Inexpensive gift ideas for college students

The holidays are here and the semester is winding to an end, which means finals are coming soon.

Exams have a tendency to absorb the free time a college student has, but something about finals enhances this time absorption. Initially, lack of extra time results in less time to work, which concludes having less money in your bank account. Usually, having less money around the holidays makes things a little more complicated, especially if you’re involved in a gift-giving tradition.

The initial challenge that financially tight students face around the holiday season is being able to afford gifts for their loved ones. However, this article descended from extensive research to help broke college students maintain the awesome experience of watching someone you care about open a present you picked just for them.

Keep in mind, giving gifts is not just for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, and other holidays this time of year. Gift-giving is a year-round happening; anniversary, birthdays, get togethers. When these events take place, always remember that the thought is what matters most.

Here are a few hacks to help you save money if you decide to shop online:


Create an amazon account using your Washburn email. Login, then follow the steps accordingly. Yes, you will have to put a card number on file, which may sound skeptical, but as soon as you add your card number and the rest of the steps are completed, just log in to your Amazon student account and simply ‘cancel membership.’ Do this step as soon as you can to ensure you don’t forget, since this step is what makes this hack so great. By cancelling the membership from the beginning, you don’t have to pay the renewal fee when the time comes around. Amazon is a trusted website, which means they are highly likely to refund your money if you’re mistakenly charged for your membership. Congratulations, you now have 5 months with free amazon prime shipping!


UniDays was made especially for students, which means you can only make an account using your student email. This app appreciates students and provides a list of online shopping websites that recognize the broke college student by offering numerous promotional codes, which are discounts used specifically for online shopping. Create your account through the app using your student email in one, simple step. Once you do that, you can now choose a store you want to shop on. When you’re ready to check out, simply click on the desired coupon code. The specific code only has an hour to be used before it expires. However, if the code is not used within that hour, the app regenerates you another one.


This online store specializes in selling quality, safe beauty products, most of which are only $1. Shipping costs $3.95. However, if you buy 40 things for $1, (which seems like a lot, but honestly is not when you’re shopping for multiple people) shipping is free. This website offers Talc-free, long-lasting and super pigmented makeup for $1 a palette. SHOPMISSA also offers durable makeup tools, organic face masks, decorative jewelry, stickers, headbands, scarves, primers, false eyelashes and so much more. This app is mentioned because, if well utilized, creating great quality ‘gift basket’ for friends, family and lovers can be as cheap as $5 per person. Some of the products on SHOPMISSA donate a portion to animal shelters.

For those who don’t shop online, here are a few inexpensive Do-It-Yourself present ideas.

Willow photo frame

The Willow photo frame takes a few cheap materials and is super simple to make.

What you need:

  • 1 Dowel rod, 2-3ft long. (1-3$ at Walmart)
  • Thick yarn, (colored, textured, either works)
  • Sentimental photos, (you can receive 85 free photos on the ‘FreePrints’ app)
  • Reliable clear tape
  • Hot glue gun

Lay the dowel flat and measure 4-5 strands of yarn that are the same length at 2x the rod (add a little more for the knot to attach the yarn to the rod. The rod should be laid horizontally, each strand of yarn should hang vertically, tied in place to the rod at the top. The strand of double-up yarn should be tied on each end of the rod, to be used to hang it on the wall with. Secure each strand in place with hot glue. Now your ready to place to photos on the hanging ‘willow branches’. The spacing and laying is up to you. Take each photo and place the ‘willow branch’ (the yarn) in the center on the backside of each photo. Tape it in place. Don’t use hot glue to secure the string as it may warp the photo causing it to fold. Now you have created a custom AND thoughtful gift!

Memory jar

This gift also requires you to have a photo of the person you wish to give the gift to.

  • Glass jar with lid (dollar tree has a bunch of different shapes and sized to chose from)
  • Single photo
  • Stickers and small cut outs to personalize the jar
  • Hot glue gun
  • Cardstock paper

Cut the photo so that it fits inside of the jar. Cut two small rectangular pieces that flush with the bottom of the photo. Then fold the bottoms of the triangles and glue them onto the photo to act as a base to keep the photo from falling over. Decorate the inside of the jar, and your gift is ready to go!

Custom Embroider baseball cap

  • Embroidery needle
  • Embroidery thread
  • Baseball cap

Altogether at Walmart, this gift is no more than $6. If you are inexperienced with embroidering, you can YouTube a few methods on how to properly set up your needle and thread. You can either draw your design on the cap with a fabric marker or print your design then embroider over the paper. For inspiration or tutorials, YouTube and Pinterest will be your best friend. As soon as that is set up, you are ready to customize a baseball cap. This is an option for many people, as custom and cute caps run for an average $20 for their clever logos. Yet embroidery thread and a needle is all you need to create your own! Give this as a gift or keep it for yourself.

Mary Bartell, senior at Washburn shared, “DIY (Do-It-Yourself) gifts are my favorite! I usually try to stay under a $10 (per person) budget. So I get creative and spend time sorting through the great thrift stores here in Topeka. The home décor, kitchen and nick-knack section of the stores can inspire some creative and cheap presents when put together! If it requires an artistic flare, Hobby Lobby has great coupons and discounts!” Bartell explained that she also likes to buy cheap photo frames from thrift shops and spice it up by painting it or gluing cute cut-outs on it. Barrel shares that you can always shop around for cute, over-sized coffee mugs and fill them with small goodies and a packet of Nestle hot cocoa mix. 

With these creative, easy and cheap ideas, your gift-giving will not break your bank.

Happy Holidays, Bods!