If you are a typical broke college student – you know, the one who has reached the point of sneaking Tupperware into campus study breaks and gotten into the habit of scrounging for paid psychology experiments – chances are you’re having trouble fulfilling the financial obligations of the holiday season. Luckily, our very own Columbia Bookstore is a burrow of cheapness just waiting to be explored (conveniently, most parents don’t check whether your Flex dollars are going towards textbooks or trinkets). Not exactly Bloomingdales, but who has the time to fight the Madison Avenue matrons? Here are a few of Bwog holiday contributor Maryam Parhizkar’s suggestions on what to check out in the holiday treasure trove below Lerner Hall.
Window decals. Last holiday season I thought my father was being generous when he gave me a hefty sum of cash for Christmas. I found out a week later that this was his very subtle way of saying, “Guess what you got this year: another semester of a college education!” This year, I am buying my father a Columbia University decal to put on the back of his car as a way of thanking him for his very considerate gift last year. These babies go from $2.48 to $5.98, depending on size and quality.
Neuhaus Chocolate Bars. These 45-gram chocolate bars from Belgium are a bit of a splurge at $3.50 if you’re on a tight budget, but they are quite the treat for that special person in your life. There’s a wide assortment of gourmet flavors, but I personally recommend the crispy gianduja (hazelnut) white chocolate bar. If you’re feeling especially generous, take your pick of three and stack them together with a ribbon on top. Find them at the front of bookstore by the cashier’s desk.
Columbia Pencils (3-pack). What better way to initiate that recent applicant into Columbia life than with their very own set of old-school wooden Columbia school supplies? Besides, they’re much more subtle than a sweatshirt, so if April notifications don’t go their way at least you won’t feel as awkward. These are also ideal for that kid in your Calc class who always asks you for a writing utensil and never returns it. Columbia fat pens also available. $1.98.
Cards. There is no better way to say, “Please understand, I love you but I am a broke college student,” than to give a thoughtful card to someone you care about this time of year.
Maps. If you’ve got a friend who’s studying abroad next semester, bid them a fond farewell with one of the maps in the corner near the magazine racks. They only start at around $2.50 and are available for anywhere from Nepal to South Africa. Also, what better way to nudge your best friend from high school to visit you in the city than with an NYC subway map? The card-sized ones at the cashier’s desk are only $1.50 and go well with a roundtrip METRO pass.
Ridiculousness. Koziol, a company out of Germany that designs everyday household products into cutely personified critters, has its own rack in the housewares section of the store. While some of the items are as questionable in price as they look, you can your hands on a ridiculously happy-looking Johnny the Cell Phone Holder for only $3.48. Also available is Lemmi the Lemon Squeezer for $4.98. Things like these are perfect for your eccentric Aunt Rosy from Austin – you know, the middle-aged one with blue hair who drives a pink Mary Kay Cadillac.
Bargain bin books. There is no better way to waste time in a bookstore than to dive in the bargain bins – and there are some pretty ridiculous things to be discovered in this one. Favorite titles encountered: Bad Fashion: 80 Fashion Disasters You Swore You Never Wore!, Don’t Do Drugs! Do Dance!, and Everything You Know Is Wrong: The Disinformation Guide to Secrets and Lies. Prices vary, but you’re bound to find the perfect book for your pop culture-obsessed friend somewhere in the depths of the Under $6 bin behind the Kids section.
Hint: Get creative through other uses: find a book with cool pictures and that you wouldn’t mind ripping pages out of and take a few minutes to make some paper boxes. Fill with a trinket/sweet treat of your choice and tie the box shut with a bit of string or ribbon.
Out-of-season mascots. In the clearance section there is still a remainder of Columbia beanbag mascots for $4.98 – marked down from $9.99. They are kind of cute, in a slightly ugly sort of way. These are good for your toddler sibling/niece/nephew who is probably going to rip apart or drool on anything you give them anyway.
Plastic dishes. For only $3.98 you can get a plastic set of tumblers or a plate/bowl set in your choice of stylish colors. Spruce some up and add cookies from the Hungarian Pastry Shop (35 cents a piece) and/or some envelopes of tea from John Jay. It will make a thoughtful gift for those suitemates of yours who constantly use your dishes without cleaning them –plus, they will then have their own things to infiltrate with the permastench of heated ramen.
Hate the bookstore?
There’s a handful of places around campus that are just as easy on the wallet. For instance:
- The Morningside New York Public Library (at 113th Street and Broadway) has a shelf of used books ranging from $.50 – 2.00, depending on the size. You have a pretty good chance at finding classics like complete Shakespeare volumes and old children’s favorites. A stack of these are perfect for the young bookworm in the family.
- M2M has tons of cute snacks from $.98 – 2.00, such as Hello Kitty Pocky, knuckle-sized lollipops and gummy hamburgers. Buy a few treats for your friend camped out in Butler during finals week as an early present. They will either appreciate the gesture or find it nauseatingly cute in their state of agony.
- You can never go wrong with photos. Facebook has a nifty feature where you can create a Print Shop collection out of pretty much any photos you find on friends’ profiles, so surprise them with a Mini Photobook (starts at $3.99) or print a few ($.15 a piece) and get creative with photo frame ideas. In fact, if you wanted to, you could probably get really artsy with the Columbia bookmarks in the bookstore and make frames of your own – these are absolutely free.
- The Lerner vending machines on the first floor are always filled with funny things like blank CDs, headsets and iTunes gift cards. Go see for yourself, since the contents change periodically – you might find something interesting.
- And finally, if you’re really in the hole by the time you get home, take to mind some of Bwog staffer Ashley Nin’s one-dollar suggestions:
- Junior Bacon Cheeseburgers off your local fast food joint’s super saver menu
- One hundred pixie sticks from local Midwestern gas station
- An actual one dollar bill, in good condition, off of Ebay (this product actually goes for $0.95, so buy that and five pixie sticks as stocking stuffers).
- Dollar Days International had a blowout of things going for less than a dollar, including valentines, kid’s growth chart, and super glue.
- (Sadly, sheknows.com only had million dollar gift ideas; this brings to question whether the address is short for “she know you care” or “she knows you’re cheating.”)
- Absolute last minute gift idea: fashion the dollar bill into a swan or perhaps something a little more festive.