Opinion: A student’s guide to gifting


A spread of meaningful Christmas gifts chosen by Special Assignments Reporter Hannah Steyn include original artwork, earrings purchased through Etsy and Instagram small businesses and a mug to commemorate a trip to the Andy Warhol Museum. Photo: Hannah Steyn

Hannah Steyn, Special Assignments Reporter

The holiday season can get stressful with the number of gifts that need to be bought and paid for when you’re a broke college student. But from being broke myself while being apart of a huge family, I’ve found a few tricks to relieve some stress.

The best advice I can give is this – make your gifts thoughtful. The meaning behind a gift is so much more important than the cost of a gift.  Try doing something based on an inside joke or a memory. Maybe there’s something a friend has been talking about getting for ages, but they can’t justify buying it. 

When my partner and I first started dating, we went to Pittsburgh together. While we were there, he took me to the Andy Warhol Museum because he knew I’d love it. So, earlier this year when I saw a Campbell’s soup mug, I snagged it to add to his Christmas gift.

A fun way to celebrate with friends without breaking the bank is a Secret Santa or a Yankee Swap. My extended family all go away together every Christmas and now that all the cousins and siblings are a little older, we’ve graduated from Christmas stockings with cheap fillers to a White Elephant Gift Exchange – a Yankee Swap where you can steal gifts. This can get super competitive and interesting, particularly when the day ends with your sister and your Great-Aunt Penelope both fighting over the same bottle of mid-range liquor.

A good way to relieve holiday shopping stress, is to spread the gift buying over a longer period. This is both good for mental sanity and avoiding holiday crowds, as well as easier on your wallet. Spreading your spending is easier than having to fork out everything you have in one week to get all the gifts you need. 

Giving yourself extra time also means you can look at different options and find the best and most affordable version of what you’re looking for rather than buying the first thing you see. And you get the added bonus of feeling like you’re ahead of the game for a while.

Another thing I make sure to do is never go shopping without a plan on what to get. I’m the first to admit I’ve tried the “I’m just going to go shopping and see if I find anything they’ll like,” and then more often than not I find many things I like, and the Christmas spirit makes self-control disappear. Instead, I’ve been trying to talk to the people I’m shopping for and gather from conversation what they want and/or need this Christmas.

There are a few themes that’ve been growing in terms of gift giving, the first of which is sustainability. Try to avoid giving gifts just for the sake of giving a gift. Find something that will  add some sort of value to that person’s life, whether it’s clothes for the fashionista or a framed picture for the sentimental. Everyone has at least one person in their life who has everything – for these people, try gifting an activity in the form of a gift card to a movie or minigolf or something along those lines (to be redeemed when it is safe, obviously). This will give the person an incentive to go out and have a fun evening, courtesy of you.

The other theme that has been growing on social media is shopping small – a theme I can completely get behind. Social media has made it so much easier to find the sorts of small businesses you’d want to support. 

I try to support small artists and commission art for a unique and personalized gift. This, while it could seem excessive in terms of price, it has never cost more than $70 for a commission and artists always work with you to give you exactly what you want. There are certainly artists who do similar things for less, many of which are people who digitally turn photographs into art or make animated stickers for you and your friends or loved ones. Etsy is also a great resource to find special, personalized gifts, or jewelry while still supporting people over large corporations. 

When you shop small someone does a happy dance and don’t you want your money to go toward something that’ll make not only the receiver, but also the seller happy?