Shopping on a budget

by Sarina Rhinehart

Sleep doesn’t come easy with thoughts of new bikes and filled stockings.

As soon as the clock strikes 7 a.m. the squeals of excitement and pitter-patter of children’s feet are on the staircase. With the flip of the light switch, they gasp and marvel at the gigantic pile of presents under the lighted Christmas tree. Wrapping paper of red and green flies everywhere, while dad works fast to snap photos.

Not anymore.

Now you live in a 13-by-9-foot room where the air reeks of burnt popcorn and wet socks. Your desk is covered with the sources for your world politics paper due tomorrow, that you haven’t started. You go to sleep at 1 a.m. and roll out of bed at 8:45 a.m. for your 9 a.m. class, wearing sweats that you have worn the past two days.

You’re broke. You’re busy. Who has time for Christmas?

When the holiday season rolls around and your bank account hovers near empty, you may feel you have no choice but to exclude some of your friends and family members from your shopping list.

But there are gift ideas for everyone that cost less than $20 yet are still useful and will show family and friends how much you love them.

The holiday season is the most exciting time of the year, filled with making candy, decorating trees, singing carols and, of course, shopping to find the perfect gift for everyone.

According to market research by The American Research Group, Inc., last year the average person spent $658 on Christmas gifts. Not many college students have that kind of money just sitting around.

“I usually only buy gifts for my family because I’m a poor college student,” senior Brittany Armstrong said. “I can’t afford anything else.”

Many students can’t afford gifts. Finding a present to show mom, who changed your diapers and made afterschool snacks, just how much she means is difficult, but it can be done.

Top 5 Gifts for Mom under $20

1. Hummingbird feeder: Who wouldn’t love to see hummingbirds at their kitchen window on a summer morning? Target stores have these feeders starting at $9.99.

2. Subscription to “Our Iowa”: This magazine is written by Iowans for Iowans. Reading each issue is like sitting at the kitchen table and chatting with new friends. Go to to get a one-year subscription for $18.98.

3. “Everyday Italian” by Giada De Laurentiis: For $19.50, this cookbook provides 125 delicious recipes. Not only is this a great gift for mom, but it doubles as a gift for you because you get to eat the recipes she makes. This cookbook is available at Barnes and Noble or

4. Wallflower: These scented plug-ins from Bath and Body works fill any home with sweet smells of frosted cranberry, candied sugar plum and winter candy apple for only $15.

5. Wallet: Nothing in a mom’s life needs more organization than her purse so help her out by purchasing a fashionable wallet from Target for as low as $10.99. Hot patterns of the season include paisley and animal print.

For the dads who have always been there when times get tough, fall back gifts like ties and T-shirts are not creative enough. These five gifts will inspire him to take up a new hobby.

Top 5 Gifts for Dad under $20

1. Trapper hat: Keep your dad warm and fashionable with a plaid trapper hat from American Eagle for $19.99.

2. “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson: If your dad already owns every Apple product, get him the biography of the man behind it all for only $17.88 at Barnes and Noble stores.

3. Poker set: Who doesn’t like a little risk? Give dad the gift of a fun time with friends by buying a poker set from Sears for $20.

4. Laptop keyboard cover: Doll up dad’s laptop with a funky-colored Sony keyboard cover. Covers are available at for $19.99.

5. Golf balls and tees: After too many years of living and too many bacon cheeseburgers, golf is the only sport that most dads can still play. At Wal-Mart, golf balls and tees start at $10.

Whether he is a boyfriend or a best friend, it may seem like the best gift for a male college student is Ramen Noodles, but there are other great inexpensive alternatives.

Top 5 Gifts for a Male College Student under $20

1. Quesadilla maker: Let’s face it. Guys don’t have the talent to whip up a whole Christmas dinner, but making quesadillas is well within their skill range. Quesadilla makers at Target start at $17.99.

2. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” movie: Watch every Death Eater attack, transfiguration and expecto patronum over and over again. The final chapter of the epic Harry Potter series cost $19.99 at Wal-Mart.

3. “I love boobies” bracelet: Be honest. Any guy will find this hilarious, and the proceeds go towards breast cancer research. These bracelets can be found on for only $3.99.

4. Custom laptop cover: At, you create a custom laptop cover that can feature a picture of the two of you for $20. It will always keep you on his mind.

5. Camelback water bottle: These water bottles make drinking water fun with their squishy tops. At Wal-Mart, they cost $12.99.

The hardest of all is shopping for female college students because they never know what they want. These options will bring a smile to any girl’s face.

Top 5 Gifts for a Female College Student under $20

1. Tis Best gift card: What more is the Christmas season about than giving? Give the gift that keeps on giving. The money on a Tis Best gift card goes to the recipient’s favorite charity. Available at

2. PillowPet: What do girls love to do more than cuddling? Nothing. Pick out a unicorn, dinosaur or bee. It doesn’t matter. Their cuteness is undeniable, and they cost $20 at your local Target.

3. Colorful watch: The favorite fashion accessories of the season are watches. Kohls features a great selection starting at $16.99.

4. Beret: These sweater-knit hats are a staple to any girl’s collection. At Old Navy, there are a large variety of colors of berets, and they cost $12.94.

5. Justin Bieber poster: No girl can resist his luscious blonde hair and his hit song “Baby.” Bieber posters are available at Wal-Mart for $5.

For students who can barely spare a dime, the best opinions are homemade gifts.

“Do-it-yourself gifts are the most thoughtful because they take time and effort,” sophomore Katie Gaughan said. “They mean a lot more than someone running to a store and quickly buying a gift card.”

Everyone loves homemade sugar cookies, chocolate covered pretzels and buckeyes. The ingredients for these items cost less than $10 yet will satisfy the belly of any loved one.

Another great do-it-yourself gift is to knit a scarf or beanie hat.

Don’t know how to knit? The Simpson College Knitting Club meets every Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. in Dirlam Lounge. Members are more than willing to teach new comers the art of their craft.

It may seem like finding the perfect gift is essential to having a Merry Christmas, but the holiday season is about so much more.

It is a time to reflect on the past year and appreciate wonderful family and friends. Tomorrow is never guaranteed so time spent with loved ones is treasured.

Stop spending hours Googling gift ideas and go sledding with your younger brother or bake cookies with your mom. Laughter and good company are the greatest gifts of the holiday season.

“Two years ago my friend and I were too broke to get gifts for each other so instead we decided to devote an entire day to each other sledding, having snowball fights and drinking hot chocolate while watching Christmas movies,” sophomore Jessica Hawkins said. “Memories last longer than gifts.