This story is part of, our year-round collection of the best gift ideas.
Black Friday and Cyber Monday are still weeks away, but the holidays will be here before you know it. With inflation biting harder than ever, we’ve sought out some affordable gifts under $30 that will work for a wide variety of folks, from young children to grandparents. Check out our favorites below, including everything from gadgets to books, and plenty in between. We’ve personally tested or used most of these and they’re all something we’d like to give — or receive — during the holidays, or any other time of year.
Note that pricing and availability of the products selected were accurate at time of publication, but both are subject to change without notice. If a price above $30 is shown, note that an instant coupon may be available to get the price lower.
This little guy is an old favorite. It’s small, portable and water-resistant, and sounds great for its price. Listed at around $37, you’ll almost always find this discounted on Amazon down to $30 or less. And the version currently on sale now offers USB-C charging, not the older micro-USB standard it had when we originally reviewed it.
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At my house, the Lodge Grill Pan gets used at least once a week to cook mahi mahi or turkey burgers (to name just a few). It’s a cheap and easy way to bring the essence of the grilling experience to your stovetop, which is especially useful during the winter months.
Buying a gift for someone who’s always misplacing their jacket, purse or backpack? With an Apple AirTag in place, that problem should become a thing of the past: Just pull up the Find My app on the iPhone, and the missing item can be tracked down anywhere there’s an Apple device nearby (which is pretty much everywhere). Order early enough from Apple.com, and you can order with custom engraved initials or emoji (as shown here). A single AirTag is $29, and you can get a 4-pack for $99. Buying for an Android owner? Get a Galaxy SmartTag (for Samsung folks) or a Tile (any other Android phone owner).
Amazon/Screenshot by CNET
Author and illustrator David Macaulay has been publishing detailed hand-illustrated books since the 1970s, in which he meticulously documents the designing and building of everything from castles, mosques, pyramids and cathedrals to the functioning of specialized or mundane equipment ranging from electric guitars to dentist drills in How Things Work. While these books are designed for readers as young as six, they also double as great coffee table books for all ages. I received several of these books as a child, and still enjoy thumbing through them decades later. Macaulay has even returned and updated some of his classic black-and-white books to add color, including Castle (shown) and Cathedral.
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Like most true-wireless earbuds from Chinese brands that sell through Amazon, this Tranya model has a pretty generic look and feel, especially the case, and they may not fit all ears equally well — they do stick out a little. But if you get a tight seal they sound good, with potent, well-defined bass and good detail (for a true wireless earbud). They also work decently as a headset for making calls, thanks to decent noise reduction that helps tamp down background noise so people can hear your voice better.
Battery life is rated at 8 hours at moderate volume levels and these are fully waterproof with an IPX7 rating. Even if you’re buying for someone who already has a favorite set of earbuds, these are affordable enough to work as a good backup.
Wizards of the Coast
Some old-school D&D is a nice face-to-face break from the virtual world of video games. The Essentials Kit gives you everything a group of pencil-and-paper adventurers need to get questing, but true beginners can opt for the equally affordable Starter Set instead. (Those already bored with D&D can dip their toes into the world of Gloomhaven with the Jaws of the Lion set instead, which is just a tad over $30.)
There are plenty of cheap smart plugs out there, but the Leviton D215P-2RW is our current favorite. The killer feature here is universal compatibility: It works with Google, Alexa or Apple HomeKit smart home setups. Moreover, this gadget’s trim design leaves the second outlet open for business.
True story: In my collegiate days, 3.5-inch floppy disks were a thing, and they stored a whopping 1.44 megabytes of data on them. This flash drive costs under $21, and it stores 128GB, the equivalent of almost 89,000 of those floppy disks. This model sports both USB-A and USB-C connectors, so it’ll work with any computer out there as well as newer iPad Pro and Mini models.
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