Archived: DIY gift-giving on a student budget (without breaking open your piggy bank)

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Opened gift box

Forget macaroni crafts – that’s perfectly good pasta you could be eating. Instead, stay on budget this year with our guide to DIY gift-giving that won’t break the bank. Yes, you’ll have to put in a little extra effort, but as they say: time is money. And wouldn’t you rather be spending your time than spending your money?

If you’re not the crafty type but still concerned about the lightness of your wallet, please consider applying for a Season of Caring gift hamper for you and your family. Gift hampers are a way to relieve yourself of some of that end-of-semester financial stress and help you concentrate on your academic success. Visit the Peer Support Centre (Z210, 2nd floor Wyckham) on Monday – Friday, 10AM – 4PM, to talk to a volunteer about receiving a gift hamper.


Sharpie Mugs

Give the gift that really matters: a receptacle for more coffee.

Total (approximate) cost: $15.00 for two mugs, using one pen (more mugs or more coloured pens will be more expensive)


  • Oil-based paint pens (you can buy these at Michael’s – look for Sharpie or Craft Smart brands)
  • Mug(s) – any colour you like, but pens will show up best on white
  • Rubbing alcohol or acetone
  • Oven


With this craft, the cheaper the mug the better – it supposedly has something to do with a thinner glaze on the mug. So head over to Wal-Mart or the Dollar Store and grab the cheapest mug you can find.

Pre-wash and dry your mug, then wipe down the outside with rubbing alcohol/acetone. Let it dry before you start drawing on it.

Now the fun part: draw! If you’re lacking inspiration, Pinterest is just a click away. We recommend avoiding drawing anything on the rim of the mug, or inside the mug, for health reasons (Sharpies aren’t notoriously food-safe). If you accidentally smear or splotch something, you can use a Q-tip with some rubbing alcohol or acetone on it to clean it up.

When you’re happy with your art, set your mug aside and let the ink dry for 24-36 hours.

Now to bake: put your mug in a cold oven and heat to 300F. Let it bake for 30 minutes, then turn the oven off. Without opening the oven, let it sit until it’s cool (about two more hours). Any sudden temperature changes can crack the mug, so it’s important to let it heat up and cool down in the oven. Once it’s cool, it’s done! Just sit back and admire your handiwork.

These mugs are handwash only – the ink may chip or flake away if it’s run through the dishwasher.


Sugar and Salt Exfoliating Body Scrubs

Don’t shell out for an expensive day at the spa: make a shower scrub for your loved ones instead. The options for these shower scrubs are limitless, constrained only by your imagination and budget, but we’ve included a few tried-and-true recipes as a jumping-off point.

Total (approximate) cost: variable, depending on what you already have on hand. If your pantry is empty, budget for about $12 – $22 for two or three jars of scrub. Cheaper options include white sugar and sunflower oil; more expensive options are coconut oil and Epsom salts. If money is tight, look for extracts (find them in the baking aisle) rather than essential oils.


  • Something scrubby
  • Something oily
  • Something smelly
  • Food colouring (optional)
  • Sealed, air-tight container


These luscious scrubs really only need three ingredients: a coarse/abrasive agent, an oil, and something that smells nice. To get a good scrub, you can use Epsom salt, sea salt, or white or brown sugar. For your oil, coconut, olive, and sunflower oil are all popular recommendations that will leave skin silky-soft, but you can even use canola or vegetable oil if you have it already. And if we’re being honest, the essential oils/extracts are completely optional, but they smell nice, and who doesn’t want to smell nice?

 This “recipe” is as easy as mixing your ingredients together in a bowl. Even the proportions are up to you, but a good starting point is 2:1 for scrub to oil (so, for example, 1 cup of sugar to ½ cup of coconut oil), so it’s gritty rather than runny. Adjust as needed, adding dry ingredients if it seems too wet or vice versa. Be sparing with your essential oils/extracts at first – try adding it about ½ teaspoon at a time – since they can be quite strong.

Not sure where to start? For a rich, warm scrub, try brown sugar, sunflower oil, and vanilla extract. If you’re feeling zesty, try sea salt, a bit of lime juice, and olive oil (and grated lime peel if you’re extra ambitious). For something fresh and cool, use white sugar, coconut oil, and a bit of peppermint extract. You could even get wild by using pumpkin pie spice, coffee grounds, or honey and lemon. The possibilities are endless!!

For storing, those flip-top glass jars are cute, but expensive to buy new (but if you really want to, look for them at the Dollar Store). If you have some small canning jars laying around, those work very well. We can also recommend hoarding your empty glass jam jars and scraping off the label, or using sturdy ziplocks.

You should also keep these scrubs in the fridge for longevity.


Homemade Playdough

This is an easy recipe that can be made with the help of the young (or young-at-heart) in your life, so you can give the gift of playdough and quality time together!

Total (approximate) cost: variable, depending on what’s already in your pantry. If you’re buying everything on the material list, it may run you up to $18. Considering that a 5oz container of Play-Doh costs, like, $1, this may not be an economical option in that case – but the experience of making it with a favoured young whippersnapper could be priceless??


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups warm water
  • 1 cup salt
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon cream of tartar (optional, but recommended)
  • Food colouring, or a couple packets of unsweetened powdered drink mix (like Kool-Aid)
  • 1 tsp flavoured extract or essential oil (optional)
  • Large cooking pot
  • Stove
  • Sealed, air-tight container


Mix flour, water, salt, oil, and cream of tartar together in a pot over medium-low heat and stir. As the water evaporates, the dough will thicken. It’s finished when the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the pot and form a solid mass in the middle (about 10 minutes). Let it cool, then test it out yourself – if it still feels sticky, just put it back on the stove and cook it a little longer until it’s the right consistency.

Dump the dough out on to a clean countertop and fold/knead it until it’s soft and smooth. Once it feels like playdough, divide it into sections and add your extract/essential oil and food colouring. You may want to use gloves or work on saran wrap, as concentrated food colouring can stain your hands and work surface. Fold the food colouring/powdered drink mix into the dough until it’s the right colour, and you’re done! Congratulations: you’re a playdough master.

Store in an airtight container – a Tupperware container or a re-sealable bag would work fine.



Total (approximate) cost: free!

Materials: you!

We’d be remiss if we didn’t also give a shout-out to Crafternoon here. We host free DIY crafting workshops every Wednesday in the Pride Centre from 12:00pm – 2:00pm, with all supplies provided. We’ve made things like sock heating pads, bath bombs, and fridge magnets, and we run a different session every week. So if you’re looking for inspiration, or want to make some stocking stuffers on the cheap, poke your head into Crafternoon and check out what’s on tap for that week.


Hey! These options don’t work for me!

Not that crafty? Swamped with schoolwork? Think these suggestions are all stupid? No problem (though the last one hurts our feelings a little). If gifts just aren’t in your budget this year, please consider applying for a Season of Caring gift hamper. You can find out more about the Gift Hamper program online, or by stopping by the Peer Support Centre (Z210, 2nd floor of Wyckham House) to speak with a volunteer.