Thoughtfulness means more than price tags

By Sarah Contreras

The holiday season is upon us.

For some, this means endless amounts of cheer and charity. For others, this means even more stress put on our pocketbooks.

If you’re anything like me, working hard for your money but barely able to keep up with the monthly grind of bills and food, Christmas can be worrisome. What does one do when their usual generosity is hindered by an extremely tight budget? Do we become Scrooges and shut ourselves inside until the gift-exchange is over?

No. We put our thinking caps on and get hella creative.

Assembled here are ways to spread the max amount of Christmas spirit on a shoestring budget. All it takes is a little imagination.

1) Food

There is an episode of Friends where Monica and Rachel bake cookies for everyone they know as a Christmas gift. The episode depicts people being unhappy with such a “cheap” gift over a monetary present, but I call shenanigans. Cookies, and food in general, are a lovely way to show people you care. Homemade granola, party mix, caramel corn—all of these are easily made and packaged as gifts for the special people in your life. Homemade goodies show your loved ones that even though you could only afford oats or flour, you wanted to make sure they received a token of your caring. Also, taking time to make something is just a little bit sweeter than clicking “check out” on a website, isn’t it?

2) Crafts

If you’re bad in the kitchen but your Mecca is Michaels, consider putting in some time for a homemade crafty present: knit scarves, crocheted pot holders or macraméd friendship bracelets…the possibilities are endless. Again, the key to these kinds of presents is showing you care. They don’t have to be Etsy-worthy masterpieces of homesteady craftiness. All you have to do is show you pay attention to what people enjoy. If your friend is constantly rubbing his hands in the cold, knit a pair of gloves. Do they have a favorite sports team or hobby? Choose fabric with tiny race cars or an NFL team logo. Make a photo frame or paint a picture, whatever. Just make sure you consult the Web to ensure you get more bang for your buck.

3) Memories

Last year, a wonderful friend of mine compiled all of my Northern Star contributions into a photo album. It was sweet and awesome. Now, every time I look through it, I will not only remember my first semester as a DeKalb Scene writer, but I will remember her as well. Gifts don’t need to be expensive to be meaningful. Simple things, like a photo collage of your times together or a mix CD of songs you listened to that time you drove to Door County, usually bear more emotional weight than the latest trends. Write a song about the day you met or put together a highlight reel from your friend’s stellar sports season. It isn’t rocket science, but it might have a lot more of an impact.

Bonus idea: Have a friend you don’t see very often? Give them the gift of quality time. Arrange a day to have coffee, laugh and catch up—anything that will help make new memories.

4) Useful things:

Yes, I know a Kindle Fire HD is a “useful thing” for you. But fancy electronics and other gizmos are not what I have in mind here.

I’m talking about truly useful things that can really eat into someone’s budget throughout the year, such as cosmetics, household supplies and groceries. A gift card to someone’s favorite grocery store could be the difference between eating well or eating Ramen when the rent is due. The same goes for gas cards. It doesn’t have to be for a huge amount of money—every penny counts when you’re a struggling student. Think about the things that take up room in your budget, and ask yourself how much you’d appreciate a little help in that area. My favorite idea? Round up a small basket of personal things you know your giftee uses daily. It may seem weird to gift items like razor blades, shampoo, lotion or Swiffer pads, but you’d be surprised at how stoked someone would be to get a little help in that department.

5) Under $20 Miscellany

Pick up one of your precious, precious $20 bills and get ready to be super person-specific. Is your friend a movie buff? Two tickets to the local theater. Do they have a signature drink? Grab a bottle of wine/liquor they love. Craft fiends? New knitting needles and a skein of yarn. If they have their eye on something pricey, give them a gift card with money toward that thing. The point here is to really show someone you care enough to be in tune with their hobbies or desires. It doesn’t matter if you can’t go all out—the touching thing is that you did the most you could to make them smile.