Give great gifts without emptying your wallet

by Beacon Staff • December 13, 2006

The holiday season can mean added stress and empty pockets for college students trying to find the perfect gift on a limited budget. While students want their friends and family to feel special, they don't all have the means to splurge on expensive presents.

Luckily, there are many alternative gifts and ideas that are still just as meaningful without leaving college kids in debt. There are many ways to give to others this season, whether it's small homemade goods or quality time with those you love.

Part of what makes the holidays so special is time spent with friends and family. One great activity to get friends together is hosting a holiday movie night. Sophomore studio/TV production major Sarah Jolly plans to have her friends over to watch their favorite holiday movies, "Miracle on 34th Street" and "It's a Wonderful Life."

"My only expense would be a box of popcorn, some soda and a few movie rentals," Jolly said. Depending on how large the group will be, friends can bring over their favorite holiday treats to snack on during the movie. Quality time with the people you care about is one of the best gifts you can give.

If movies aren't your thing, host a get-together. Ask your friends to each bring his/her favorite beverage and/or snack. The cost is minimal if everyone joins in to spend a few bucks on making cookies or buying some sparkling cider.

Play a CD of your favorite holiday songs to set the mood. Ask everyone to share their favorite family traditions and memories from holidays past. You might be in for a good laugh, some delicious recipe ideas, and a chance to really get to know the people you hang out with every weekend.

One of the most fun party games to play is a card-based game called "Apples to Apples." You'll have to spend about $25 to buy it, but it's well worth the price.

"Apples to Apples" is a word-association game that can be played with just a few players or an entire room of friends. The game is great for breaking the ice at any dull get-together, and the result is often a belly-busting laugh session that can last for hours on end. "Apples to Apples" is available on Amazon.com.

Another great inexpensive gift is homemade food. "I like to bake my favorite Mexican food and have friends over," said freshman marketing communications major Rudy Morales. Even if you're not a chef, it's relatively simple to bake cookies and wrap them in colored cellophane for a festive holiday treat to hand out to friends.

Nestle Tollhouse ready-made cookie dough costs only $3.99 for 18 ounces and can be found at any local grocery store. Stir in MMs, chocolate chips or even crushed candy canes for extra taste.

Still need presents for friends without breaking the bank? Freshman film major Alix Haniotis plans to participate in a gift exchange with her friends. Everyone participating puts his/her name in a hat, and each person picks a name.

You then buy a gift for the person you picked. "I'm really broke this year. Maybe I'll wrap stuff I already have," Haniotis joked. While re-wrapping an item you already own might not be the most original gift, a great way to save money while keeping it creative is to make your own gifts.

"I'm going to burn CDs for my friends," said freshman journalism major Greiby Medina. "I find it to be a good idea since you usually know what your friend or family member likes in music, so it's inexpensive yet really thoughtful."

Customizing the CD by including music you know he or she will like adds a very personal touch to an inexpensive gift. Add a favorite picture of the two of you on the CD case cover page for a special touch.

Though it's great to give and receive gifts from friends and family, it is also rewarding to donate your time for those who are less fortunate. Get a group of friends together and spend a night volunteering at one of Boston's many homeless shelters.

Call Woods Mullen Shelter located on Mass. Avenue at (617) 534-7101 or the Boston Rescue Mission/Kingston House located on Kingston Street at (617) 482-8819.

The Greater Boston Food Bank is also loking for volunteers. Call (617) 598-5030 or e-mail volunteer@gbfb.org to find out how to get involved. According to its Web site, gbfb.org, volunteer opportunities are available seven days a week, morning, afternoon and evening. Volunteers help to sort, inspect and package donated food.

Helping those in need is one gift you know will be appreciated. What better way to get into the holiday spirit?

Toys for Tots is a great program to ensure less-fortunate children can celebrate the holiday with presents, even though their families can't afford them. Whether you have a little or a lot to spend, toys come in nearly every price bracket. Even one toy can make all the difference for a child in need.

New, unwrapped and non-violent gifts can be dropped off at any Boston fire station or in the lobby at Boston City Hall. According to cityofboston.gov, $3,000 worth of toys were donated last year to brighten the holidays for hundreds of Boston-area children.

If you can't afford to buy something on your own, join up with a few friends to buy a toy together. Check out Henry's Bear Park, in Brookline, located at 19 Harvard Ave. Take the B line and get off at Harvard Avenue. Kitty World is another fun toy shop closer to Emerson's campus, located at 279 Newbury St.