The Broke College Student's Guide to Giving Holiday Gifts

The holidays can be rough on a broke college student, but there are plenty of low-/no-cost gifts you can give your friends and loved ones to show them how much you care.

The Broke College Student's Guide to Giving Holiday Gifts

You’re a college student, and you don’t have a lot of money to spare. And now that it’s gift-giving season, you might be feeling a bigger pinch on your wallet than usual. After all, how are you supposed to afford next semester’s textbooks (hint: like this!) and nice, thoughtful presents for your five best friends, four younger siblings, three awesome roommates, two loving parents, and your Aunt Partridgina Peartree? (Sorry for the terrible “12 Days of Christmas” joke...)

Of course, it’s the thought that counts, and you don’t really need to give your friends and loved ones presents. But if you're looking for some free/cheap gift ideas, you can show you care this holiday season with some of the items and kind gestures below!

Dinner party

One-pot meals


If you have access to a kitchen and enough space to host people, make your gift to your closest buddies a low-key dinner party. It’s hard to go wrong (or expensive) with pasta for a crowd. Buzzfeed knows what’s up with these one-pan pasta dishes. Or you can all pitch in and make it a potluck holiday party.

Also popular in the food-gift category? Baked treats. Do the right thing: wrap ’em up pretty. Here’s one of our favorite candy cookie recipes. And here are dirt-cheap treat bags.

The Interwebs

Internet collage

Via perezdiego2092

Put your time gallivanting around reddit, tumblr, and the like to good use by curating a collection of the funniest/weirdest/coolest stuff you can find. You can even publish your findings, whether it's a collection of funny GIFs or a YouTube playlist, to a tumblr or Wordpress site. Give it a holiday theme or tailor it to the person. Think about what they person really loves, from sports teams to books to viral dance crazes. You’re sure to find enough fun stuff online to keep them smiling until New Year’s Eve.

Childhood memorabilia

Popsicle-stick frame


This is a good one for Mom and Dad or anyone else with a sentimental side. See if you can dig up a hand-drawn picture or note from your kindergarten-ish days—a list of “reasons why I love my mommy/daddy at Christmastime” would be peeeeerfect. Then find an inexpensive frame and boom. Adorable gift. Bonus points if you get an unfinished frame from a craft store and personalize it with your own artsy paint job. Which brings us to our next idea...

Arts and crafts

Hand-knit scarf


Do you knit or crochet? Cketch or paint? What about just artfully writing your intended gift recipient’s favorite song/movie/book quote on a mug? Whatever your abilities, you can make simple homemade gifts sure to make your friends say “Aww!”


Coupon book


You saw this one coming, didn’t you. We know they’re corny, but they can also be the cute kind of corny—as long as you don’t give “Good for one free hug” coupons and call it a day. Instead, think about some of the more meaningful things you can offer: an afternoon spent hiking, just quality time between you and your BFF. A month of emptying the dishwasher for your roommate. Helping your little brother set up his first blog. An hour-long foot rub for...whomever you’re comfortable enough with to touch their feet. And you can get all crafty with your coupons too, whether it’s using your digital design or glue-and-glitter skills or both! (Or you can just use the template above, found here.)

No one expects you to give cashmere sweaters as a poor college student, so don’t stress about holiday gifts. Instead, just enjoy the season and have fun celebrating the people in your life. Santa would be proud.

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now

christmas Hannukkah student gifts

About CollegeXpress


Welcome to CollegeXpress, your one-stop college shop! We’re a free college planning website used by millions of college-bound students, parents, and counselors—anyone who needs help navigating the college search and application process, financial aid opportunities, and more. You’ll find comprehensive College Search and Scholarship Search tools, tons of articles and expert advice, unique college lists and rankings, and lots of other resources to help make your life easier. Teen Vogue even named us one of the 7 Best College Search Websites! But current college students and recent grads also love CollegeXpress for our Grad School Search tool and endless information on student life, internships, and beyond. We really have something for everyone, no matter where you are on your college journey. 😊


Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress
Leah Maciel

Leah Maciel

High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress has helped me with all aspects of applying for college. The website is extremely easy to navigate and gives access to so many resources. I was able to research all of the colleges I was interested in, find out any information I wished to know about, and keep them organized in a list. I've also been able to research scholarships and save them as resources for later. I've used many websites in my college and scholarship search, and CollegeXpress has by far been my favorite one to use.

Fabiola Rodriguez

Fabiola Rodriguez

High School Class of 2022

CollegeXpress helped me on my journey to get to the school of my first choice by showing me all the options I have. I didn’t know of the College of Southern Nevada until I went on this website, and it helped me look for other choices and compare what colleges would be right for me.

Tinuola Dada

Tinuola Dada

$2,000 Community Service Scholarship Winner, 2015

I am very excited to be this year's recipient of the Multicultural Student Community Service Scholarship. This scholarship will bring me ever closer to my academic and professional goals. CollegeXpress has been an exceptional resource to me, and I recommend it to all rising seniors as they begin to navigate the college application process.

Heather McCarty

Heather McCarty

High School Class of 2020

CollegeXpress has helped me with the college application process. The tips and tricks for important essays were so helpful. I also gained useful knowledge about college life. Even though I’m fully online, CollegeXpress has helped me develop a sense of how college is in person. The experiences from college students that were featured on their Instagram page have shown the good, the bad, and the “secret” life on campus from a reliable perspective. Not to mention, they relieved my feelings of anxiety about the workload. I can now understand how it can be stressful, but it takes self-control and willpower to get assignments completed on time and with quality.

Damian Rangel

Damian Rangel

September 2021 Mini Scholarship Winner, High School Class of 2022

CollegeXpress has helped me tackle college expenses, which will allow me to put more of my time and effort into my studies without the need of worrying as much about finances.

College Matches