The Cheapskate’s top 7 cheap gifts for the holidays

Nearly everyone is feeling the economic strain this year, which makes holiday shopping that much harder. No doubt you want to give wonderful, lavish gifts to the important people in your life, but maybe your budget doesn’t allow for lavish. Maybe this year, “modest” is the mantra.

Good news: I’m always on the lookout for fun and useful products that don’t cost a lot — but sort of seem like they do. Below I’ve rounded up seven of my favorites, all of them great to give. Looking for more ideas? Check out CNET’s extensive holiday gift guide for 2020. We also covered this topic in a new episode of The Cheapskate Show podcast, which you can hear right here:


Few coffee accoutrements have garnered such a rabid following as the AeroPress, which promises (and delivers) excellent espresso shots and Americano coffee. It relies on a pressure system, not unlike a French press, but there’s a tiny filter that takes out the bitterness and helps lower the acidity. For just $30, it’s really a great gift for java lovers.

Vanessa Hand Orellana/CNET

Amazfit packs an embarrassment of riches into this $70 smartwatch, which is notable not just for its transflective, always-on color screen but also its battery, which can last a whopping 40 days. It has onboard GPS for tracking runs and other outdoor exercise, and it monitors your heart rate all day. Because this is a smartwatch that also has fitness features, it makes a better gift than a fitness band — which might be seen as untactful and land you in hot water.

Now for the bad news: Amazfit is completely sold out of the Bip S right now, and Amazon has no stock either. Hopefully there’s more coming soon; in the meantime, consider the just-introduced Bip U, which is only $60. It has a better display than the Bip S, but also shorter battery life and no GPS.

Read our Amazfit Bip S review.


New Wave Toys

One of my favorite products of 2020, the Hotline is a mobile charger that looks exactly like a Sony Walkman. It even has buttons and sliders on the side that you can press and slide (though they don’t actually do anything). 

Inside there’s a 16,000-mAh battery that can charge up to three devices simultaneously: one via a Type-A USB 3.0 port that supports QuickCharge, one via a USB-C port and one via Qi wireless charging. Those are some surprisingly advanced options for a device you’d think would get by on looks alone.

I have mad love for this thing. If you’re shopping for someone who grew up in the ’80s, look no further.

David Carnoy/CNET

“Shockingly good for the price.” That’s how CNET’s resident audio expert, David Carnoy, described the Mpow X3 earbuds, which at $60 are less than one-fourth the regular price of Apple AirPods Pro. (For a limited time, an on-page coupon knocks off an extra $10.)

No, the X3’s active noise-canceling capabilities don’t match those of the AirPods, but they’re “fairly effective,” according to Carnoy. So if you want to give someone the gift of great sound, comfortable fit and freedom from outside noise, you don’t have to spend a lot to do it.


This is one of my favorite discoveries of 2020. It’s a retractable ping-pong net that can be set up just about anywhere: dining room table, picnic table, conference room table and so on. You also get a pair of paddles, some balls and a drawstring case to carry it all. Presto: table tennis to go.

A personal aside: My dad is dealing with dementia, and I learned recently that ping-pong has the potential to slow cognitive decline. We used to play all the time when I was a kid, so I got one of these for him. Long story short: He loves it. Plays almost every day now. It’s been a huge win.

The button below will take you to a set from Amazon seller Newagain, which is currently $18. If that’s no longer available, there are countless other versions of this available on Amazon for around $20 or less.


At $95, this is the most expensive item on my list — but it’s worth it. A digital photo frame frees photos from your phone, putting them on display in a nonstop slideshow. This one can hold thousands of photos — more if you pop in a memory card — and it allows friends and family members to add new ones via a simple app. As gifts go, I can’t recommend this highly enough, especially for a parent or grandparent.


The third iteration of Wyze’s home-security camera is the best yet, yet the price remains at a seemingly impossible $20 (plus shipping). I say impossible because there are cameras costing five times as much that don’t actually do as much.

I’ll let you read the review to learn more, but just know that the v3 still offers free cloud storage and can now work outdoors as well as indoors. It’s just an incredible deal, whether for yourself or someone else. (Note that shipping adds about $6 to the price.)

Read the Wyze Cam v3 review.


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The Cheapskate’s 7 favorite holiday gifts


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