Low-Cost Gift Ideas for College Students

Young couple smiling while printing out photographs
Making a gift yourself saves money and can be a fun and rewarding experience.

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If you're like most college students, the desire to get gifts for your friends and family presents a complicated dilemma. You want to give nice and thoughtful presents but you are, after all, a college student most likely living on a budget. So how can you buy gifts and still stay within the limits of your bank account? Give one of these low-cost gift ideas a try.

8 Low-Cost Gift Ideas for College Students

A tight budget shouldn't keep you from being able to show your loved one that you care about them on special occasions. These affordable (some even free) gift options will feel anything but cheap, and the smile they'll put on the giftee's face? Priceless.

1. A Framed Picture

With everything being digital these days, try to remember the last time someone gave you a framed picture that you could hang on your wall. Everybody can appreciate a meaningful picture, but few people give this gift anymore. Office supply stores will print pictures for pennies and there are so many frames to choose from, with sales happening often at art stores, that this present can fit any budget. If you're really short on cash, print something at the highest quality available on your home or school printer and make a nice frame yourself.

2. A College-Themed Gift

While the $60 sweatshirts in the campus bookstore are great, they might also be out of your budget. See what else you can find that celebrates your college without breaking the bank, because relatives and close friends will love supporting your school. Keychains, bumper stickers, t-shirts on the clearance rack (will your cousin really know?), reusable cups, and lots of other presents can be purchased for less than $15 or $20, you just might have to spend a little time looking.

3. The Gift of Time

Speaking of time, nobody ever said a good gift has to cost money. Cash may be in short supply for you, but you probably have at least a little time to spare. Consider planning a nice walk with your mom, ​volunteering with your dad, hanging out with your friend at their work one afternoon, or even babysitting for your aunt or uncle so they can get some time to themselves.

4. Make Something from Scratch

Nearly everyone has some kind of creative talent. Think about what you do best and run with it. Can you write a few poems? Paint a picture? Mold something out of clay? Take some awesome photographs? Make something from wood? Write a song? Record yourself singing your mother's favorite tunes? Don't sell yourself short and use your talents to make something special.

5. Put Together a Piece of Your Life at College

It doesn't have to be fancy to be effective. If, say, your grandmother never had the chance to go to college or visit you on campus, put together a shadow box or collage of images from your time in school. You can collect things like stickers, fall leaves, a page from the course catalog, or articles from the school paper to give her a piece of what your college life is like. This would also be a perfect gift for someone that attended school with you and you could personalize it with shared memories.

6. Make a Memory Box for an Old Friend or Family Member

You can probably find a charming little box somewhere on campus, whether that's an art store, a drug store, or even a thrift store. Grab a few pieces of paper and write a cherished memory of you and the person you're giving your gift to or a letter on each, put these in individual envelopes, then place them in the box. Finally, write a card explaining the gift and telling the person how often they can unwrap one of the little "memories" in the box (once a week? once a month?). You may choose to label the memories for certain occasions. This gift is very personal and the person you're giving it to will appreciate the thought that goes into it.

7. Get Painting

If you're feeling even more ambitious and crafty, paint! Using a piece of paper or a canvas picked up for only a few dollars, let your imagination run wild. But don't worry if you aren't too creative—artist or not, anyone can paint something decent thanks to video tutorials and step-by-step guides on the internet. And if painting really isn't your thing, print or cut out quotes, snap a picture, or sketch something. This one-of-a-kind gift will cost you almost nothing, but it's sure to brighten the day of whoever gets to keep it.

8. Switch up a Usual Gift Into Something Different

Make dinner and rent a movie for a riff on a classic at a fraction of the cost. Restaurants and movie theaters are fun, but any college student knows that staying in with a great movie and a home-cooked meal with friends can be just as good. Plus, this option can be easily personalized for the person you're gifting it to. Make them their favorite meal and stream a movie you know they'll love, and you've got yourself a memory that'll last for years.