Christmas is getting closer than that creepy guy from the club, and you still have no clue what to get your parents. Your dad would totally love a new watch and your mom deserves those diamond earrings you saw on TV, but face it: you’re a super broke college student and you need realistic gift ideas. Cue the DIY gifts for parents you never knew you needed.
Think back to the creativity that crafted that macaroni frame in the third grade and get ready for some parent-approved DIY gifts.
1. Homemade soap
A bar of soap might not cross your mind when you think about cool DIY gifts for parents, but this great-smelling gift won’t be one that they forget. If you give your parents homemade soap, they’ll remember you every day when they wash their hands. Making the perfect soap might take a few tries, but the end results are worth your parents constantly asking “You made this yourself?” in disbelief. Soap is something they’ll actually use and enjoy, especially if you use their favorite scents. You could even make it a tradition. Did someone say, “money-saver”?
2. Pine cone fire starters
Wax-dipped pinecones are easy to make DIY gifts for parents that instantly put them in the winter spirit. Coloring the wax and adding fragrance adds a personal touch to something that could be otherwise boring. The wax, dye and fragrance oils can be found at craft stores like Jo-Ann Fabric Stores or Michael’s. Pick your parents’ favorite colors or something to match the living room. Either way, they’ll appreciate their pinecone fire starters whenever they want to get cozy.
3. Personalized kitchen utensils
Whether your mom or your dad spends the most time around the kitchen, unwrapping some personalized wooden kitchen tools will make them even more eager to whip up a home-cooked meal when you visit for breaks. “I took plain spatulas and spoons and I put her initials on the backside,” University of Texas at Austin senior Richy Little said. “Then I painted ‘food’ on one side and ‘love’ on the other because she loves food.” All it takes to impress your parents with your artistic skills is a pack of wooden utensils and some paint. It’s okay if you’re not the most creative with the paint—just adding a bit of color does the trick. Want to go the extra mile? Paint a mason jar to put them in.
Craft up some cute keychains to replace those tacky ones your parents just had to have from that beach trip three years ago. You can make matching ones or personalize them for each parent. Either way they’ll appreciate the DIY gift everyday when they look at their keys. Peruse through your local craft stores for tiny trinkets to attach to key rings and you’re half way done.
5. Decorated coffee mugs
If your earliest memories involve your parents groggily making a pot of coffee before trying to dress you, then a personalized mug is a great DIY gift to make yourself part of their morning routine. “My mom likes coffee and tea, so a decorated mug would be a perfect gift for her,” University of Texas at Austin junior Hanna Stewart said. “You can also decorate a soup mug if your parents really love soup.” Even if you aren’t super artistic, there are plenty of designs you can easily copy from the internet, like holly leaves or snowflakes for the holidays. If you actually paid attention in your high school art class, go ahead and freestyle it. Grab a Sharpie, a plain mug and don’t be afraid to mix and match colors.
6. Customized wine stoppers
Who are we kidding? Your parents know that this Christmas won’t be the first time you have a glass of wine. It’s okay to start giving more adult gifts now that you’re in college. If you know that your parents enjoy having a few too many glasses of wine with their friends after dinner on the weekends making some personalized stoppers might make your ‘rents more inclined to buy you a bottle of wine too. Everyone’s a winner! “You can decorate the wine bottle too to make it even better and more Christmas-y,” University of Texas at Austin junior Madelyn Guerra said. “Save an empty the bottle of wine and put some lights in it to go along with the wine stopper.” You can give them one each, or DIY several different ones that they’ll use forever.
7. Decorated oven mitts
Oven mitts are another way to low-key encourage your parents to make you more food before you go back to college. Picking the right fabrics to match the kitchen seems like a struggle, but the real challenge is sewing. Just make sure you don’t wait until the last minute. Allow time to stitch everything the way you want it so you aren’t up the night before panicked and bloody from the accidental needle stabs. “I might do a polka dot design for my mom with different colors for the dots,” University of Texas at Austin senior Celeste Guajardo said. “For my dad, he loves the Dallas Cowboys so I would find a way to incorporate that into the design.” If you’re fresh out of ideas or can’t remember the color scheme of your parents’ kitchen, fabric with your school’s colors or logo will do.
