How to do Christmas presents on the cheap – and nonetheless seem like the greatest good friend ever

Christmas is a time to show your love in a totally materialistic way – with gifts. Buying presents is both rewarding and stressful, and that’s why we love it. But it can get expensive.

Luckily, there’s a cheap and adorable way to make your budget stretch and show your friends and family how much you care: Christmas gift bundles, collections of cut-price items with a personal theme.

Americans call them care packages; parents in the US send them to their children at college. They take them very seriously.

The concept is making its way over to the UK, led of course by Amazon.co.uk which sells a student survival kit. There are other options: Student Gift Parcel offers care packages for every occasion, including Christmas. But you can save a lot of money by making your own.

My friends and I started to make them when we were at college. I’d seen care packages on TV and web shows before and I wanted to try making them myself. We had in-jokes and shared interests that made finding small things easier than finding one large present.

Care package 1
The contents of a thoughtful care package I’d give to a friend. Photograph: Stephanie Gallon

Rachael Adams, a master’s student at the University of Sunderland, says: “I received a hamper made by a close friend a few years ago. I thought it was such a sweet, special and personal present.”

It’s all about knowing what your friends are likely to value. Sara Farish, a University of York graduate, says: “I once got a care package of new socks. Clean socks are the best present you can get when you’re a student.”

Looks like Dobby wasn’t alone when he said: “Socks are Dobby’s favourite, favourite clothes, sir!”

Nicholas Parker, a student at the University of Cumbria, enjoys the process: “I like to make them. It’s relaxing to sit and plan how much I can spend and what I can get my friends.”

Here are some of my favourite tried-and-tested Christmas gift bundle ideas:

  • For friends who enjoy spoiling themselves, or anyone who deserves a treat, make a pamper hamper – a collection of face masks, a loofah, bubble bath and tea light candles
  • For those who get chilly easily, a cold weather special will warm them up – include a mug, hot chocolate sachets, mini marshmallows and cosy socks
  • Student life can be stressful, so indulge someone’s inner child with an arts and crafts bundle – include stickers, a colouring book, crayons and a soft toy to calm them down
Care package 2
The cold weather special, which came to just £3.86. Photograph: Stephanie Gallon

You can buy gifts from anywhere, but I recommend sticking to discount shops. Places like Poundland, Discount UK and Home Bargains are great for buying small things for a reasonable price.

You can also get a bargain at local supermarkets if you look hard enough. Four sachets of hot chocolate, for example, can often cost just £1. And take advantage of your home town. If you live in a market town then explore the markets and look in local stores for something small to add to your pile.

Charity shops have the benefit of quality-checked items and the knowledge that your purchase goes towards a worthy cause. And I’ve found Money Saving Expert’s discount finder to be invaluable in the pursuit of a bargain.

Wrapping your care package is easy. Pop it in a basket or gift bag. And like Ms Pacman, it’ll look better with a bow on it.

You don’t need to think too much about presentation though – it’s what’s on the inside that counts. Merry Christmas.

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