15 People on the Most Useful Under-$20 Item They Bought This Year

updated Jul 21, 2021
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The coronavirus pandemic has undoubtedly changed a lot about how people are living their lives—and how they’re spending money. With more people than ever people working from and spending more time at home and the millions who dealt with job losses this year, it makes sense that many people have been really mindful of what they’re buying, while trying to make each purchase feel “worth it.”

In addition to challenges and obstacles, 2020 also forced many people to reevaluate the essential pieces of their daily routines. Maybe you found that you needed to upgrade your coffee machine after making a zillion cups before 10 a.m., or perhaps you caved and bought a ring light for all those Zoom meetings (and, let’s face it, TikTok dances too). Whatever it might be, chances are you found a need or appreciation for something that you never thought you’d rely on so much.

We checked in with a group of people of all different ages and locations to learn about their best under-$20 purchases of the year. Bonus—many of these easily double as great holiday gifts for anyone still on your list, but don’t forget to treat yourself, too.

“I bought a mug warmer this year. My coffee always gets cold during meetings and it’s saved me from going back and forth to the kitchen to microwave it.”—Kyle, 29, New York

A lick mat for my dog—she’s been anxious too!” —Mindy, 65, New York 

“A gallon-sized water bottle. It’s pretty and keeps me hydrated all day and night.”—Kate, 33, North Carolina

Inexpensive leggings—in many colors.” —Maude, 65, Pennsylvania

Metal sink drain strainers, but used as sieves or graters for my kids to play with. They grind and grate colorful sidewalk chalk into ‘potions’ for hours on end.”—Jen, 30, Massachusetts

Hand soaps, pocket hand sanitizers, room sprays, and candles from Bath & Body Works—especially holiday scents that are comforting and make your home feel cozy.”—Audrey, 62, New York

“A drip coffee maker for my office space.”—Owen, 35, Virginia

Pictionary Air. I grew up loving the original Pictionary. During these times, cooped up in the house, I decided I wanted to get some fun games to play. This is the Pictionary from our childhood, but with a modern twist.”—Leila, 24, Connecticut

Stamps because they allow me to send letters all around the world and build new friendships.” —Kat, 26, Ireland

“Indoor twinkle string lights. After spending copious amounts of time and money on tile, light fixtures, and paint to do a soft renovation on our kitchen, I’m not sure my wife enjoys anything more than the twinkle lights in our sunroom. Not that she doesn’t love the kitchen too, but the lights may be the winner!”—Dan, 33, North Carolina

SuperTrellis! If you’re anything like me, you became plant-obsessed during quarantine. But now, my trailing plants are growing and I don’t have the space for them to hang down. So I’m encouraging them to trail upwards! SuperTrellis is this cute snap-together set of trellis components that let you train your plants in a cute way. My plants have been THRIVING!”—Dannie Lynn, 27, Illinois

“I am a BIG almond butter fan, so I’ve tried almond butter from Earth Fare, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, random brands from Walmart, etc. So, when I came upon this paleo Gingerbread Almond Butter, I knew I had to try it immediately. It’s delicious and has the essence of a holiday flavor.”—Camille, 22, Florida

Sun Bum conditioner. I have curly hair and it’s prone to getting frizzy and dry. This has made my hair feel so nice during quarantine and it smells like the beach.”—Eliza, 38, Michigan

A cute set of measuring spoons from Urban Outfitters—they are fun to have while cooking and I had been needing to replace my basic plastic ones that I’ve had for so long.”—Jac, 25, Washington

“This is a little silly but I bought one of those cell phone jail boxes. I put all of our phones in there at dinner time and it’s allowed us to really be present at at least just one meal together.”—Dani, 42, Maine