8. Picture frame (with a picture)
Parents love pictures of their children; It’s a universal fact. Your inner creativity will really shine while you’re decorating the frame, and your parents will appreciate the heartfelt gift. The possibilities are endless for a picture frame: You can draw, paint or even cover with a frame with fabric. Just don’t forget to Mod Podge everything when you’re done and give it time to dry. “For pictures, I always get a cheap thin framed picture frame and then get a picture that the other person would like and put a bible verse or a quote on it,” University of Texas at Austin junior Laura Lindsey said. Print a family picture (or your most stunning solo portrait) for the frame before you give it to them so it can go on the wall or the table right away. Photos are easy to reprint, but homemade frames are one-of-a-kind.
9. Photo coasters
Photo coasters are a great DIY gift for parents who are obsessed with preserving the wood finish on the dining room table. If you want to take a step up from the traditional photo frame, photo coasters will impress your parents (and your parents’ fancy friends who notice things like coasters). Your parents will swear that you ordered the coasters online, and you’ll get a proud moment to announce that you made them yourself. If you’ve got enough family photos around the house, try using photos of other things like flowers, your dog or landscapes.
10. Decorative Altoid box
Channel your inner eight-year-old self and go for a classic gift: a decorated box. Whether it ends up holding your mom’s jewelry on her dresser or your dad uses it to keep up with drill bits in the garage, your parents have enough knickknacks to find a use for it. Get as creative as you want while decorating an Altoid box and your parents will appreciate the hell out of it. If your creative juices are flowing this season and you have too many ideas for one tiny box, make several. You could even put labels on the boxes to give your parents ideas of what to put in them.
Check out more do-it-yourself gifts that will have your parents crying in no time.
Looking for other crafty DIY’s? Check out these gifts for a thoughtful gift that doesn’t require busting the piggy bank.
Written by Sydney Foster
11. T-Shirt Blanket
The perfect excuse to finally get rid of all those t-shirts from high school and vacations past. A t-shirt blanket makes for a sentimental gift without a big price tag. Grab some t-shirts with your favorite memories attached like your parent’s favorite sports team or a cruise that you took on spring break for your parents to cozy up in when you are back on campus. Impress your parents by the thought you put into the gift—you can even pretend that this was your plan all along in collecting those t-shirts.
Grab a mason jar, some ribbon and some great smelling dried petals and spices and voila! A beautiful gift that will leave your mom thinking your dorm must look like a pottery barn ad. You could order a potpourri kit online, or go hand select your own ingredients such as coffee beans, cinnamon sticks, vanilla or nutmeg. Once you have the supplies, arrange them in the mason jar or bowl for a centerpiece that fills your home with delicious aromas. Either DIY or pre-ordered kit, your parents will be glad to receive something that isn’t another candle.
13. Knit a scarf
Throw on a holiday movie and grab some knitting needles. It doesn’t require being a pro to master a knit stitch and whip up a scarf. Pick out yarn colors for a scarf that can classify as stylish as well as keeping your parents warm. Perfect for the colder months and a labor of love that you can be proud of, gifting a handmade scarf will definitely leave your parents impressed and cozy.
Feeling really old school? Print off some old photos and grab some scissors to make the ultimate old fashioned scrapbook. Explore the many options of stationary and trimming to get in touch with your creativity. Write reminders of memories on the margins, add some stickers or tickets to bring the pages together. “Making a cute craft is a go to for gift giving to my parents. There is nothing more special than a scrapbook made out of love,” University of Oklahoma senior Katie Doan said. Your parents will love spending Christmas morning being reminded of all the good times. Remember, it’s the thought that counts and a book full of memories will for sure win points in that department.
