Written by Sam Styles | Photo by Trevor Meyer

The holiday season descends upon us like a swirling storm of snow made up of dreams, pleasant memories, gifts and mom’s home cooking. Now for some of you, this is the single greatest event of the season. You love the pageantry, the lights, the wonderful blend of fireplaces and cold weather – and the gifts, of course the gifts. For others, the holidays are a snowstorm you’d rather sleep through. One where your many older relatives will bombard you with flurries of questions about your still interesting life. You will withstand the downpour as long as you can, but will eventually give in under the sweet influence of champagne. Whether we fall under the camp of the holiday lovers or the holiday haters, we will all be united under one common challenge. Most of us are poor and living on student budgets, yet there are many people we need to buy gifts for. From this point on, I will guide you towards buying gifts for everyone while still having enough leftover to buy yourself a little something.


If you are buying gifts for your roommates, then I highly suggest you do a Secret Santa. This immediately cuts your gift count from three or six down to one, which will bring down costs tremendously, especially if you live with a large group. If you don’t know what Secret Santa is, then you probably don’t have family in Orange County (like I do). In Secret Santa, you put all your roommates’ names in a hat and then take turns drawing. Once you have drawn a name, you buy that person a gift. Simple and cheap.

Now when picking out the gift, places like second-hand clothing stores, Amazon, used book stores, Etsy and Target are going to be your best friends. Remember, thinking outside the box is key. The thought of the gift could end up being way more important than the actual thing. If nothing is coming to mind, try going to a place like Hirons and see if anything jumps off that walls at you. The unfortunate thing is, many of us already have more stuff than we need. I’ll give you an example: don’t tell him, but this year I’m going to give my friend a 50 percent-off cake from Safeway, which I will then customize with frosting to write his name and probably a few choice words. Bam! You’ve got a personalized gift. Just pay attention to the person. You live with them, so chances are you know them pretty well. If they talk about a TV show a lot, look into a patch with their favorite character on it that they can sew to their backpack. If they like lavender incense, get them a pack. Like I said, making it about them is more important than the money spent.


Now I have a few gift ideas here, but before I dive into those, I highly recommend writing your parents a letter. We are all sentimental in our own way, and I can’t think of many moms who wouldn’t love to read a letter dedicated to describing just how wonderful a job they did raising you. They deserve to hear it too, raising a child is no cake walk (or so I’ve heard.) Plus, they will show it off to their friends and you will look exactly like the shining star that you are.

When it comes to getting your parents gifts, I would suggest targeting practicality. You can get away with giving your dad socks if they come with a clever card the makes the whole thing funny. You can say something like, “Bought you more socks because your feet smell so bad, I think you should wear two on each foot.” Now it’s all a laugh. For your mom, something small and personal is great, but I promise you that if you put a bit of effort into a letter she will be more than content with that.

Significant Others

Here’s the fact of the matter: if you go into the holiday season with someone special in your life, it can’t hurt to spend some money because they mean a little something extra. One theme of this article has been saving money, but another equally important theme has been making your gifts personalized. With a significant other, always make it personal.

Start listening, ask them questions about the things they want, REMEMBER what they say, then pretend like you forgot and surprise them Christmas morning. If you are out one day and they fall in love with something but don’t purchase it, go back later and buy it for them. As humans, we love nothing more than the feeling that we have been understood. If you can recognize how important a certain gift can be to someone, then you are killing it at being an S/O. If it is a relationship that is just starting, then gift something fun and small. Maybe burn them a CD or get them that desk cactus they have been eyeing. If you’ve been together longer, then try thinking of a gift that reminds them of your time together.