Wrapping and purchasing gifts doesn't have to become expensive or inefficient.

’Tis the season for holiday cheer, family gatherings and gift-giving galore. The joy that may fill the air during a Friendsgiving feast or a Secret Santa get-together is electric. But on a college budget, finding just the right gift for friends and loved ones can be challenging. Each year, tweets from college students complaining about what their loved ones deserve versus what they can actually afford spread around the Internet. 

It seems many people want to give special and meaningful gifts to those they care about but feel like everything is too expensive. The truth is, there’s no correlation between the cost of an item and its importance. There’s a multitude of gift ideas that cost little to nothing and can mean the world to the person receiving them. Here are just a few ideas for low-cost presents that also have a minimal impact on the environment.

Buy Local

Yes, online shopping means no lines, no limits and — most importantly — little effort. While purchasing from a bunch of online retailers in pajamas can seem like the most efficient use of time and money, gifts can automatically gain meaning when they’re carefully hand-selected in person. Harrisonburg is full of local artisan shops like The Lady Jane Shop and those in the Agora Market.

Buying local not only supports the livelihoods of Harrisonburg store-owners and residents, but it also cuts out large corporations whose production practices may rarely do the environment any favors. If the perfect gift is from a big-name chain store, buying in person can still cut down on the emissions produced in package transportation.

Don’t forget the trimmings

Meaningful gifts don’t stop with the purchase. It’s important to pay special attention to the wrapping, too. Using old newspapers, paper grocery bags or recyclable wrapping paper can be a unique way to prepare a gift and contribute to a zero-waste holiday. Instead of plastic ribbons and bows, use natural twine and some foliage from outside to create an aesthetically-pleasing and environmentally-friendly presentation. Reusable gift bags, tote bags and gift baskets are also great ways to give each aspect of the gift meaning and purpose.

Charitable donations

There may always be someone on the list who’s impossible to buy for — they’re too picky, they have no time or they already have it all. In that case, consider making a charitable donation in their name. Donate whatever amount is on-budget to a cause that’s near and dear to someone’s heart, and one can be sure to make them feel like they’ve given back this holiday season. Plus, any donations are tax-deductible.

Give an experience

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Experience gifts can even be free and are probably some of the most meaningful ways to show someone love and appreciation during the holidays. One can write their mom a coupon for five unsolicited calls home or their dad a gift card for 10 free hugs. If money is a little tight right now, give an “I owe you” to a significant other for an all-expenses-paid date night or a girls-night-in with friends. Worry about the money later, but focus on the promise of quality time now.

When in doubt, do it yourself

When students were younger, preschool and elementary school teachers were often great at creating fun holiday crafts to bring home for the holidays. There’s no reason a homemade card or ornament can’t mean as much to loved ones now as it did then. Making gifts by hand can be fun and a destresser during finals week. Plus, any gift can be personalized. Anything from baked goods to an all-natural face mask can be inexpensive and show the effort put into making something one-of-a kind.


Positively impacting the planet can also come in the form of something as simple as a winter bulb in a pot or a bouquet of flowers. The waste is entirely compostable or in the case of vases reusable, and a single amaryllis or paperwhite bulb can cost as little as $1. Local nurseries like Hess Greenhouses and Mistimorne Plants sell a wide array of options for any beginner to advanced green thumb. Succulents and other house plants can also be relatively inexpensive and last long after the holidays are over.

Contact Ryann Sheehy at For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.