The Broke Grad Student’s Holiday Gift Guide

Two years ago, I offered some gift ideas to brighten any tired, broke grad student’s holiday. But what if you are the tired, broke grad student? How can you possibly keep up with the expectation to purchase gifts for all your family and friends when you barely have any slush in your monthly budget? I feel you fellow DIYers ready to advise that we make our gifts if money is tight. Handmade gifts are wonderful both to give and receive, but they usually take an enormous amount of time which, alas, grad students are also short on. 

So what to do if you have no time and no money, but lots of people to get gifts for? You could be like me and do the absolute bare minimum for family gifts while generally gifting nothing to your friends (I’m not good at gift ideas and gifts aren’t really my love language anyway), but that often leads to lots of awkwardness and guilty feelings when I receive gifts from people I wasn’t planning to gift anything to. Inexpensive but thoughtful gifts are often the least painful way to go; below are some ideas that won’t totally break the bank.

Flannel Beer Coozie ($14)

Keep your loved one’s fingers from freezing off as they chug a cold one outside, away from the madness of holiday family gatherings.

Bedside Essentials Pocket ($15-20)

For the bedtime reader with more books than will fit on their end table. (It me.)

Copper Plant & Herb Tags ($3 apiece)

For your favorite green-thumbed, or wanna-be-green-thumbed-but-seem-to-kill-their-plants-every-year, relative.

Custom Leather Keychain ($7-11)

For the truly difficult person to buy for.

Scrunchies ($10)

For some inexplicable reason, the youths are bringing back all the bad fashion of the 90s. Make your younger sibling/niece/friend happy, even though the things they like are cringey, and get them a fancy scrunchie.

Cocktail-inspired soap ($16 for 2)

Nothing says “happy holidays, dear relative to whom I don’t really speak anymore” like scented soap.

Breads of the World Kitchen Towel ($14)

By now, all of us have at least one relative or friend who is a) obsessed with GBBO, b) still baking the sourdough they started during 2020, or c) both. Now they can proclaim their baking enthusiasm to all who enter their kitchen.

Socks! Socks! Socks for everyone! ($9+)

Literally everyone likes cute socks. And the great thing is, they can be both a charming personal and a perfectly acceptable impersonal gift.

Donations (any amount)

Even the smallest donations to charitable or social justice organizations can usually be made in honor of someone. Donate a few dollars to a cause that your friend or relative supports, and simply write a card letting them know about it to put under the tree. This gift option is a win-win-win: 1) your loved one will appreciate the thoughtfulness of the gift (or if they don’t, they’ll feel too guilty to say so aloud), 2) giving to those less fortunate is more meaningful than buying stuff for people who already have stuff, and 3) you can control how much you spend and fit your donation amounts to your budget.

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