Low-Cost Gift Ideas for College Students

African couple printing out photographs
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If you're like most college students, buying gifts present a complicated dilemma: You'd like to give nice presents but you are, after all, a college student trying to live on a budget. So how can you balance wanting to give nice presents with the limits of your bank account?

Luckily, there are ways to give low-cost gifts without coming across as cheap.

8 Low-Cost Gift Ideas for College Students

Print out and frame a nice picture. With everything being digital these days, try to remember the last time someone gave you a printed-out picture that you can hang on your wall -- and how nice that present was (or would be!). If you're really short on cash, print something at the highest quality available on your printer and make a nice frame to match.

Give a simple college-themed gift. While the $60 sweatshirts in the campus bookstore are pretty nice, they might also be out of your budget. See what else you can find that celebrates your time in school while costing a little less. Keychains, bumper stickers, t-shirts on the clearance rack (will your cousin really know?), plastic cups, and lots of other presents can be had for under $10 -- and even under $5, if you really spend some time looking.

Give the gift of time. Money may be in tight supply for you, but time may not be -- especially if you need a gift for the holidays when you're home on break. Consider planning a nice walk with your mom, ​volunteering with your dad, hanging out with your friend at his work one afternoon, or even babysitting for your parents so they can get some time to themselves.

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 as a great source of gifts you can make completely on your own.

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, 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.

Make a memory box for an old friend or family member. You can probably find a nice little box somewhere on campus or at a local big box or drug store. Cut up some nice pieces of paper and write a cherished memory of you and the person you're giving your gift to; fold them over once or twice; Then write a nice card that explains the gift and says how often they can unwrap one of the little "memories" in the box (once a week? once a month?) It can be a great trip down memory lane for you and a very personal, meaningful gift for an old friend or beloved family member.

Frame a design you make. Who says only a photograph can go in a picture frame? Start with a piece of paper and get creative. Print or cut out quotes about the importance of education, snip headlines from your school paper, take (or sketch) a picture of your school -- as long as you put together something with a similar theme (e.g., your campus), it's hard to make a homemade gift like this look bad. Let your creativity flow without worrying about the cost.

Switch up a usual gift into something different. Dinner and a movie is a pretty classic gift for a girlfriend, boyfriend, or even a parent's birthday. But if your money is tight, you can switch things up to have an equally good time without the high cost. Consider, for example, going to breakfast and a movie. The food bill will be cheaper, your movie will likely be a matinee (and cheaper than an evening film), and you and the person you take will have a unique experience, too.