Birthday Presents On A College Budget

Birthday Presents On A College Budget
(Photo Credit: Will Clayton//Flickr)

In college, money takes on a whole new meaning.

Every quarter means another load of laundry, every dollar means staying caffeinated for the rest of the day and things you always took for granted seem to cost the price of a Lamborghini.

Case in point: Birthdays.  Birthdays circa 2nd grade meant awesome themes, gift bags and parent-bought presents.  Birthdays circa age 20 mean a Facebook wall post, and feeling guilty for choosing your electric bill over celebrating with your friend.

The good news? You can have it all! Make your friend feel special on their day of birth, while still being able to eat and pay rent, using your natural-born creativity and (college enhanced) MacGyver skills.  Using the materials you already own, here are seven ways to create a memorable, and dirt-cheap, birthday present.

  •  Photo card

A picture says 1,000 words, or so the old cliché goes.  So why not say 1,000 happy birthdays to your friend this year with a card that commemorate the best moment in your friendship?  Use the Snapfish photo service to upload pictures and get them printed at a local Walgreens.  4×6 photo prints start at 19 cents.  What’s cheaper than a Cup ‘O Noodles and tastes like birthday success?  Your present.

  • Video montage

During my freshman year, one of my best friends incessantly took videos.  At first it was a little unnerving- she literally captured our best and, more worrisomely, worst moments.  But at the end of the semester she unveiled the product of her filming: a video and music montage of our freshman year.  The video reminded us of nights we thought we would forget, day trips to neighborhoods around the city and experiences that spanned a crazy year at college.  The best part?  It only cost having a fantastic time with our friends and having a camera with a video function.  Most laptops come standard with some sort of movie editing software (iMovie, Windows Movie Maker) that will easily allow you to upload videos and set them to music.  Get filming, Spielberg.

  •  Personalized drink

As a current junior, 21st birthdays happen nearly every weekend- and if there was ever a birthday to be celebrated, finally reaching legal drinking age is definitely one no one ignores.  So why not use the occasion to your advantage? Create an original recipe (and batch) of a tasty drink and name it after the birthday boy/girl.   Just make sure the recently-legal celebrator doesn’t like your concoction too much- associating excessive puking with their “namesake” drink may undermine the sentimental value of your present.

  • Free service

Are you really good with computers?  Can you organize a schedule like you were born of a Trapper Keeper?  Do you take portrait-style professional photography?  Your birthday present is already bought.  Using something you are naturally good at to make someone else happy isn’t a cop-out: it is simply utilizing your best qualities.  Example: when I first came to school, my friends marveled at my extensive knowledge of fast food menus (thank you suburban childhood life), so for one of my best friend’s birthdays, I wrote her a complete guide to what to buy and what to stay away from at all the major fast food restaurants.  Not only did it give her a laugh at my expense (only I would claim this as a legitimate talent), she actually used it- I loved getting texts letting me know she tried one of my suggestions and was blissfully in deep-fried heaven.

  • Unique experience

The benefit of living in Chicago is that there is always something to do, and because it is such a vibrant city there is always something new to be discovered.  Show off your knowledge of Metromix and the full range of your UPass, and bring the birthday boy/girl to your favorite secret of the city.  Not only will they have a great time hanging out with you, they’ll also have conquered a new corner of Chicago, which they can totally re-gift for the next birthday that comes along.  Talk about a gift that keeps on giving!  Need suggestions?  Check out Time Out Chicago, Explore Chicago or Broke Hipster.

  • Music playlist

Ever see Nick and Norah’s Ultimate Playlist?  In the movie, Nick makes a mix CD with an ornate handmade cover for the girl he loves.  Though that girl treats him, and his CD like garbage (literally, she throws it away), another girl, Norah, picks up his handcrafted montage out of the trash and ends up falling for him.  Moral of the story?  Meaningful mixes can change your life.  Whether it is a list of jams you pre-gamed to freshman year or a chill playlist for studying, a specifically-mixed list of tunes provides a soundtrack to a great gift.

  • Delicious meal

Why do you think events with free food are so well-attended?  Because in college, the words “free Chipotle” sound like the hallelujah chorus when the only other option is day-old bagels with mustard (been there, don’t try it). Give the birthday person a break from the usual Ramen routine and make them an old fashioned home-cooked meal.  Try out a new recipe or make a classic dish that the birthday boy/girl absolutely adores.  The best part?  You get the leftovers.  Check out food porn/recipe aggregate and OnlineCollege’s list of 100 Delicious, Dirt Cheap Recipes for ideas.

What do you think of these birthday present ideas?  What do you do for birthday presents on the cheap?  Have suggestions for other occasions, like anniversaries or graduations?  Let us know!  Comment below.

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  • My friend painted me a canvas with a quote from Cat Stevens on it "if you want to sing out..."

  • One winter I went crazy and bought a ton of yarn on sale at Hobby Lobby. That's been my low-cost gift of choice for throughout undergrad, scarves, blankets, etc. All it takes is trying to find time to crochet. I'm in grad school now, and it looks like I will be picking up the crochet hook yet again.

  • Great suggestions! Both low cost, easy to do and fun to make. Now if only I knew how to paint or knit....

  • Hi! Great blog. Here's an idea I think this is both awesome, affordable and meaningful-it's geared toward holiday gifts but works for other gift giving occasions too. Rather than just random "stuff" for the sake of stuff- we're suggesting you give the gift of something more meaningful (like blankets for a disaster victims-3 for $18.00 or $20.00 for a military member to call home etc.) Here's more What do you think?

  • Trying that link again

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