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By Mike Kelsey

The holidays are full of emotion; however, in an effort to slice through the anxiety, some parents take advantage of having their college student on their home turf for a short while at Thanksgiving to tackle some topics that may be on their mind. These topics often include things like: house rules for the four days you’re home; are you really going to keep dating Sam from high school when that boy who lives in Campion is all you talk about; or (my personal hope) maybe we should implement some of the ideas that the financial aid guy writes about on the GU Parent’s and Family Newsletter. I’d like to offer one more topic that might be a little less painful to tackle: Christmas presents!

Whether you resemble a Grinch “I hate, hate, hate, double hate, loath Christmas entirely”, Charlie Brown “The holidays always depress me”, or Buddy the Elf “The best way to spread Christmas cheer, is by singing loud for all to hear!” the holidays are here and Christmas shopping season is on. I hope here you will find some sugar dumpling food for thought regarding Christmas gifts before your son or daughter makes the trip home for Thanksgiving.

What to get them?

It seems families struggle with this decision each year regardless of the age of their son or daughter. My suggestion this year: err on the side of what a student may need rather than what he or she may want.  Although your student may say that getting a Wii for his or her dorm room may make them the most popular kid in Catherine/Monica, it’s possible this may be nothing more than a white box sitting on the floor by President’s Day. Use some of these ideas instead:

-Netflix subscription: Students love getting mail as it is, help them spice up their MSC box with a new DVD each week.

-Target, Fred Meyer, Starbucks, or Safeway gift cards: Spare cash can be hard to find at times. These cards will give your student a chance to buy what they need when they need it, plus they are much easier to pack for the trip back to Spokane.

-Simple, but classic, dress clothes: If possible keep these fairly low maintenance. Ironing isn’t always available and dry cleaning might be hard to get to at times. However, you never know when you might need a nice jacket or blouse. Keep in mind interview season is frequently in the spring as students prepare to find summer jobs and internships.

-Slippers or gloves: This place gets cold, trust me, keeping those hands and toes warm is just one less thing to stress about.

-Barnes and Nobel, Amazon, Borders, etc gift cards: Until graduation “Auld Lang Syne” simply means “buy your textbooks”.

-Coffee Tumbler: Most coffee stands offer discounts if you have them make it in your own cup instead of a paper cup.

-Board games: As outdoor activities dwindle these are always nice to have around the dorm.

-Magazine Subscription: This is one item students most likely won’t buy themselves. Give them another fun piece of mail to look forward to as well as a break from reading about imperialism.

-First Aid Kit, Travel toiletries, Windshield Scraper, Manicure Kit, and/or other useful items: Look around your house and think of the items that you’re always so happy to have when you most need it, odds are your student will need them at some point as well.

Or if you are an especially financially conscious family you could consider the exciting gift of paying down accrued interest on student loans, opening a Roth IRA for Johnnie or Suzie, or paying for your son or daughter’s fee to take the GRE!  You might also be wondering, what’s the one thing NOT to get them? Anything that will clutter up their room more than it already is. The “less is more” mentality is as strong as ever when it comes to college gifts.

What should they get their friends?

One of the places students tend to spend too much money is in buying gifts for the 1,100 new friends they’ve met since August. This issue is two-fold, one side of this problem is that students tend to buy gifts that are too expensive for their means, the other element is they tend to buy too many of these gifts for too many people. As a simple tip, try to encourage your daughter or son to only choose five or six people they’d like to give a simple gift to, most likely the hall-mates they neglect to buy for will have forgotten about it before the plane leaves the runway for home. Some easy gifts to give dorm buddies are:

A clever collection of photos: This can be done by creating a calendar online, decorating a cheap frame to put a fun memory in, key chains, magnets, etc. These are also gifts that college friends will keep with them for a long time.

Mix CDs: Sounds like a middle-school idea, but picking a series of songs that tell the story of the semester can be humorous to give friends for the car and plane rides home after finals week.

Movies: Most stores offer classic DVDs for cheap at Christmas.

Books/Journals: Writing a simple note inside the cover or first page of a book or journal can show care at this time of year. Plus pleasure reading is a prime activity during a long break with no homework.

Dinner with friends: This may be the cheapest and most fun way to celebrate the holidays. After finals are finished, encourage your student to invite a large group of friends to go downtown and celebrate completing the fall semester. The night can include dinner, a movie, ice skating and a wintery walk home. The gift here is the company everyone gives each other and the price is minimal. Take a camera along to get some of those shots that can be used later in gift idea #1.

If you hear your student ask the question, “Do I really have to get my roommate a gift? We’ve barely spoken to each other since midterms!” Of course, the answer here is no. However, a simple gift with a card or note thanking them for being a good roommate will keep the path smooth for next semester.

What should they get us? We’re payin’ for them to be there!

Don’t leave yourself out of your student’s Christmas list either! Most students will ask you what you need as well. If you’re at a loss for words because all you really want is a new grill for the patio, offer a few things like:

Photo collections: My parents loved showing off my new friends from school, ask for your own collection via calendar, magnet, etc.

College Gear: The ZagShop will have a number of Christmas deals going on. If you’d really like a Zag doormat, might as well ask for it to come from the source.

Gift cards: These are easy for students to pick up and pack home for stocking stuffers.

Ultimately, I’m sure you know what you want for Christmas that will fit within your daughter or son’s means. If you give them a few ideas this will help them fulfill their desire to thank you for the help you’ve given them all year long.

With any luck these tips will be helpful for you this holiday season as you prepare for all that comes with “the most wonderful time of the year.” Here’s to a very Happy Thanksgiving to all of you, and thank you for sharing your family with all of us here at Gonzaga. Go Zags!

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