Top 10 Best Gifts to Give on a College Budget

1. A Fish
Believe it or not, one can purchase a living, breathing companion and everything it needs for seriously cheap. As someone who is currently living with a fish, I can attest it would make a great gift — just make sure you’re giving it to your most responsible friend. (Preferably not a pescatarian: fish are friends, not food!) Common fish misconceptions: while they can’t outwardly say it to you, they will judge you for eating that entire tub of Nutella in 15 minutes. Seriously, you can see it in their eyes.

2. $5 Arch’s
This one is great because a) everyone loves gooey brownie and b) you can literally get $70 worth of toppings/froyo/emotional support for only $5. Plus, you’re in luck: Christmas Eve is on a Tuesday this year, which is conveniently the day Arch’s offers this unbeatable $5 special. Make it holiday themed: only use candy canes and vanilla ice cream, or get fancy and add your own food coloring to turn vanilla froyo red and green. This gift won’t do so great under a Christmas tree, so be prepared to have to tactfully defend the freezer from any and all who have access … especially siblings.

3. Target Dollar Section
Target is one of those stores you walk into wanting one thing, and leave with about 15 things you don’t need. The one part of Target which can be claimed in bulk and guaranteed not to break the bank? The $1 section. This glorious aisle contains anything from food to beach toys, mini bubbles to kitchen utensils. Though the offerings are occasionally questionable — I’m looking at you, Styrofoam duck visor — you’ll find something for everyone on your list here. And probably yourself too.

4. A meal swipe
Everyone’s been there: you realize there’s only two weeks left in the semester and you have approximately 4,000 meal swipes left that won’t transfer to next semester. You can only swipe into O’Hill so many times before Double Swipe Dean starts to judge you, but you feel badly for wasting the money spent on your meal plan. Plus Dollars are unquestionably reserved for the emotional eating that comes with finals, so what do you do with all your meal swipes? Gift them to your friends who don’t have meal plans. They’ll get a free meal plus all the first-year nostalgia that comes from the cereal and ice milk.

5. A coupon for emotional support
Picture this: it’s 2 a.m. and you’re only two pages (single spaced) into the 15-page essay that’s due in six hours. All you want is to simultaneously call your mom, cry and have someone to reassure you that even though you were assigned that essay in October, it totally makes sense to have started it now. Cue this gift — a promise to agree with everything you say, remind you that ‘you is kind, you is smart, you is important,’ and gently wipe away your stress-tears. I wouldn’t suggest this gift if you are a bad liar and/or you value your sanity.

6. Chia Pet
This low-budget gift is perfect for the friend who thinks they can handle a living thing (read: fish) but you know that allowing said friend to own a real pet would involve a prompt call from PETA. With the right amount of enthusiasm and a limited amount of water, having a chia pet can convince anyone they have a green thumb. Boost your friend’s confidence, while adding to the décor of their room, by gifting this grassy friend. This gift gets bonus points because of its versatility and mass appeal. Throwing a little Chia love makes a perfect last-minute Secret Santa present for that random girl in your pledge class you’ve spoken to twice.

7. DIY Pinterest Crafts
I’m about to let you in on a sorority girl’s biggest secret: the power of the Mason Jar. I kid you not — put the least cute thing you can think of into one of these magic jars and instantly everyone thinks you’ve created the most adorable thing since that sneezing panda video. Take soap, for example, a distinct zero on the cuteness scale. Squirt some into a Mason Jar, add some sparkles, throw in a bow, and Oh My God — you’ve just created the most thoughtful thing ever. Things I’m not responsible for: the hours spent on Pinterest you’ll never get back, the glitter you won’t be able to get out of your hair for months, the 94 percent chance of failure that comes from attempting a Pinterest craft.

8. Disposable Camera
A picture is worth a thousand words but luckily for you, a disposable camera only costs about $8. If you’re feeling particularly funky, go one step further and buy one from Urban Outfitters — they put totally relevant things like cats, party hats and thought bubbles right onto the picture. The disposable adds an element of surprise to that late-night selfie: you won’t see how insane you look until you get it developed! Plus, it’s a scientifically tested fact that an Instagram of a disposable picture gets 10 times more likes than an Instagram of a regular picture. #Nofilter needed for instant popularity.

9. Trader Joe’s “Four Buck Chuck”
Yes, they sell $4 bottles of wine at Trader Joe’s. If this is news to you, I’d suggest getting yourself to the nearest store as soon as you can, because this is a rather life-changing thing. The single best thing about this gift? It is not Franzia. Though I can’t guarantee the quality of a wine bottle that costs less than four bucks, anything not named Franzia is automatically better in my book. Plus, putting a bow on a bottle of wine adds an air of assumed classiness and maturity to the gift giver — if someone appreciates such fine things in life like wine, they must have their life together, right?

10. Mixed CD
Channel your inner romantic and give your significant other (or not) a mixed CD of your favorite music. It’s the perfect combination of thoughtful, old school and light on the wallet — just make sure to stay away from all things Nickelback. And be careful in your song choice in general — because if the third word of the title of the fifth song in the mix has the word ‘love’ in it, it has the potential to spark the end-all be-all of a relationship, right?

Annie’s column runs biweekly. She can be reached at

Published December 4, 2013 in Life


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