Your friendly guide to gift giving when you’re on a budget

Young woman baking cookies
OCCU  -  11.21.2016

Shopping for friends and family during the holiday season can be a rewarding experience when you know what to get them -- and have the money for it. However, that’s not always the case if you’re trying to pay back student loans and make rent each month. This can put your holiday spending on a strict budget, making it difficult to buy all those awesome gifts you had in mind.


But. We’ve gathered a short list of great, inexpensive gift ideas for you to choose from so you won’t be left gift-less at this year’s holiday get-to-gather. Can you say awkward?                     

DIY gifts

No, we’re not talking about that homemade spaghetti art you made Mom for Christmas when you were in kindergarten. We’re talking about DIY gift ideas that friends and family can use that won’t get trashed as soon as you leave the party.

Recipe book

If you know someone who enjoys cooking, why not make them a recipe book? You could collect your favorite recipes or find new ones online and then print them out and place them in a scrap book personalized to the recipient. The great thing about this is that it’s super cheap to pull off and has lasting value for years to come. 

Memory Jar

You’ll get bonus points from Mom or Grandma on this one. Call, text, or email the friends and family members of the person you’re giving the jar to and ask them to think of a few favorite memories they have of that person.  Then write those memories down on colorful paper stock, fold them and place them in a decorative jar. Each time they pull a memory out of the jar it’s a heartfelt trip down memory lane. Including a box of tissues wouldn’t hurt either.

Local attractions

Taking a friend to see Taylor Swift perform for a Christmas present is probably a little pricey. Taking a friend to see Star Wars: Rogue One for a Christmas present isn’t. Look for other events or things to do in your local weekender magazine. You might be surprised at what all you can find for little or no money. Plus, think of it as a 2-for-1, giving a gift and making a memory together.


Ask your friends or family what they’ve been wanting to see on the big screen. Then check your local movie times and go buy those tickets from the actual theatre (it looks better than a digital ticket). Wrap some ribbon around the tickets and place them in a gift bag for an instant holiday gift that’s less than twenty bucks.

Coffee date

Have a friend that, if it were legal, would marry a cup of coffee? Then take them to your favorite local coffee joint and buy them their drink of choice as well as a baked goodie. You get to create a new memory with them while contributing to their caffeine addiction, which they’ll thank you for, all for a price that won’t leave you broke.

Gift cards

If you’re not the sentimental or going out type of gift giver, then you can always go with the classic gift card option. Does Dad love music but has no idea what Spotify is? Enlighten him with a month of Spotify for $10. Do you still have that one friend who doesn’t watch Netflix or Hulu Plus – and thinks binge-watching is just a myth? Give them a month subscription of each for a double dose of “I’m never leaving the couch again.” Both streaming options are under ten bucks.

Remember that it’s the thought that counts when it comes to gift giving, not the price tag. Plus, sticking to a holiday budget you can actually afford is the best gift you can give yourself.