15. Cork board
Get crafty painting and decorating a cork board to spice up your parent’s office at work. This cork board would definitely remind them of their ‘favorite’ child while working. Add some family photos and your gift will make for a proud new addition to the home office. “I want to give my mom a cork board with photos from our family vacation” University of Colorado at Denver senior Imani Johnson said. You can grab all the supplies you need at a craft store and still not break the bank. Plus, with some paint and creative touches, this definitely will not look like it came out of a dorm room.
16. Painted Succulent Pot
Get your parents up to speed on the succulent craze while adding a creative touch. You can gift succulents even if your parents don’t exactly have green thumbs. These plants are tough enough to survive a missed watering or two. Or you can even give them a faux succulent if you want to make sure this gift lasts forever. “I decided to get my mom a succulent for her office because they require little maintenance and she often kills plants that you have to water everyday,” University of Oklahoma senior Meg Price said. “I planted it in a clay pot and then stenciled some designs I printed off Pinterest onto it! It was little effort but she will love it!” Decorate the pot in a way to make it the perfect accent for the kitchen or office to add a personal touch that your parents will adore.
17. Book Page Art
Take a page from a favorite book (or maybe a newspaper page) and decorate it with an image or quote from your parent’s favorite novel. Your parents will love the piece of art while the thought and care you put into the gift will not go unnoticed. Pro-tip: Purchase the book from a used book store to keep this gift as cheap as possible.
18. Bath Bombs
Now that you have experienced a glimpse of adult life, you know how stressful the real world is. What better way to de-stress than a nice hot bath? Make a homemade bath bomb to give the gift of relaxation. You can find most of the ingredients needed at a grocery store and after a few minutes of ‘baking,’ all that the recipe calls for is waiting for them to dry. Pamper your parents without breaking out the piggy bank in the back of your closet.
19. Cookie Kit
Grab a mason jar and a delicious cookie recipe to create a thoughtful and easy to cook treat. Measure out all the needed ingredients, layer them in the mason jar in an aesthetically pleasing way, top it with a bow and voila! A cute gift and a perfect way to spend Christmas evening baking together and enjoying the delicious gift. Plus, this is another way to prove that you can still lend a hand in the kitchen despite your dining hall lifestyle in the dorms.
20. Macramé Wall Tapestry
Want to gift your parents a trendy wall decor piece but can’t spend the big bucks? Create a beautiful piece of art while learning a new hobby by gifting them a macramé wall tapestry. You can go big or small, regardless you’ll surely add a unique and personal touch to your parent’s home. Paired with a succulent planter, your gifts will give your house a hip touch that is even more personal as it shows effort and thought you put into your gifts. Plus, focusing on macramé will serve as a perfect stress relief for finals season.
21. DIY Candle Set
A candle may seem like a cliché “I don’t know what to buy my parents” gift, but a DIY candle makes for a sentimental and beautiful gift that any parent would appreciate. Pick a scent that reminds you of home, grab a candle wick, some wax and your candle jar of choice (maybe an antique teacup rather than a mason jar) and get to work. Not only will this keep the home nice and cozy but every time your parents light it they will remember the creativity and effort you put into their Christmas gift.
11 More DIY Gifts for Your Parents If You’re Broke
Written by Omonike Ajiwe
Do you need to communicate your love and appreciation for your parents on a student’s budget this holiday season? Try these DIY gift ideas instead of a trip to Five Below.
22. Herb garden
Grab some of those old empty pasta jars in your cabinets, good dirt and seeds, and you’ve gathered the beginnings of an herb garden. Once the seeds start to grow substantially, you can transfer them into the ground. Plants like mint vines will grow incredibly large with little effort. This can save you the money that would usually go to a more expensive gift, and can save your parents the money that might usually go to buying herbs from the store. Fresh is always better.
23. Custom tea blend
Save your parents an overpriced trip to Teavana by making them their own custom tea blend. Order some cheap loose tea leaves online, then head to the grocery store for ingredients to go with your choice of leaf. Dry all your ingredients in the oven, throw them in a cute jar and you’ve got a delicious gift for your parents. Try lavender leaves with dried ginger and lemon peels. With just a few inexpensive ingredients, you can give your parents a gift that will last them a few dozens of cups.
