your pack, so you don’t need to be an outdoor expert to enjoy one.

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Price: $27.99

Just because you like the great outdoors doesn’t mean you’re a survivalist. Not everybody knows how to turn a bunch of leaves and twigs into a fire. For the rest of us, Radiate makes a 4lb multi-wick candle thingamajig that you can light to create an instant fire pit with 2-3 foot flames wherever you are. When you’re done, you can douse the flames simply by putting the lid back on. It’s a woody party in a box.

Milwaukee Stud 16-Foot Tape Measure

16-Foot Stud

We praised the Milwaukee Stud as part of our “Best of What’s New” awards in 2019, and it’s still one of the best tape measures around.

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Price: $42.29

We highlighted the Milwaukee Stud as part of our 2019 “Best of What’s New” awards because it’s extremely long and extremely durable. I think that, explicitly or not, most people assume tools will last forever, but that isn’t always the case, especially if you use them a lot. The Stud should be a “forever pick,” though, even for a master craftsman.

Anker Soundcore 3 Portable Bluetooth Speaker

Carry a Tune

The Anker Soundcore 3 is a solid speaker at an affordable price.

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Price: $49.99

It’s always nice to have the best portable bluetooth speaker on hand, just in case you have some friends come over or you want to take your party outside. The Anker Soundcore 3 is our budget portable speaker of choice, with 24 hours of battery life, an IPX7 water resistance rating, and decent sound quality. There’s always room to spend more money on great audio, but this is a great gift under $50 for anyone who occasionally wants to turn a gathering into a party.

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