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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Gift giving on a budget

Gift giving season is coming up, especially is you celebrate Christmas.  This can be a source of stress for every student: final exams are coming up, but you also feel the pressure of getting ready for the holidays, planning (perhaps) to travel home if you live away, gift buying, and parties.  That’s a lot to handle all at once, especially if you are a first year student and had exams in January in high school.  This is all new.

I can’t really help you with exams – chances are you are taking English or History, and I took Math and Physics about hmmm… 20+ years ago!  But I can help you diminish the financial stress of gift giving.

A first rule of gift giving as a student: it IS the thought that count.  And family and relative are grateful that you are studying at a post-secondary institution, and that you will see them during the holidays (especially if living away from home).  Everything else is a bonus.

However, if you ARE planning some presents for family and friends, here are a few tips for keeping it under budget (and remember that if your parents are contributing financially to your education, you are, at least in part, spending their money on presents!).  Here are some ideas for gift and gift giving (in general – these apply for birthdays, holidays, events, etc.)

1.    Small is adorable: small gifts often mean more than an expensive but tasteless gift.  Think of a cute computer memory key, delicate barrettes, a mug matching the recipient’s taste.

2.    College loot is trendy: your family is proud of your education and career choice.  A ‘University of Winnipeg’ mug will remind them of you every day at breakfast.  A ‘St-Lawrence College’ t-shirt is perfect for mom’s gardening hours in the summer.  These gifts also show your family that you appreciate your education.

3.    Kids like to DO stuff: a gift to look at is ok, but a gift that children can use is better.  Think of a new box of markers, some play dough and cookie cutters, a puzzle or a book.  All of these can be used for months if not years, and are engaging gifts.  They are also very reasonably priced. 

4.    A newborn does not need much, and probably has a hundred new sleepers by now.  For a baby, I try to find a book in which the main character shares his/her first name with the baby.  To make my search easier, I search for that name on Amazon.  Even my niece Livia received a book with her name in it.  For more uncommon names this can be difficult though.  

5.    When I was a poor grad student, I made (on my computer) and printed (on my own printer) a calendar with photographs of my grandmother at different ages.  My grandmother received the first copy, and then all my aunts and uncles (on that side of the family) received one as well.  This was a HUGE hit and it only cost me the price of paper, ink, and having the pages bound with spirals.  I put the photos and calendar table on pieces of 8 ½ x 14 inch (legal) size paper, one page per month.

6.    If you bake, a huge batch of cookies divided in small packs of 6 cookies are easy to transport (as opposed to cupcakes) and cheap.  Ditto for mini banana bread loaves.  If you are home early, you can even bake at home instead of in residence or at your rental apartment/house.

7.    Food is always popular.  Fill empty jars of spaghetti sauce (start collecting now) or peanut butter jars (make sure the recipient has no allergies) with candies or trail mix from the bulk store and label them.  These will be sure to be a hit because you can tailor the content to what the recipient likes: caramels, nuts and chocolate for dad; spicy and savory snacks for sister, gummy bears for little brother.

8.    If you need and have the time (this is very time-consuming), knitting scarves is simple and can be done with one skein (ball) of yarn purchased on sale.  If you have a long commute home and are not studying, this may work (I did that on the subway in Montreal – it was too hard to study but knitting worked)

9.    If you are giving gifts to fellow college students: a food ‘kit’ is fun, funny, and inexpensive: a loaf of bread, peanut butter and jam; microwave popcorn and 2 liters of soda; trail mix or dried fruit mix (see no. 7); corn chips and salsa; favorite chocolates; a mug and hot chocolate mix (you can add a bag of mini-marshmallow) .  Remember to avoid perishable, especially before a holiday when people are more likely to go home and not eat the food right away.

10.  An insulated mug is a great gift for most people: people on the go, students (even in high school), housewives, retired people.  A water bottle with a drinking spout is a good alternative for kids.

11.  If you are shopping specifically for Christmas, an ornament is a great and not-too-expensive gift.  Most can be found for less than $10 a piece, and several for less than $5 a piece.

12.  For a birthday, I like to put together a list of ‘what happened on ….. (date)’ sheet, and print it.  Simple but thoughtful.

There are obviously many more ideas like these – please share them on my blog!

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