If you’re a freshman, you’ve probably only been dating for a couple of months (if that) before the holidays are upon you. As a senior, you’re probably knee-deep in grad school applications, figuring out just how much you can make teaching English in South Korea after graduation, or finally planning that move to NYC after commencement.
No matter where you are in your college career, one thing is certain: You don’t have the cash to put down on an epic holiday gift.
Here’s the catch: You actually do, because great gifts don’t have to cost a lot of money. Start by simply listening to your partner, and he or she will likely tell you what is desired. A thoughtful gift trumps one that’s just expensive for the sake of it, every time.
However, gift giving is both a talent and a skill that not everyone excels at. Here’s your cheat sheet to affordable holiday gifts that should make the season a little less stressful.
1. A heartfelt love note
This is not an email, nor is it something typed and printed at the library. Simply put, nobody writes love notes anymore — and it can be pretty intimidating if writing isn’t your forte.
Don’t worry; nobody expects you to be Pablo Neruda. Start by making a list of what you like or love about your partner. Buy some nice stationery, tuck it in a card, and practice your best penmanship. Chances are, this note will be kept forever.
2. A mix tape
Again, this is a throwback gift, and it really is a mix tape you need to make — not a CD or a playlist from iTunes. You likely grew up watching “old school” movies from the 80s, and the moves people made in those films are timeless.
Listen to the lyrics to choose your songs. See if you can recall a song that’s special to you and your partner. If possible, track down an old boom box (eBay it) because your partner probably doesn’t have one.
3. A home cooked meal
It doesn’t matter if you don’t know how to cook — if they can do it on Chopped, you can pull together something. Have a picnic in your dorm room, or get some friends to help if you’re really unsure in the kitchen.
Choose some recipes that aren’t too difficult and dive right in. Hey, even a grilled cheese sandwich with Gruyere cheese can be sweet and romantic with some candlelight and a homemade cocktail or wine.
4. A photo album
Photo albums are something people just don’t make anymore since everything’s on Instagram. Pull some favorite photos of you and your partner, put them on a flash drive, and head to Kinkos for some cheap printing.
Pull everything together in a scrap book, and voila! It’s a touching memento of you, your better half, and the college years (so far).
5. Something he or she really needs
Be careful with this one, because it really depends on your partner’s style. It’s a cliche that women don’t want to be given a blender or a similarly utilitarian gift (even though there are plenty that would kill for a ninja).
If your sweetheart would be happy with such a gift, how about one of those The Art of Shaving kits or a new set of flannel bed sheets?
There’s something to be said for showing you pay attention and care about your special person’s comfort.
6. An IOU book
Sheldon Cooper may have employed this, but depending on what the coupons are for, this can actually be very sweet. Offer up massages, dinner at that little Mom and Pop place you have to drive an hour to enjoy, or anything else you specialize at.
After all, who wouldn’t want a month of scraping snow off the car when winter term starts?