Top 25 Life-Improving Christmas Gifts for Under $10

By Leo Babauta

If you’re like me, you’re always looking for ways to give cheap but meaningful gifts. Yes, I’m a cheapskate, but I’m a happy one.

I’ve always been into improving my life, and if I can help the loved ones in my life do the same, without spending a lot, I’m very happy.

Last week, I asked you guys for some suggestions for inexpensive gifts, and boy did you deliver. This week, I’m going to steal your answers for those who didn’t have the time to read them all — these are just my favorite ones, plus a couple of my own ideas. (Thank you, readers!)

Read on, then choose the ones that your loved ones will like best, for an inexpensive Christmas (unless you have six kids like I do … then Christmas is never cheap).

1. Services. This is actually free, unless you consider your time worth something (what are you, vain?). Anything that you can do to help someone out, give them some free time, make their life better, reduce their stress: cleaning, chores, errands, yard work, fixing things, cooking, anything you’re good at. One of the best gifts ever, in my opinion.

2. Ebooks. There are some good ones out there, some for under $10 … my own Zen To Done is a good example of course. :)

3. Baked goods. Ingredients don’t cost that much, and if you make a few batches and give them to a bunch of people, the costs will definitely be under $10 per person (even if you get a few cookie tins or something). Try cookies (perhaps anarchist oatmeal cookies), cranberry loaf, banana bread, pie.

4. Moleskine notebook. I don’t know anyone who owns one of these who doesn’t love them. I love mine. They’re so beautiful, tactilely wonderful to write in, and useful. There are many choices (I recommend one of the pocket notebooks so you can carry them around everywhere).

5. Self-improvement books. I love to read books of all kinds, but self-improvement books seem to be a great choice this time of year. Eat to Live by Dr. Joel Fuhrman (recommended by a reader), Getting Things Done by David Allen, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Simplify Your Life. A couple of these might be slightly over $10, sorry.

6. Pedometer. Encourage the loved ones in your life to get healthy this coming year. A pedometer is one great way to do that … most are over $10, but here’s a good one that comes in well under the limit.

7. Homemade salsa. Make your own salsa, can it, wrap the jar in some photos printed from your computer. Recipe from reader Matt Q:

Kirk’s Killer Kickin’ Salsa

1 29 ounce can diced tomatoes
1 8 ounce can tomato sauce
4-6 cloves garlic or to your taste chopped fine
1 handful or more of crushed red chili also to your hot taste
¾ large chopped onion
1 tablespoon of olive oil

Stir this good and add a little water if too thick. Tomatoes have lots salt so check before adding , then add to your taste. If you like oregano or cilantro that can be added, I don’t care for it. Make ahead of time as it s flavor will be much better in 2-3 days. Good on eggs and corn chips.

8. Healthy cookbook. Great way to get someone to eat healthy while trying out some new delicious foods. Unfortunately most good cookbooks are over $10 (my favorite: Vegan with a Vengeance : Over 150 Delicious, Cheap, Animal-Free Recipes That Rock) but if you try a used bookstore, you should be good to go.

9. Mixed CD. How will this improve someone’s life? It can be a relaxing CD, or one that picks them up in the car … music is always a great gift!

10. Movie night gift basket. Purchase items in bulk and divide them into multiple baskets. Items for a movie night: popcorn, rental gift certificate ($5), pop, a blanket.

11. Scrapbook. Make it yourself … great memories that will last a lifetime. Be creative and have some fun! This is a priceless gift.

12. Massage. Do it yourself … free, wonderful, relaxing, and … well, wonderful.

13. Babysitting. Another service, but I mention it here specifically because as a parent, I know how awesome this gift can be. We parents need a night on the town sometimes too!

14. Yoga mat. Great way to start the new year … with the peace and fitness of yoga. Get them started with a mat (it’s possible to find them under $10 … here’s one for just over $10). If you have extra money, get a yoga DVD.

15. 10 Reasons I Love You. Framed. One of the most special gifts you can give, I think. Of course, I’m very sentimental, so if this is not macho enough, go for something like Nos. 23 and 24 below.

16. Homemade cloth grocery bags. You can buy them for under $10, but if you’re handy with the sewing machine, recycle some old sturdy material and make it yourself.

17. Moneyband. I’ve been using this minimalist wallet myself and love it — just a rubber band, really, but sized perfectly to hold your cards and cash. That’s all I carry around. Check it out here.

18. Tao Te Ching. Several readers suggested this classic of Eastern philosophy, and I recommend it myself. There are many versions … here’s one for under $10. You might also try Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

19. Build an emergency kit. Buy a container bag, put in it whatever other small items you’d normally forget to pack for a trip. Tie with ribbon. Print out some instructions to expand the emergency kit.

20. A care package. Keep it simple: a favorite magazine + a mug + real chocolate (or someone’s favorite tea). That’s a great little way for a friend to spend an evening at home.

21. Spend time with them. Absolutely free. You can’t beat this gift. Shower first.

22. Homemade cookbook. Find your favorite recipes on the Internet (or ones you made up yourself), format them up real nice, print them out. Bind them in a nice cover. Voila, instant customized cookbook.

23. Towels. As we all know, towels are the most massively useful thing you can have. Discount stores like Target and TJ Maxx have cool towels that cost less than $5.

24. No stress tire pressure caps. Are you bad at checking your tire pressure? Get Accu-pressure safety caps, a set of tire caps that turn red when your pressure is low.

25. Jar of Gratitude. A beautiful idea, from reader Lyn:

A few years ago I made a jar of thank you’s for my parents, and that could easily be adapted to a Christmas gift.

I just typed all the things they’d done over the years that I was grateful for in point form on the computer, then printed the sheet out on coloured vellum.

From there I cut them into individual stripes and gently curled then before putting them into a glass jar that I’d decorated with ribbon.

I think you could just as easily do a Christmas memories jar, recalling all the silly/strange/memorable times from Christmases past.