THE BLOG
12/08/2014 01:01 pm ET Updated Feb 07, 2015

How Not to Go Broke This Holiday Season

Tom Merton via Getty Images

The holiday season is fast approaching and, if you're like me, you're not mentally prepared. Remember when all you had to do was occasionally help bake cookies, make something in art class for mom and dad and then go to bed and not get up until Santa comes? Yeah, those were the days.

As a college student barely making ends meet, the idea of buying a present for everyone I know is a little daunting. Once upon a time, I had sugar plums dancing in my head. Now I'm pretty sure the only thing dancing in my head are overdraft fees.

But shockingly enough, this year I actually got (mostly) all the gifts I am giving this year. Usually, I'm running around until Christmas Eve! I think a lot of the sudden preparation comes from determinedly deciding I was not going to go broke this season and finding ways to do so, hopefully without coming across as cheap.

I had two ways I managed to accomplish this. The first was the fact that I took up knitting and learned, not only do I enjoy it, but I manage to create some pretty nice things by doing it. Now, I've been told that once you hit a certain age, making presents is no longer suitable. And that's true, for some people, but it also depends on what you are making. For instance, I wouldn't paint my best friend a picture (as I have no ability to paint) but I would bake her a plate of her favorite cookies. Ideally, I wouldn't just give her this, but I'd give her a small gift with it, not more than $20, and that's mainly just because we're so close, I'd want her gift, as a whole, to be a little big.

And my parents, to this day, always ask me to make them something. Generally speaking, they get so excited when I write that I usually write them poems or stories. To be fair, the poetry stopped about two years ago, when I wrote one directed towards my mother, basically saying thank you for everything, and it resulted in her crying (I think tears of joy?) on Christmas morning. So since then I've been hesitant to give them poems. But their gifts always consist of something handmade. Perhaps they'll get something knitted this year, maybe something written, they'll have to wait and see.

I mean, in the long run, I could give my dad a $50 tie and he would say thank you and be polite and he'd wear it, but there would be no meaning behind it and to us, that's the most important part. Each year he asks for a CD made on ITunes, so that he can listen to it in the car, because a part of his job is to drive a lot. And he can't listen to the radio because he's never found a station he actually likes. I don't think I would feel right not giving him a CD at Christmas.

The other way college students could save a little money during the holiday season is to do a Secret Santa/Snowman in all of your friend groups. I have about three I usually exchange gifts with, four or more in each. If I had to buy a gift for all of them, all the money I made this year from work would be gone before the start of 2015.

Two of the friend groups came from high school and we still exchange. We've been doing it this way for a while now. The new group comes from living in a dorm with five other girls and automatically deciding that we need to exchange on Christmas or it would not feel right. Technically, we're exchanging before winter break, so we have until the fifteenth, but still, that's going to be our mini-Christmas. I would definitely suggest doing what my dorm is doing if you're in a similar situation. For that evening, we have a nice dinner planned (basically our first of the year) and we'll exchange there. The limit of spending was $20. I already know that some people (we aren't good at secret keeping) have gone slightly over, but as long as it's not like $40 spent, we're easygoing about it.

The holiday season is hard on everyone, but the best suggestion I can give is to remember that the gifts are not the important part. The final gift that you can really give, and for some it costs nothing, for others a lot, is to try to find a way to be there for the holidays. Your presence is really the best gift, because, in my opinion, the holidays are about family, and family doesn't have to mean blood. If you can't be there in person, try Skyping. If you can't do that, try calling, even if you have to use a pay phone to do it. But the best gift is coming together for the holidays. See? They're not so evil after all.

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