Making it: a gift giving guide for broke students

The holiday season is here, and for college students this means there is a looming threat of spending money on something other than books, food and rent. Buying holiday gifts while trying to budget can be an incredibly stressful experience. This is the time of year when companies move into the black, consumer debt across the nation increases and Coca-Cola makes a killing by putting a polar bear on all their containers.

What is a poor, broke college student to do to for their family and friends? Anyone in this predicament needs to give gifts they can afford. With classes winding down and free time ratcheting up, how can a student invest in gift giving this time of year? Time!

Put some effort into handmade presents. Save those scarce monetary resources and double down on the resource of time instead.

Handcrafted Greeting Cards
The first part of this strategic deployment of effort and festive cheer is cards. Anyone can go to a store and purchase a card, which can sometimes be impersonal. If the card is already filled in, all the giver is really doing is writing their name in it. Not exactly a touching moment. So, how can a card be made to tap into the gooey emotional center of the recipient? Make it.

Pick up a pack of blank cards from a craft store for about five bucks, decide how they will be decorated and grab some materials to make these handcrafted holiday cards truly one of a kind. Stick-on photo corners are a good way to go, and printing a standard photo costs only about 7 cents.

Throw on your best ugly sweater, ask someone to snap a photo downtown by the Christmas tree and voila! Instant custom cards. For the inside of the card, try to write something personal to the recipient. It is the end of the year after all. Reflect on what they mean to you and tell them. The effort put into the message will directly relate to the value of the card, so make it better than anything that comes from a shelf.

Homemade Baked Goods
The next step up from cards on the handmade gift list is baked goods. Here is the first part of the baking gifts equation: Grab some cute boxes from the store. While you’re at it, get parchment paper to ease the baking process and to line the boxes.

Now, pick three cookie recipes that sound appealing and appropriate for the season, and pick one good fudge recipe. Make enough of the cookies to give everyone six of each kind, and throw in some fudge as well. An adorable little box with homemade cookies and fudge is one of the most fun gifts to give. People love getting treats as much as bakers love giving them.

Aim for cookie recipes that produce 36 or more cookies. Making three different batches of 36 or more cookies means you can give out six holiday treat boxes. To keep the baking budget on target, choose recipes that call for limited add-ins. Chips, nuts and dried fruit can rapidly increase the cost of a cookie. Try snickerdoodles, molasses crinkles and thumbprints to keep your cookie cost low. Fudge is where the money will go.

Making these treats can range anywhere from $30 or higher depending on what ingredients are already in the kitchen, but the cost of making a tin of homemade cookies shouldn’t be too much higher than $5 or $6 per box. Don’t forget to include a card.

Baking does require some special equipment that students might not have, and the theme here is being budget conscious. If, after poking around the kitchen, you realize there are no cookie trays, whisks, spatulas or big giant bowls in your cupboards, maybe you should try making something else.

Artisanal Candles
Candles make excellent homemade gifts and are surprisingly easy to make. A pound of soy wax will only cost about $9. Oils to add scent and dyes to add color are usually about 4 bucks for a small bottle. It only takes an ounce of oil to give an entire pound of wax a scent. Try starting with four-ounce mason jars to keep the candles small. One dozen four-ounce jars will cost about $10. To make 12 four-once candles it is going to take about 2 1/2 pounds of wax.

Making candles with the supplies listed above will come in at just under 50 bucks for a dozen four-ounce candles. That is about $4.15 per candle, but cheap gifts that are unique can beat a lot of more expensive gifts found in stores.

The equipment required for candle making can be grabbed at a craft store and from goodwill. Get a cheap, metal coffee pot or an old sauce pan to melt and pour candle wax from. This will need to be set up in a double boiler, so make sure it fits inside a pan you already have.

Try combining all three ideas above to give to family or your closest friends. Gift giving does not have to be about spending money. Spending time on a gift can be much more valuable. Invest in your relationships by giving someone you care about a little bit of your time.