How to Get Through Holiday Shopping without Breaking the Bank

Story by Anna Kendall
Photo Courtesy of Flickr

It’s official – the holiday season is upon us. Christmas music is blaring, dorm doors are decorated and ugly holiday sweaters are being shamelessly worn.

For many college students, bank accounts are crying. Trying to purchase the perfect gift for all the wonderful people in our lives, both old and new, and keeping a budget while still hitting everyone on your list can be a challenge.

Never fear! We’re here to help you show everyone how much you care during the holiday season without breaking the bank. The best ways to save money on gifts this holiday season is through gift-giving experimentation, communication, creativity and timeliness.

Switching up Gift Giving Traditions
Every family and friend group has their own traditions when it comes to giving gifts. Sometimes these traditions can be expensive; I know how hard it can be to purchase gifts for mom, dad and all four siblings while still having some cash left over for your besties.

While there are ways you can still do individual gift giving and get a great deal, one awesome way to save money is to adopt gift-giving games within your group.

“Secret Santa” allows for everyone to still receive a great gift while keeping everything under budget. Perfect for large friend groups and extended family, this game allows you to not feel guilty about only buying for one person, and ensures that everyone within the group will receive a gift.

This takes care of the awkward decision making of who in the friend group is worth buying a gift for or picking a favorite cousin for the year.

An even cheaper and equally fun activity is “white elephant” gift giving. This is the perfect time to get rid of any past crappy gifts that you don’t want while also bringing plenty of laughs to the table.

While this option usually means that no one goes home with any really great gifts, its real value comes from the time spent together while completing the activity. You’d be surprised how jolly everyone can be while exchanging the worst gifts they’ve ever received with one another.

Communication about Gift Giving
Talking about money is hard, especially when it comes to gifts. There’s a lot of room for people to get their feelings hurt if they planned on getting you a gift and you didn’t reciprocate or vice versa. It’s a tough conversation to have, but as broke college students, it’s one that is necessary to save more than a little cash and heartache.

No matter who it is, you need to establish if you will be exchanging gifts. Best friends, siblings, roommates, it doesn’t matter. You need to discuss it, and you need to be honest about whether or not you really want to purchase something for them, and if so, for how much.

If you do decide to give gifts, set a clear price limit. While of course this price limit can be exceeded if you really feel like it’s necessary, be understanding of the fact that you can’t expect to receive a gift worth more than the set amount just because you gave one that was.

Awkward as it may be, communication surrounding gift-giving is probably the biggest way to save money and avoid hurt feelings.

Tapping Into Your Creative Side
Remember in elementary school where you used to make homemade gifts for your parents and grandparents, and they loved them no matter what? Well, take that concept to a collegiate level and you’ll probably find that it has the same effect.

When I first came to college I found that my roommates had a hobby of painting canvasses, and this was a practice that I adopted for a few of the gifts I’m giving this year. You can get cheap canvas at Walmart, use old paint and paintbrushes from home, and voila! A priceless art piece has been created. Even if you aren’t super good (trust me, I’m not), it’s the thought that counts, and your piece usually turns out better than you would expect.

Art isn’t the only way you can get creative and heartfelt. What about constructing a poem or letter for a loved one? What about spending an afternoon with them doing their favorite thing? Gifts from the heart mean a lot more in the long run, especially to those who understand you’re experiencing financial struggle.

Getting Down to Business
As someone who shamelessly mooches off their older brother’s Amazon Prime account, I’ve found this to be one of the best places to shop for gifts. If you don’t have Amazon Prime, finding someone who does can be a real asset. Free two-day shipping plus some of the cheapest prices for almost any goods on the internet is heaven when shopping for gifts.

Another way to save money at any store is to start buying presents early. Not like Black Friday early – early early. I purchased my brothers’ presents this year in September, and have watched the prices of their gifts rise as the holiday season approaches.

Also, don’t forget to check out the sale and clearance racks and sections of websites. You can often find some phenomenal steals among the pages of unwanted merchandise.

Happy Shopping, Chippewas
So, there you have it, money saving advice from a true shopaholic who has mastered the trade. Through homemade gifts, gift giving games, a few tough conversations and a watchful eye towards my bank account, I was able to purchase gifts for everyone on my list this year while staying within my self-set budget, and you can, too.

But never forget that the holiday spirit lies not in the gifts you’re giving, but the people you’re giving them to (cheesy, I know, but come on, it’s true).

Make sure you take some time to appreciate and be around the ones your buying for, or the ones you’re not, and show them how much you care. The holiday season is all about spreading the love, and no one does that better than a Chippewa.