The cash-strapped college student’s top 5 homemade gift ideas for the holiday season

Personalized Gift Basket

Personalized Gift Basket

The holiday season is just around the corner, and it’s time to start that elusive task of finding gifts for your loved ones. For many cash-strapped college students, the thought can be daunting, especially when different people have different expectations when it comes to gift giving. Embrace the challenge and keep the ideas flowing, even if the cash isn’t. Take a look at this list of top 5 homemade gift ideas that just might surprise.

Handmade savory or sweet goodies

Cooking may or may not be your strongsuit, but who’s keeping track? For  the many people in your life, food is likely the way to their hearts and when it comes to gift giving, it’s all about the gesture. Even for the uninitiated, homemade sweets or snacks can be a great way to show you care. Try salted caramels, mini red velvet cupcakes, or a twist on the meringue to indulge the holiday sweet tooth. Even if it doesn’t turn out spectacular, you’ll get brownie points for trying. Check out Real Simple’s post, “10 Easy Holiday Desserts,” for scrumptious recipe ideas.

Customized photo books

Personalized photo books are a unique gift that are easy to make and easy on the wallet. With online services such as Blurb, Shutterfly, or Mixbook, you can quickly drag and drop photos and write text with their customizable templates. So creating that lasting memory of Spring Break or summer holiday can be the perfect gift to share amongst friends. Also, check out deals from Groupon, LivingSocial, or Bloomspot for discounts and deals on photo book services that often run 50% off or more.

Sell yourself with gift certificates

Rather than pay money for someone else to offer goods or services to your loved ones, try gifting your time, which can be more valuable than money. Print out personalized gift certificates as tender, good for “One Full Service Laundry Day,” which includes washing, drying and folding for your best friend when she’s in a pinch, “A Homecooked Meal,” for your parents or a “Dog Sitting Weekend” for your older siblings when they are out of town.

Gift baskets

Everyone loves a gift basket, but don’t let the convention of using a basket stop you. Try making your own “baskets” using cardboard boxes wrapped in colored paper, shredded magazines for filler or colored cellophane. Cheap canvas tote bags from your grocery store or clean Chinese takeout boxes also can be cheap, fun alternatives. The dollar store will provide endless possibilities to fill your “baskets” with bath and body items or other random, but fun trinkets. Just try not to fill the baskets with things that are too generic. Keep in mind the person you are giving it to. Handmade cards, postcards or handwritten notes can also go a long way in making the gift more personal. For more twists on the gift basket, read Diy Maven’s November 22, 2011 article, “Roundup: 20+ Inexpensive DIY Gift Basket Ideas We Love,” on

Personalized guide

If you’re going to college out of state, a great gift for those back home is to buy a local travel guide for your college town or region and add bookmarks with handwritten notes on the best places to eat and visit. Take it one step further and create a weekend itinerary full of tips with where to stay along with historical facts and tidbits on the geography or population. Entice those you want to come visit you with a visual aide that will get them on a plane in no time!

Remember that some of the best gifts this holiday season can be the ones your family and friends are least expecting. And no matter how cliche it may sound, it truly is the thought that counts!

What other thoughtful and homemade gift ideas have you tried in the past?

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