15 ideas to help you ace the $10 holiday gift exchange

Our best ideas = the most bang for your buck.

Our best ideas = the most bang for your buck

Less money, more ingenuity. That's what our collective approach to holiday gifting needs, lest our personal debt and perennial resentment continue to grow, not to mention the garbage heaps. However, the $10 limit seems like the hardest of all gift exchange challenges — so much so that most of us simply lie and go over the limit just to save ourselves the time.

It wasn't easy, but our team at CBC Life, along with some of our experts, took up the challenge of producing this list of tried-and-true gifts — things we'd actually want to receive, and, most importantly, own up to at even the most discreet of Secret Santas — all for only $10 or under. We hope this helps.

I personally dread trinkets and little novelties, so when it comes to small tokens of appreciation around the holidays I tend to stick to gift cards, functional beauty products such as hand creams, or gourmet food products. Au Pied de Cochon's maple syrup is a gourmet treat that can easily be shipped across Canada.

— Truc Nguyen, Freelance stylist and style writer

PDC Maple Syrup, $9.00, Au Pied de Cochon

What on Earth can you get for less than 10 dollars these days? Not a whole lot. Which makes secret Santa oh so difficult. I recently happened upon this DIY paper speaker kit at skincare shop, Innisfree and knew I had to buy one because it was so darn fun! As part of the company's limited Holiday collection, these paper gramophones are only available in store, but they come in a really pretty box, work with pretty much any phone, and are just plain cool.
— Brittany Toole, CBC Life   

2019 Green Holiday DIY Paper Speaker Kit, $8.00, Innisfree

Sure, you can use it to scrape pastry off your counter tops but I use it almost every time I cook to scoop up chopped onions and other veggies and get them into the soup pot or fry pan. It also has a measure which comes in handy when cutting pie lattice and you're a perfectionist.

— Portia Corman, CBC Life

Ricardo Stainless Steel Dough Scraper, $9.99, Linen Chest

This rose balm is always one of my first thoughts when I have to buy for someone I don't know very well, but I've tucked this into stockings for my closest friends before too. It's a safe gift because it's extremely great lip balm for chapped winter lips that comes in a somewhat fancy looking tin. Who doesn't want that?

— ALB, Illustrator and YouTuber (ASMR) 

Smith's Rosebud Salve, $9.50, Sephora

Dry winter skin knows no age or gender, which is why this little bottle of moisturizing magic is perfect for absolutely anyone on your list. Squalane, a hydrating, non-comedogenic oil, has been popping up in all sorts of buzzy beauty products this year, but The Ordinary's version comes in at a fraction of the cost of most — and still works like a dream. I haven't gone to bed without slathering some on my face since I first laid eyes on this product, and I have a feeling your giftee will feel a similar level of devotion.

— Sam White, CBC Life

The Ordinary 100% Plant-Derived Squalane, $7.90, Sephora

If you're going into a random gifting scenario, like one of those gift-stealing games, I think something classic and fun, like a Magic 8 Ball, is the way to go. "The answers to all your deepest questions" for $10? Best gift ever.

— Jamey Ordolis, CBC Life

Magic 8 Ball Retro, $9.99, Amazon

I think Marie Sharp's Belizian carrot-based hot sauce is the best hot sauce in the world. The topic of "best hot sauce" is popular enough to make this a good gift for everyone — and I've gifted this one enough times to know that it will actually come out on top. It's not the easiest to find in stores but you can order it online.

James Cooper, Video producer

Original Hot Habanero Pepper Sauce (5 ounces), $7.99, Marie Sharp

I recently discovered that Essence brand lip glosses are actually amazing — spotted them at a Shopper's Drug Mart and just knew. The ones I like, nay love, are only $3.99 each. So lucky me, and lucky you, and lucky giftee, because we can each get 2 for under $10. I like the Plumping Nudes glosses and the Shine Shine Shine glosses. I wear them separately and layered together. Get this, they're also paraben free and not tested on animals and the plumping nudes are vegan, too.

— Jamey Ordolis, CBC Life

Essence Plumping Nudes Lipgloss in Big Bang, $3.99, and Shine Shine Shine Lipgloss in Behind The Scenes, $3.99, Shoppers Drug Mart 

This is for, well, everyone, and it seems like a weird gift, but your giftee will love it. If you haven't tried an almost painful, extra-long, nylon exfoliating scrubbing towel, you haven't showered. They are machine-washable, dry quickly, last forever, make your favourite soap or shower gel go much further than they would otherwise, and let you scrub the farthest reaches of your back. Find them at the checkout of Asian grocery stores, or online.

— Yasmin Seneviratne, CBC Life

Exfoliating Hydro Towel, $6.99, Bed Bath and Beyond

I tried this because I'm a huge fan of the hair care version; and the soap is just as addictive. It smells heavenly, feels super creamy and really nourishes and gently exfoliates your skin. Also the bar is huge and lasts a very long time. All that plus it's free of parabens, sulfates, mineral oil etc.

— Nneka Elliott, Beauty and style writer

Shea Moisture Coconut Hibiscus Shea Soap, $6.97, Walmart

This is one of the best things I own. I keep it at my desk and spray it at least twice a day on my hands and my germ-covered mouse. Anyone who has a work space will appreciate that it's not only a fair trade, organic product but that the lavender scent provides a serious pick-me-up.

— Portia Corman, CBC Life

Dr. Bronner's Organic Hand Sanitizer in Lavender, $6.19,

Paper napkins are my go-to gift for the $10 and under category. The big, bold prints of Marimekko's napkins are super fun, and they come in cocktail napkin size too. A few gift stores in my neighbourhood carry them, so look locally near you, or choose a colourful print from another brand, preferably made from recycled tissue.

— Jessica Brooks, Food writer

unikko paper napkins, $5.50, Marimekko

A high-quality moisturizer can make a big difference in winter, but not everyone will treat themselves to this perceived luxury. Weleda is certified as natural and cruelty-free and their travel-sized skin food is convenient for slipping in your coat pocket and desk drawer.

— Eva Voinigescu, Freelance journalist and producer

Weleda Skin Food Travel Size, $3.69,

Never underestimate the gift of food that a person just can't be bothered to go and get themselves. For instance, I had an olive store near me that I turned to for many a host gift on my way to a dinner party, and they were just the best olives in the city — people started requesting that I bring them, even though they knew where they were from. So if you're in Chinatown, or live near a stretch of Greek bakeries, grab the things you would never buy elsewhere.

— Yasmin Seneviratne, CBC Life

Selected Green Olives Medley and Gemlick Black Pearl Olives, $9.99, Uzel Olive

Everyone needs a new charger cable… even if they don't know it yet. Yours is currently working just fine? Well, it won't be for long. That's why I like gifting extra long chargers in fun colours and patterns. You can usually get a second one for $1 to gift or keep.

— Jamey Ordolis, CBC Life

118" Rope USB Cable, $6.90, Ardene

For a $10 gift exchange I'd buy a guide to $10 gifts, so whoever gets it can solve this problem forever.

— Clifton Mark, Writer

Gorham Suggestions: A List of Articles Priced at Ten Dollars and Under, Suitable for Gifts, Favors, Etc, $11.95, Indigo

Do you have any good ideas for useful gifts that are $10 and under? Share them in the comments below!