Win your white-elephant or secret-Santa party for $10 or less


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This story is part of Holiday Gift Guide 2019, your source for the season’s best gifts and deals, hand-picked by the experts at CNET.

It’s that time of year—the time when you are almost certainly going to be invited to a Secret Santa or white elephant party. Usually these events have price caps, and if yours is just $10, you’re probably struggling to come up with a fun, cool, genuinely good gift. Hello! Cheapskate in the house! I’ve totally got you covered.

But what is a white elephant party, and how is it different from Secret Santa? Allow me to enlighten you: Secret Santa is usually done in an office; each person’s name gets dropped into a hat, then each person picks a name. Whoever you get, you have to buy him or her a gift — ideally something suitable.

As for white elephant (also known as Yankee swap and, in some circles, dirty Santa), the idea is that each person brings a single wrapped gift — oftentimes the weirder, the better. All the gifts are placed in a pile, then each person gets a randomly assigned number. The first person picks and opens a gift for all to see; the next person can either steal that gift or choose something else from the pile — and so on until all the gifts are opened. (As was immortalized in a painfully hilarious episode of The Office, pictured above.)

So that’s the general idea. But there’s a real art to picking the best white elephant gifts. First, it can’t be too expensive. Even a $20 squatty potty is a bit much. You also don’t want to lean too heavily into your sense of humor and go too weird with it. YYou don’t want to go too safe either, with coffee mugs, or an aluminum water bottle. And wine and coffee are right out — there might be kids playing! No, you want to be that person with something unique. Something that no one else at the white elephant gift exchange will have. Something perfect.

Read more: Best holiday gifts under $50 | Best gifts for girlfriends in 2019 

Chris Monroe/CNET

We hear you asking, “Why do you think a smart bulb is a great gift?” Because this smart bulb is only $5. Hard to believe, but Wyze has long been known for crazy-inexpensive smart-home gear. (The company’s Wyze Cam, a CNET favorite, is just $20.) This 800-lumen LED bulb can be controlled by app, Alexa or Google Assistant, no hub required. Shipping costs almost as much as the bulb itself, but you still pay less than $10 total. And when you really think about it, everyone needs a good smart bulb, even after we move past the holiday season.

Read our Wyze Bulb review.


Is there anything more satisfying than a Nerf-gun battle? Or just ambushing an unsuspecting co-worker with a dart barrage? Obviously: no. This simple shooter holds six darts in its rotating quick-fire drum, sure to bring out your coworker’s inner sharp shooter. For under $10, it’s an awesome gift. Just hope no one gets shot in the face — then Jan in HR is going to be wishing you just went with a tin of cookies during the white elephant.

Read more: Best gifts for 10-year-old boys in 2019 | | Best gifts for teen boys in 2019Best board games for tabletop in 2019

Chris Jackson/Getty Images

There’s a reason this game is a classic, and sure to be a hit at a white elephant party. It’s easy to learn but challenging to master, and just about any age can play (making it ideal for mixed-age holiday where a bottle of wine wouldn’t be the best idea, in case little Billy chose your gift). And everybody loves it when a pile of blocks topples over. Heck, even if you’re not gifting this at your next white elephant gift exchange, just buy a box and bring it to play! At this writing, the price is just $5, though it does fluctuate often. (Just a few days ago, it was $6.88.) I think anytime it’s under $10, it’s a steal.


OK, so it’s just a few cents over the limit, but it’s so close that it’s forgivable for a super-practical gift that just about anyone would appreciate getting (aka, the perfect white elephant gift). This mobile charger has dual USB outputs and a little built-in LED flashlight. It’s just right for a bag or glove compartment — anywhere that emergency power might come in handy. It’ll especially be appreciated during the holiday season, when every person seems to be out and about shopping for that perfect gift.

Jackbox Games

If you’re looking for a funny gift, and are sick of giving people Cards Against Humanity, you need Quiplash. It is one of my favorite group games ever. It’s sort of like an electronic version of Apples to Apples — but much, much funnier. It’s designed for three to eight players, who participate via phone or tablet, but even spectators can vote on their favorite answers. The game takes place around a computer or TV; Quiplash is compatible with Windows, Mac, game consoles, Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV. All of these things make it a great gift.

Read more: Best wireless car chargers and mounts of 2019


Another super-practical item, this is a must-have for cars that don’t have USB ports — or don’t have high-amp ones, which is many. It normally sells for $13 and is currently on sale for $9 (I know, we’re cutting it kinda close to the $10 limit), but clipping the on-page coupon saves you an additional 30%. A great gift that people won’t usually buy for themselves.

Read more: Best Headphones for 2019

Sarah Tew

Lightweight and comfortable, with good sound for the money, the Flats are already a steal at their regular $12 price (which sometimes bounces back up to the $20 list price). At this is published, just about every color is on sale for $9.99 or less. I mean, the pink ones would look awesome framing anyone’s face. Whoever nabs this gift will be the envy of the entire white elephant gift exchange.

Read the JVC Flats review.

Phone Loops

My single favorite phone accessory in the history of phone accessories, the Phone Loop has evolved with tons of cool new patterns and colors (you can match them to your ugly Christmas sweater!), eco-friendly packaging and a new elastic option if you prefer something a little stretchy. Whatever you choose, they fit any phone case and help you keep a secure, comfy grip. That means no more dropping your phone in the bathroom and having a panic attack when it almost falls in the toilet. Plus, they add no bulk or weight and don’t interfere with wireless charging. Perfect.

They’re normally $5.99 apiece, but if you buy three you get free shipping. And if you do that, you can also apply promo code cheapskate to save 33%. (Basically it’s buy two, get one free.) So you’ll only go a little over the $10 limit, and you’ll get one you can keep for yourself, for a seriously great white elephant.

Have you found any other great gifts in the $10 range? Tell me about them in the comments!

Originally published earlier this month.

CNET’s Cheapskate scours the web for great deals on tech products and much more. For the latest deals and updates, follow the Cheapskate on Facebook and Twitter. Find more great buys on the CNET Deals page and check out our CNET Coupons page for the latest promo codes from Best BuyWalmartAmazon, and more. Questions about the Cheapskate blog? Find the answers on our FAQ page.

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