24. Magnet Spice Rack
Your parents have likely cooked for you all your life, and this gift will make future cooking a little easier. Instead of keeping all the spices in the house in one cluttered cabinet or drawer, magnetically attach them to a surface in your kitchen. Transfer the seasoning from their bulky packages into smaller jars, then glue strong magnets to the jar. Attach a metal ruler to a flat surface, like a cabinet, and link your magnetic jars. This gift will help your parents save space and will give you the perfect opportunity to finally throw away those useless spices from recipes you made once 7 years ago.
25. Hot chocolate mix
Who doesn’t want copious amounts of hot chocolate in the dead of winter? Bring out the big guns, and give your parents all the different creative flavors that they like. Layer unsweetened cocoa powder, sugar, powdered milk and a dash of salt in a reusable jar. Add some flavors you know your parents will enjoy, like mini marshmallows, instant espresso powder, even a dash of of cinnamon and cayenne works to accompany the sweetness with some heat. Just add water to this blend (or milk if you don’t want to spring for powdered milk), and your parents can have a nice hot cup of hot chocolate.
26. Cloud lamp
Now you have a use for any old pillows in your possession. Cut them open, grab the stuffing (or pick some up at Michael’s for under $10) and glue enough fluff to a lamp shade of your choosing to achieve a cloud shape. You can look in second-hand stores for white lamps (ideally a hanging one) to match your cloud refurbishing, or grab a cheap tube of white paint to make this gift even more sentimentally hand made. If you want to go the extra mile, get a color changing LED lightbulb for the lamp to make it that much more exciting. This gift serves as a way to give your parents a handmade piece of your craftwork, possibly make use of a lamp sitting around in the house or upgrade your parents’ bedroom in a modern way.
27. Homemade body scrub
Allow your parents to pamper themselves while avoiding breaking your bank on a spa gift card. Grab some leftover coffee grinds or sugar (brown or white), some of your parents’ favorite essential oil scents and a moisturizer of your choice like coconut oil, vitamin E oil or even shea butter. Throw it all together in a jar, and keep it in the refrigerator. The recipe for body scrubs takes little to no effort for such a relaxing, valuable gift.
28. Upgraded furniture
This might work perfectly if your parents are antique enthusiasts. Look into the depths of your garage for an old chair or picture frame, or even head to the nearest thrift store for a cheap lamp. Do some Pinterest research to get inspiration on how to make these old pieces look like brand new additions to your home. You can paint your item a bright new color, repurpose it for a new use or just freshen the item up with a good sanding and scrubbing.
This idea will delight green thumb parents. Start secretly collecting your kitchen scraps and old newspapers in a wide bin. This way, you can give your parents a quality fertilizer and start a trend in your house that can help protect the earth. By the time spring rolls around and the weather can sustain a large garden, your compost should be in great condition. Your family’s trash can truly become your parents treasure.
30. Face masks
Have you ever moved out of your apartment or dorm at the end of the semester, but you still had random ingredients like half an avocado, the rest of a bottle of honey and about a handful of oats that you just never got around to eating? Don’t toss them. Blend all of these ingredients up and make a relaxing face mask for parents to enjoy together.
31. DIY Ceramic art
You might’ve spent a large part of your elementary school art career giving noodle art to your parents; now you can give them a valuable, sentimental upgrade. If you study in a sculpture program or can find any kind of basic clays, consider making some useful ceramic items. Some clays for decorative items can be baked in a regular oven. “I’m trying to make a spoon for my mom so she can smack me with the fruits of my labor,” sculpture student at Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts Alicia Greco said. Consider making a coaster, a jewelry dish or a planter. Your parents already love and support your art endeavors, and you might want to give them a piece of your work as a reminder of your appreciation for their support.
32. Sew on pockets
This gift only costs the price of a little time, patience and a needle with thread. Google some sewing videos and study them very carefully. Sewing pockets isn’t rocket science but sewing in general can get confusing, so do your research. Test out sewing pockets onto something of your own that you don’t wear for practice. Then grab your one of your parent’s pocket–less articles of clothing like a dress, skirts or sweater and sew on some pockets. With this idea, you can give the gift of alleviating an annoying obstacle of women’s clothing. Think about how hyped you would be, if you woke up to pockets on your favorite pocket-less clothing item.
