You’ve probably got at least few people on your holiday gift list for whom an inexpensive gift is appropriate. Or if you’re doing a workplace “Secret Santa” or other gift exchange, you may be required to stay below a small dollar limit. And then there are the holiday invites where you don’t want to bring a bottle of wine and haven’t had the time to make a homemade gift like chocolate bark. Of course, you don't have to ignore food as a gift, even if you're not doing it yourself. There are plenty of lovely jams, chutneys and special ingredients (like special vanillas for bakers or fun sauces for cooks) that you can buy.
Inexpensive doesn’t have to be tacky – though I do love John Waters. My gift philosophy for the very inexpensive is to go for fun, cute or silly. There’s no harm if it’s practical too, but you’ve got to figure that the gift is basically about the aww, ahhh, or smile when it’s unwrapped.
Of course, if we’re talking about unwrapping, there is an assumption that you have wrapped the gift. No need for fancy; you can do newspaper print (especially comics or sports) if that suits your taste and budget. I buy my wrapping paper on sale, or in large enough quantities that it doesn’t cost a lot. I am partial to vibrant colors and nice prints. Whether you use nice ribbon, yarn, or rough twine, adding something tied around the package often gives it a more finished look, even if your wrapping skills are minimal. If you are a terrible wrapper, hang out for a few minutes at a gift-wrapping station at a store that provides the service and watch how they do it.
These gift ideas from Hill’s Kitchen, a locally-owned gourmet kitchenware store in Washington DC. Do you have a favorite small gift that you’ve received from a friend, family member or guest recently? I’d love to hear what the gift was and why it was perfect for you.
School mascot (and other fun shaped) pasta
I admit this one is totally silly. But if the gift is for a Villanova basketball fan or a UW-Madison alum who proudly sports a Bucky Badger shirt on game day, this is the ticket. Imagine a tailgate or Bowl Day party where you eat “school spirit” pasta salad! And there are pastas shaped like basketballs, baseballs, soccer balls, dogs, and even a Jewish star for Chanukah kugel. For $6.50 a package, it definitely made the top of my “inexpensive gift list.”
Nifty skewer for bar-b-cue lovers
This handy gadget allows you to thread meat and vegetables for marinating in a small pan or sealed plastic bag. It’s flexible enough to fit in a small space in the refrigerator as the shish kebab marinates and can be coiled on the small grills many urban bar-b-cue masters use. Pretty neat for $9.95 and perfect for my chicken shish kebab recipe.
Fork/knife & chopstick combo
When I carry my lunch to work, I hate flimsy disposable cutlery and yet don’t want to bring utensils from my stainless steel set. Maybe you wouldn’t buy a set of 8 and use them for your best dinner party, but this handy and cute multi-purpose cutlery would be great for a lunch box or picnic. They will last way beyond disposables, they’re multifunctional (sushi and noodles get chopsticks, leftover lasagna gets knife and fork treatment) and attractive. Not bad for $9.95
Water bottle with charcoal filter
Many people use a Brita or other filtering system on their tap water and buy bottled water when they go out. This bottle allows you to have charcoal-filtered water on-the-go and avoid the ecological concerns, safety, and cost of individual bottled waters. (I say safety because there are no government safety standards for bottled water.) This bottle is only $9.95. Charcoal refills are $6.95.
If you prefer to give a gift under $10 that helps someone in need, how about a donation to your local food bank? Food banks are having a tough time meeting demand and could really use your help. When much of the celebrating is accompanied by, or centered on, meals, it’s an appropriate way to recognize that hunger remains a problem in America and elsewhere. For U.S. readers, here’s how to find your local food bank. If you prefer to donate to an international food relief organization, consider the World Food Programme or Oxfam.