In an article about cheap gifts for broke college students, a girl holds out a present in front of her.

Five Gift Ideas for Broke College Students

Christmas can be scary for those of us who lack disposable income. Here are some gifts that are cheap but still meaningful.
December 17, 2022
8 mins read

Gift ideas are one of the most stressful parts of the holiday season. There are endless possibilities, and when you truly care about someone, you can feel pressure to spend a fortune on their gifts. However, there are many gift ideas that are very meaningful but won’t break the bank. Whether they’re homemade items, personalized experiences or little knick-knacks, there are plenty of gift ideas that are both wonderful and affordable. After all, something smaller and more meaningful shows you care even more than an expensive but impersonal gift.

Bracelets and/or Bracelet Kits

For many college students, homemade gifts are associated with macaroni portraits for mother’s day or pictures colored in class to hang up on the fridge. However, a handmade item can still be used to express one’s appreciation for a loved one, regardless of whether they’re two or twenty. An excellent example of a simple gift that is incredibly meaningful but requires little skill is a handmade bracelet. There are endless possibilities in the realm of bracelet-making, such as the nostalgic Rainbow Loom patterns or intricate braiding techniques. There are kits available online for less than $25 that anyone (even a burnt out, over-caffeinated college student) can use. Amazon is an amazing resource for bracelet kits, and offers kits such as this bundle for only $21 that includes everything one could possibly need to make personalized bracelets complete with letters, charms, colorful beads, string and even tiny scissors. Bracelet kits are truly the gift that keeps on giving, as an investment of just $21 provides the materials for dozens of bracelets. While bracelets are a wonderful gift to make for friends and family, the kits can also be given as a gift to encourage loved ones to go back to their crafty calming roots.

Paintings/Painting Kits

In a similar vein, a painting is an amazing gift. Making a painting for someone may seem like a hefty task, especially if you’re not exactly Picasso, but there are levels of paintings for each individual’s skill set. For example, for someone who has no experience painting whatsoever, all you need is a loved one’s favorite colors for a simple painting with a colorful background and their name painted on top. If you’re a bit more experienced with painting, you can try out a Bob Ross painting video that takes you through the process step-by-step. You can also paint a photo of your loved one or a photo of you two together if you’re experienced at copying images, or you can even try to inject your own style into the picture. It’s also the perfect creative outlet. Whether you recreate their favorite fast-food restaurant or their childhood pet, it’s the thought that counts and they will appreciate your effort. For just $20, you can find a kit with paint, brushes, canvases and an easel. Also, if you feel like your loved one would enjoy painting, you can give them the kit so they can channel their own creativity into art.


The holiday gift-giving season can be incredibly overwhelming, as the endless options for potential gifts can make it seem impossible to choose just one. However, one gift that is both cheap and very easy to individualize is the sticker. While stickers may seem juvenile, websites like RedBubble sell artists’ designs for just about anything. Do you have a cousin who loves “The Office”? Get them a bundle of the show’s best catchphrases and inside jokes. Was your best friend’s number-one Spotify wrapped artist Taylor Swift? Gift them a ‘taylor’s version’ sticker celebrating her iconic re-releases. Does your dad quote “Star Wars” at least once a day? Buy him some mini lightsaber stickers to plop onto his favorite travel mugs. Red Bubble also has stickers for just about every university, which is the perfect gift for an acquaintance you got stuck with for Secret Santa or your favorite professor. The opportunities are endless when it comes to stickers. They’re the perfect gift idea because as long as you know just one interest a person has, you can find the perfect sticker for them.


Though many characterize Christmas shopping as a mad dash, online and in-person, to find the perfect item, it doesn’t have to be this way. The holidays are about spending time with the people you love and showing them how much you care. One way to achieve this goal while sticking to a budget is to buy an experience, not an item. For example, if your loved one is an art history buff, you can take them to a museum; museums vary in price, but many are based on donations or even free. For movie fans, buy them a ticket and some popcorn and enjoy discussing the movie afterwards. You can take them for mani-pedis, mini-golf or bring them to an amusement park. Buying an experience is a great way to spend time with a loved one, but most places offer vouchers if you want to buy someone an experience along with the gift of some alone time. Another more customizable gift based on experiences is a coupon book. For the brokest of us, that can mean a coupon for doing the dishes or braiding their hair, but it’s the perfect way to individualize the gift for any person. By giving someone an experience, you’re investing in a memory instead of an item.

Remember the Little Things

The final gift idea is a piece of advice: remember the little things. Maybe one day you’re talking to a friend and they mention how much they love a store you pass, check out that store for their Christmas present. Or maybe your friend complains about how badly they need to replace their yoga mat, and you give them a brand new one. Utilizing small comments as a gift-giving guide is perfect for anyone who wants to show loved ones how much they care. Similarly, gifts based on inside jokes are fun and unique. This can be as simple as buying sunflower butter for a friend allergic to peanuts, or giving them a small trinket that relates to a running joke. If you’re someone who values unique and personal qualities of gifts more than monetary value, it’s helpful to make note of such off-handed comments from friends and family.

Teagan Angell, Fordham University

Writer Profile

Teagan Angell

Fordham University
Political Science and Psychology

My name is Teagan Angell and I’m from the Poconos in Pennsylvania. At Fordham, I’m in Every Vote Counts and the Fordham Political Review. I love music, movies, coffee and art.

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