The holidays are an expensive time for everyone, but college students feel that more than most. When you’re living off student debt and don’t have any income to speak of, the thought of buying gifts and paying for leisure activities is downright depressing – not to mention the cost of holiday travel.
If this sounds like you, it’s time to get creative. Here are some of the best ways to enjoy your Christmas vacation without draining your bank account.
Fun and Frugal Gift Ideas
Even if you’re a college student on a budget, you can still come up with quality Christmas gifts that everyone will enjoy. Here are a few easy ideas.
With the advent of digital photography and the ability to post photos to social media, it’s rare for people to print out real photographs any more. But there’s probably nothing more your mom would love than a framed picture of you to hang up in the house.
You can print out photos for less than 50 cents each through services like Shutterfly or at a local pharmacy, and you can find affordable and interesting picture frames at thrift stores. If you want to make more of an effort, buy a photo collage frame at an arts and crafts store for about $20-$30. These stores often have 40-50% off coupons available online or in the newspaper.
You can also frame childhood artwork. Even if you had no talent, your parents would probably love to get a set of framed drawings you made as a five year-old.
Make a Scrapbook
One year for my mom’s 40th birthday, I made her a scrapbook timeline of her life. I included pictures of her at every age and decorated it with fun stickers from the craft store. To this day, she says it’s the best gift I’ve ever given her.
If someone in your life is celebrating a milestone this year, create a mini scrapbook for that achievement. For example, if your parents just celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary, make a scrapbook with pictures from their marriage.
If no one in your family is celebrating anything notable, you can also make a fun Christmas-themed scrapbook with pictures from past holiday celebrations. It’s easy to find inexpensive craft supplies at thrift stores or in the sale bin at arts and crafts stores.
Make Homemade Truffles
Edible gifts are the best gift choice for broke college students. Truffles are simple enough for just about anyone to make, but they still look and taste gourmet. You can find an easy recipe here.
Make sure to buy a couple flavors of quality chocolate and a few Christmas-themed tins at the dollar store. You can roll the truffles in ground nuts or cocoa for a decadent touch.
Use Your Talent
Most people have some sort of talent or skill they can translate into a gift. One year for Valentine’s Day, my musician boyfriend recorded a cover of “our” song. It was such a sweet and personal gift and remains the best gift I’ve ever gotten.
When you use this approach, you’re tapping into the equity you’ve built up through years of practice. It won’t cost you much, but it will have very real value for the person you’re gifting to.
Think about the personal talents you have and how you could incorporate them into a Christmas gift. If you’re great at video projects, make a custom video compilation to play on Christmas morning. If you’re a musician, write a fun and sweet parody of a song about your family.
Cheap Winter Activities
Spending Christmas break in your hometown is a great chance to unwind, see old friends and get prepared for the next semester. For some people that means expensive dinners and hefty bar tabs, but broke college students need to consider more frugal options.
Have a Cookie-Decorating Party
Making and eating sugar cookies is a popular Christmas activity that doesn’t cost a lot of money. If you’re hosting, make a big batch of sugar or gingerbread cookies beforehand and have them ready before people come over. Even a few dozen cookies shouldn’t cost more than five bucks.
Encourage guests to bring sprinkles, frosting and whatever else they want to use to decorate their cookies. Make a pot of hot cocoa to enjoy the cookies with later.
Participate in Winter Activities
Winter activities like sledding, ice skating and snowman-building are a great way to spend time with your friends without spending a lot of money. A state park near me has a Toboggan run, where you can ride a sled down a steep metal track for a few bucks a person.
Ice skating is almost just as affordable. My local ice skating rinks charge $8-$9 for admission and between $3-$4 for skate rental, which is pretty standard across the country.
Many parks will have special Christmas light events, where you can walk or drive through and see huge light installations.
Bowling is, in my opinion, one of the most underrated activities for people on a budget. Look up bowling alleys near you to find which one offers the best deals. Many have discounts on beer and pizza, especially if you come with a large group.
Gather up as many people as possible to make lane rental more affordable. You’ll end up spending twice as much quality time with your friends and family for half the price of a sit-down restaurant or bar.
Find a Christmas Movie Showing
Many movie theaters and local establishments screen Christmas classics like “Christmas Vacation,” “Home Alone” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.” These showings are usually cheaper than a regular movie and provide a few hours of festive nostalgia.
For example, a local community center near me is showing four different Christmas movies each weekend in December. The cost is only $5 for college students.
If your parents have a big basement or living room, you can host your own movie showing. Invite your friends, make a big batch of eggnog and throw on your favorite holiday classic.