Best Gifts Under $250 for 2023
Giving a thoughtful gift is more powerful than you can quantify or even put into words. It’s a way to say, “I’m thinking of you” and, “You’re special to me.” If you’re looking to truly wow someone in your life with a great present and you have a budget of $100 to $250, we have some gift ideas for your loved ones.
This list of the best gifts for $250 or less offers a wealth and variety of gifts to help you with your shopping for any occasion. You’re sure to find something here that will delight even the most difficult-to-shop-for person in your life. (And if you aren’t looking for the best luxury gifts under $250, check out our other 2023 gift guides.)
Backyard fire pits have been a keystone for social activity during cooler months — and this is one of the best of them, hands-down. Built from durable stainless steel, and with a vented design that promotes airflow, the Solo Stove produces a beautiful and deeply warming fire with very little smoke or airborne ash. (Perhaps best of all, your clothes do not reek of smoke the morning after.) Available in multiple sizes and prices, this is a slam-dunk gift for any fire pit enthusiast. From smallest to largest, Solo Stove offers the Mesa, the Ranger 2.0, the Bonfire 2.0 and the Yukon 2.0.
It wasn’t until I discovered the opening in the center of the Bobcat backpacking quilt that its true potential was revealed. Yes, this 600-fill duck down insulated blanket is plenty warm and, weighing a mere 20 ounces, light enough for camping (or couch surfing). But it’s the quilt’s poncho mode that makes it the ideal accessory for hanging outside at the fire pit.
I was skeptical that I could get a real cardio workout — in my cramped living room — by strapping on a VR headset. But Supernatural quickly set me straight. The basic premise isn’t unique: The app sets gamified, choreographed workouts to popular music. But the quality and degree of immersion, thanks to the Oculus Quest VR technology (sold separately), is distinctive. And it’s not a gimmick: Supernatural’s deep bench of appealing instructors, continually updated selection of workouts — ranging from meditative yoga sessions to challenging cardio burners — and dialed-in playlists put it on par with what you get at the trendiest (and priciest) NYC gyms. The annual membership costs $180.
If you’re looking to maximize your visibility while riding a bike, scooter or another personal transportation device, the Lumos Matrix certainly does a good job making sure you’re noticed. This smart helmet not only has a light on the front but an LED matrix on the back that’s fully customizable via a companion app. You can have everything from standard flashing red triangles to eye-catching patterns to short messages scroll across the back of your head in ticker-tape fashion. There’s even a PacMan animation (pictured), as well as a variety of color options.
Additionally, the helmet includes a small remote that allows you to let you activate a turn signal (on the back display), letting those behind you know what your next move is. Available in black or white, the Matrix is a little heavier than your typical bike helmet. It fits head sizes from 22 to 24 inches (56 to 61cm) and has an impact-resistant EPS foam liner and ABS shell that offers decent protection.
This is Lumos’ current flagship model. The Ultra, a new, more affordable smart helmet with more limited lighting is available, too.
If you’re looking to get your kids offline and out of the house — or want to feel like a kid yourself again — the Traxxas Stampede is cool (and fast) enough to get anyone to look up from their phone. With a top speed in the 30-mph range, this high-performance remote control monster truck can roll over a variety of terrain and, courtesy of its waterproof electronics, through any mud puddle. I laughed and howled like a 10-year-old during my first few test rides.
Though there’s a little bit of a learning curve — you’ll need to bone up on lithium polymer batteries and recharging peripherals — it’s no more complicated than setting up a new smartphone. (An entry-level LiPo battery and charger combo will run you another $60 or so.) And beginners will benefit from the truck’s “training mode,” which cuts its considerable speed in half to help you cultivate your handling skills. I will admit to having crashed this car repeatedly — but it still performs flawlessly, with only a few cosmetic nicks to show for it. And if you do wreck your rig, it’s OK: Traxxas is known for its reasonably priced replacement parts and repair fees.
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Rated up to 8 hours
Built-in with glasses
Yes (IPX4 — splash-proof)
Bose released its second-generation Frames in 2020. Yes, they are sunglasses with wireless headphones built-in. They also sound incredibly good. We really like the Tempo style shown here, but you can also opt for the Tenor or Soprano styles instead.
