If you’re looking for inexpensive gifts for the holiday season or just something for your own needs, there’s a source for products that offer extraordinary value for a fraction of what you’d expect to pay.
What’s that source? China-based companies that figured out they can sell direct rather than through retail stores. They skip the U.S. distributors and retailers that double or triple the price of their products and reach consumers directly by using Amazon, where some run their own store or just sell through Amazon.
I’ve been surprised at how many excellent products you can find at a fraction of the cost you’d expect to pay.
And these are not poor-quality products, but generally well made, similar to what’s sold under more familiar brands — and they come with good guarantees. In fact, many of these companies will contact you after you buy to be sure you’re satisfied. All of these items are well rated, and many have hundreds or thousands of positive reviews.
Here are my choices for some of the best bargains for under $20.
1. Anker PowerCore+ Mini, 3350mAh Lipstick-Sized Portable Charger
This is a tiny backup battery that’s small and light enough to carry with you and use for charging your phone. It has enough juice to more than recharge an empty iPhone and still have power left. It’s made of extruded aluminum and comes with a carrying pouch and charging cable. $15
2. Dynapro Exercise Ball
You’re likely familiar with the large balls you find in the gym that you use for stretching and other exercises. You can buy one that’s much the same that supports a half-ton and comes with its own pump. They’re designed for balancing, yoga, stretching and even for use as a chair. From $18 here.
3. Kona 360° Clean Grill Brush
Most barbecue grill brushes cost much more, but this scrubbing brush with an 18-inch handle is sturdily constructed of stainless steel. I’ve used one and after a year it’s still going strong. $15 here.
4. USB-C Hub for MacBooks
When I tried backing up my MacBook using a plug-in hard drive, I ran into a problem. The single USB-C port would not let me both charge my computer and back up at the same time. Since the backup took six hours and the battery lasted five, the computer died before the backup was complete and I had to start all over again. Apple offers a dongle with multiple ports for $80 to solve this problem, but this product does much the same for just $17.
5. Mpow Phone Mount for Your Car
You can pay upwards of $50 or more for a mount to hold your phone on your dashboard while driving. But this nifty design looks and works as well as anything I’ve found, and it’s just $10. It offers a wide range of adjustments, a long extension arm, and is sturdily constructed. It’s been sitting on the dash of my car for months without coming loose.
6. LED Desk Lamp
Forget the expensive desk lamps at lighting stores. With the invention of LEDs, there’s a huge array of bright, efficient lamps available online. This LED lamp has seven levels of brightness and a bright diffuse light source. Just $20.
7. Water Tester
I bought this electronic gadget to check the water I use to brew coffee and make espresso, but it’s great for testing water quality when traveling as well. This cigar-sized device measures the total dissolved solids in water. It comes with a battery and carrying case and costs just $12.
8. Miniature Screwdriver Toolkit
The Jackly 45-in-1 Professional Portable Opening Tool Compact Screwdriver Kit Set contains every conceivable mini-driver tip needed for small fasteners of all kinds. Comes with tweezers and extension shaft in a nicely fitted plastic case. An amazing buy at $9.49, found here.
9. Portable 2-Device Charger
TheAnker Dual Port 24W USB Travel Wall Charger provides a fast charger for phones and tablets. One port is 4.8 amps for the fastest possible charge on an iPad. Works on all worldwide voltages and has an 18-month warranty. Costs $11 here.
10. Milanese Mech Watchband
While you can buy a fancy Apple Milanese stainless steel mesh watchband for $150 for your Apple watch, here’s one that looks nearly the same for just $8. The 42mm Walcase Apple Watch Band has a magnetic closure clasp and fits all models. Similar bands can be found for other devices such as Fitbit wearables. Here’s a mesh steel band that I use with my Fitbit Altra and it costs just $7.49.
11. Phone Cases
There’s no better place to begin a search for a phone case than on Amazon. You can find most any kind of case from thousands of companies for less than a third the cost at retail. For example, Spigen, a well-regarded brand that sells through its own Amazon store, offers an attractive armored case for the iPhone 7 and 8 that has slots for credit cards. About $16.
12. Hand Toolkit
The Apollo Tools DT9706 39-piece hand tool set comes with its own unbreakable storage case. The compact set has a 4.3 star rating with more than 1600 reviews. And the cost is just $12.41.
13. Kitchen Scale
Lastly, the Ozeri Pronto Digital Multifunction Kitchen and Food Scale is much like the scales you can buy at retail for $40 to $50. But you can buy it here for $10.80. And more than 13,000 buyers have rated it an average of 4.6 stars.