I’m without a doubt a summer, beaches, and warm weather person but I make an exception for the month of December because the holiday cheer makes up for the cold. One of the best parts about the holiday season is gift giving because you get to pick out or make just the right present in order to make someone smile. However, like most college students, I’m not rolling in extra cash so I can’t necessarily afford to get every single friend the perfect gift. This is why my friends and I are big fans of the Secret Santa gift exchange. When everybody in your friend group or organization only has one person’s present to be responsible for, the worry of who to buy gifts for goes away and you can focus on making that one present absolutely perfect. Whether you’re doing a Secret Santa or getting gifts for all of your friends, check out this gift guide for some creative and cheap gift ideas that can work for Christmas or all year round.
Put together a “Relax Pack”
I had my roommate for our Secret Santa exchange this year and I thought a “Relax Pack” would be the perfect gift for her as she had some really tough finals this semester. I picked up most of this stuff at 5 Below so I could get her everything I wanted to while staying in our price range. I included an adult coloring book, colored pencils, some tea, and a fluffy blanket.
The cool thing about gifts like this is that they’re really easy to change up. If the person you’re giving the gift to really likes candles but hates tea, you could easily switch those out. If your idea of relaxation sounds more like a spa day than coloring, you could include a face mask, a bath bomb, or other spa products. This gift is great because it can be adjusted to fit most any budget and it can work as a gift for everyone from stressed out college students to corporate tycoons because everybody needs time to relax.
Before you scroll past this option saying “I’m just not the artsy type,” hear me out. You don’t have to be able to draw to make a great painting! All you need for a thoughtful work of art for someone to hang on their wall is at least two colors of paint, a brush, a canvas or thick paper, and a fun quote.
Quote paintings are my favorite to make because they’re so easy and they look so nice. If you’re feeling a little fancier you could paint a picture or do a little multimedia project. I made the painting below for our student newspaper’s Secret Santa exchange by painting the canvas and then gluing some little wooden letters to it in order to personalize it with my friend’s initials.
I get my canvases and other materials at Michaels because they have tons of options so it’s easy to find the size and price range I’m looking for. If your budget is really tight though, or if you don’t have a craft store near you, some sturdy paper plates make great stand-in canvases and give your painting a fun shape too!
This header is intentionally vague because there are so many different crafts you can do on a budget. There are tons of ideas and inspiration out there.
Over the summer, one of my suitemates texted the rest of us asking for our favorite state and favorite color. When we got to school, she gave each of us a wooden initial, painted in our favorite color, with a map of our favorite state glued to the front. (Mine is yellow and the map is of Florida because of Walt Disney World of course!) This was a super thoughtful gift that takes a bit of effort but doesn’t cost a fortune.
Obviously this is just one specific example, but the internet is rife with different ideas for creative DIY projects for those of us on a budget. Pinterest is the go to for a lot of people but if you need instruction rather than inspiration, check out HGTV Handmade and Do It On A Dime on YouTube.
Record something personal
This gift is great for somebody you’re really close to. For Christmas this year, in an effort to be the most grossly cute couple possible, I recorded an album of love songs for my boyfriend. I’m no Adele but it’s special, one-of-a-kind, and I worked hard on it so I know it will be a gift he will appreciate, although it’s definitely not something I’d feel confident enough to do for just anybody.
My school has an incredible media center with a really dedicated staff who were very helpful in teaching me how to use all of the fancy equipment. Lots of schools have a similar media center setup, but you don’t need fancy tech to make a personal recording for somebody close to you. Smartphones are pretty commonplace these days and they can be used to create some pretty amazing things. Try recording a note, a song, or a special video for that person who says the only gift they need is you.
Make some elementary school style coupons
If all else fails and you need to throw something together at the last minute, you can never go wrong with those coupons you used to make for your relatives in first grade. You can probably make a coupon for more than just “Good For 1 Hug,” but you never know. I whipped up the one below in about 10 minutes using clipart and some fun fonts I downloaded from one of my favorite websites: dafont.com. I used Adobe Illustrator, but Powerpoint, Publisher, Canva, or even MS Paint works just as well!
Coupons like this are a great way to add a creative (and wrap-able) touch to a gift that’s more of an experience than a physical present.
I hope this gift guide gave you some ideas for this holiday season. What kinds of gifts are you most excited about giving this winter?