10 More DIY Gifts to Cement Your Title as the Favorite Child
Written by Eva Sanchez
The holiday season is just around the corner, but it’s hard to feel merry and bright when schoolwork is cramming most of early December. Free time is practically non-existent, and the thought of buying gifts for your loved ones may seem more stressful than your final projects. If you are in the need for some easy gift ideas, College Magazine has just the list you need. Easy DIY ideas and creative gifts are ideal when you don’t have all the funds to buy your parents exactly what they put on their wish lists. Lucky for you, they’ll end up liking whatever you get them (they kind of have to).
Every parent loves a homemade gift, as if they have a choice, they’re parents! Crafting them a ceramic is a great gift idea and a perfect way to personalize something tailored to your parent’s specific likings. There are also so many things that you can make out of clay, with different techniques that may suit your style better. For example, you can make a mug by rolling coils or you can throw on the wheel, (something that takes some more practice). If after reading this you’re thinking “Ok, this sounds like a cool idea and something I can do, but how in the hell do I get clay, and access to a kiln?” Most universities will either offer a class or have a studio available where you can have access to unlimited resources for a base price. “A handmade ceramic gift is perfect for your parents because not only is it useful, but is also holds sentimental value,” said University of Maryland sophomore and Civil Engineering student, Larin Hughes.
34. Plan a day/take them to dinner
How many times have your parents treated you to a day, or a brunch, lunch, dinner, snack or almost every meal of your childhood? Probably a lot. Take a turn and treat them for a fancy meal or however fancy your bank account allows. A nice meal is a great gift because although food is not forever, the memories of the meal will be. The same applies if you go take them out for a day. Quality time with their child is a gift in itself. Another perk of taking your parents out for a meal if you’re trying to save some money on a gift is that you’re going to be going to! So, although yes, you’re paying for yourself and your parents, that’s a meal. And let’s be honest, anything is better than a microwaved college meal consisting of either of the two college food groups: mac and cheese or ramen.
35. Family scrapbook
This one you might have to beat your grandmother to doing. Hone your elderly craft making skills and make a scrapbook. There are so many ways to organize a scrapbook to make it creative and unique for your family while also not spending your life’s saving on gifts. You could make a scrapbook from a specific nostalgic vacation or photograph your family for a year, without them knowing what it’s for and show the one-year transformation. “I made my mom a scrapbook for the holiday’s last year and she was overjoyed. Watching her face lit up as she recalled all the memories associated with the pictures was the most rewarding part,” said Shelby Bean, a junior, University of Maryland Biology student. Michaels, Paper Source, and JOANN Fabrics and Crafts. Everything you will need, for a reasonable price can be purchased at these craft stores. Printing pictures, which is by far the easiest and cheapest part, is the most important and lucky for you any Kodak printing kiosk costs around $2 for 15 prints.
36. Upcycle thrifted home goods
Sustainable holidays are here and hopefully they’re here to stay. Each holiday season there is so much single use waste, and with the giving of new things, people get tired of their old things and end up donating them, throwing them out or giving them away. Your local thrift store is sure to have hidden vintage gems and prospective goodies that are just begging to be upcycled and regifted. The thrift store has everything, from clothes, home goods, to jewelry. It’s affordable and it’s the most sustainable way to shop. If getting to a thrift store and being crafty is out of your range, there are plenty of ways you can contribute to the upcycling and thrifting phenomena online. From Instagram accounts to Etsy and Mercari style stores, there are a number of options that you can browse from that will save your wallet and make your parents holidays.