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Rated up to 6 hours
Yes (IPX4 — splash-proof)
The new AirPods Pro (2nd generation) are powered by Apple’s new H2 chip, which delivers more processing power while being more energy efficient, according to Apple. The new chip, combined with new low-distortion drivers, allows for improved sound that offers better clarity and depth. The noise canceling is also improved — Apple says the new AirPods have “double” the noise canceling of the original AirPods Pro. Additionally, the new AirPods add an extra hour of battery life, up from five to six hours with noise canceling on. Plus, a speaker in the case that emits a sound that helps locate your buds via Find My should they decide to hide from you.
Note that while Apple has discontinued the original AirPods Pro, they’ll remain on sale at discounted prices until supplies are exhausted. However, most people should get this newer model if they can afford it. The AirPods Pro 2 continue to see discounts and have hit their lowest price to date: $200.
Water-resistant: Yes (IPX4 rating — splash-proof).
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When it comes to gaming consoles, your entry point for the new, cool stuff is basically $300 — that’s the price tag for the Xbox Series S, the Oculus Quest 2 or a full-featured Nintendo Switch. But you can get in on our sub-$250 budget here with the Nintendo Switch Lite, which drops the detachable controllers and the TV-out functionality of its older sibling in exchange for a more wallet-friendly $200 price point. You’ll still be able to play nearly all the same games, including Nintendo-only exclusives from the Animal Crossing, Zelda and Mario series. After disappearing from (virtual) store shelves early on in the pandemic, the Switch Lite is increasingly, though still intermittently, available from multiple national retailers.
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Up to 2,200 sq. ft.
Wireless Networking Security
Dual-Band (2.4 and 5GHz)
With a lot of families working, learning and streaming from home, household wireless networks are being tested like never before. We installed a Google Nest Wifi system at our house this spring and have been impressed with its speedy performance. The connection is perceptibly faster, more expansive and more robust than our prior setup, and the $160 model will likely be sufficient for most homes. That said, the range-extending Wifi point — which doubles as a Google Assistant smart speaker — may be worth the extra dough. Also keep an eye on the Eero mesh networking set. The older three-node version sometimes drops as low as $200, with a freebie Echo speaker thrown in, and the company just debuted a new model for 2020 that folds in support for the Zigbee home automation wireless standard. And though this model is older, it is still one of our picks for best mesh Wi-Fi router systems out there.
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The 2022 Apple Watch SE makes a great gift for iPhone owners. It doesn’t have all the features of the Watch Series 8 or Ultra, but it’s still a great smartwatch for most people. Prices start at $249 for the GPS-only model with the cellular-enabled variants going for $50 more.
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Having spent hundreds of dollars on lousy suitcases over the years, I can say that the Monos Carry On is worth the money, and it’s the perfect gift for travel lovers. With a similar aesthetic and price point as Away’s lineup of modern suitcases (which you may have seen on Instagram), Monos delivers everything you want in a roller bag: a lightweight but durable shell, a nice variety of compartments, pockets and straps and a well-engineered retractable handle. Plus, it comes with a 100-day free trial and lifetime warranty.
Made from recycled ocean-bound plastic bottles, this fantastic duffle bag has exactly the right amount of storage capacity, with handles on every surface, and it can be worn on the shoulder or as a backpack. Personally, I love the Olive Dot Camo design.
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I’ve been using this beautiful Victorinox chef’s knife for the past year and it’s become one of my indispensable kitchen tools. The blade is fluted, so it won’t stick to what you’re cutting, and the elegant wooden handle gives it the perfect amount of heft. It’s sharp enough to make cutting meat, fish, fruit, vegetables and cheeses an absolute pleasure.
Having gone through a series of overcomplicated food processors, the simplicity of this Cuisinart model is appealing. There are two paddle buttons — on and off, which doubles as a “pulse” option — and the large 14-cup bowl is sturdy and easy to clean. It comes with three blades and discs — do you really need more than that? — and the 720-watt motor is strong enough to power through whatever you throw at it.
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I have a small, simple one-zone home, where the thermostat controls only the furnace. Last year, I bought several different top-rated smart thermostats and, with the assistance of my neighborhood electrician, installed and tested them one at a time. The Nest was the one I kept. It’s a snap to set up and it totally delivers on the few features I wanted: scheduled temperature adjustment, appealing aesthetics, an intuitive interface and absolute control via iPhone or Android.
That noted, CNET’s current top pick for best smart thermostat, the slightly pricier Ecobee Smart Thermostat is definitely worth a look.
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