37. Straight A’s
If you’re BROKE broke, there is nothing that will make your parents happier than to see that tuition payments aren’t going to waste. Straight A’s as a gift is a long-term haul. This requires more work than any other DIY gift, but you did it all yourself and your parents are sure to love this, even if it means that there only holiday gift maybe some flowers and your unofficial transcript. “If they’re supporting you financially, is shows that you love, respect, and appreciate everything they’ve done for you.” said Towson University junior, and business entrepreneurship major Doug Haller. Parents just want to know their kid is succeeding and is preparing to live in the adult world. Straight A’s is the reassurance that you won’t end up living in your childhood basement for the rest of your life.
38. Potted Plants/Seeds
Tis the season for greenery and freshening up the air in your living room, with new plants! If you’re stuck looking for a good gift to get your parents, look no further. Gifting your parents a plant or a seed will give them something to take care of while you’re off at college. Plants are cute and watching them grow is its own fun little gift. If your gift giving is near the holidays, holiday plants that can withstand the cold, like poinsettias or houseplants, are good choices. Or, if you want your parents to have the full experience and the gaining of a green thumb, get them seeds! “I always like to give my parents plants because they know how much I love plants and biology and since it’s meaningful to me it’s meaningful to them,” said Julia Perez, a sophomore Wildlife Conservation Biology student at California Polytechnic State University. If they have a favorite veggie, getting them seeds so that they can grow it themselves will be a fun experiment for them and whoever they’ll serve the final result to (bonus: it’ll be you).
39. Your College Merch
Any gift you give your parents they’ll honestly probably love, so why not rep your university a little bit. Spread the school spirit and get your parents some cool merch. Chances are that since you’re a student, you’ll have a discount at your school’s bookstore. College bookstores are the mecca for college gear, and they have everything you could ever want and more that you probably had no idea even existed. Get them that University of Pittsburgh nutcracker or that UC Berkeley collar for the dog. Make your parents proud of your collegiate success and don’t let them forget the fact you were admitted to such a prestigious university, because now they can support you and be fashionable!
40. A Playlist
Music that one parent plays versus music that the other plays is probably quite different, but one thing is for sure, no matter what parents you have, they are probably somewhat technologically challenged when it comes to how they listen to music. For example, my Dad’s CD collection somehow is still growing although we have no CD player in the house and my mother still plays music from the 1st generation iPod. If you have parents that love throwing on their playlist, but always need to call you for help setting up, making a playlist for them is a great gift, that is sure to be appreciated and will cost you nothing but time. “Growing up, I always listened to throwback 80’s music with my dad, but he’s not really sure how to download music on his iphone by himself so I know he’d be touched if I picked out some of our favorite songs and put them in a playlist for him.” said Salisbury University sophomore, and pre-nursing major Julia Brock. Teaching them the basics to Spotify or Apple Music will surely make their listening experience easier.
41. Homemade Family Name Painting
Why not get crafty again! Doing the gift yourself means getting artsy, and if you’re not artistic, you better hope your parents love you enough to appreciate it anyway. You can never go wrong with making a decoration for the house. If your parents have guests over, they are sure to put it out and say, “Oh my sweet, wonderful kid made that for me.” We’re in college we can’t buy our parents cars yet, that’s for when you get famous. A homemade painting of your family’s last name on an old but stylish piece of wood is simple and easy, but one that will make your parents feel like they have the whole family together again. If you want to go above and beyond, match the colors of the painting to the color scheme in the kitchen.
42. Compost Bin
If you get your parents a compost bin, they’ll use it because it’s a gift from you, their precious child. So why not trick the generation that destroyed the planet into helping to save it. A compost bin is a relatively cheap gift, you can find some for $20 on Amazon, but it is rich in its impact. A lot of people don’t realize how important composting is. The process by which materials decompose and recycle nutrients instead of throwing it in a landfill. This is an important cycle and by giving your parents a composting bin (it’s not DIY, but food waste is!) you’ll feel like you’ve done your part and so will they. Share the wealth and save the earth!
Need more ideas?
*Updated on December 17, 2018 by Sydney Foster to include DIY gifts 11-21.
**Updated December 20, 2018 by Omonike Ajiwe to include gifts 22-32.
***Updated November 21, 2019 by Eva Sanchez to include gifts 33-42.