College students face Christmas with empty pockets

MANATEE — If you’re expecting a Christmas gift from a college student this year, that gift may be as simple as an e-card, a hug and a smile, or, perhaps, nothing at all.

For Caleb Benhan, a University of South Florida student at the Manatee-Sarasota campus who recently lost his job as a tutor for Manatee Community College students, it will be a slim Christmas.

It’s been hard for the 20-year-old English major to scrape up change for Christmas gifts for friends and family. Fortunately, Benhan has a backup plan: His birthday was Dec. 6, and he’ll use his birthday money to buy some Christmas gifts.

“This is the first time I’ve had a hard time finding gifts for people,” Benhan said. “And I can’t enjoy my (Christmas) break because I have to look for a job.”

Apparently, the recent economic downturn has left many local college students scrambling for ways to afford Christmas gifts.

A recent survey by a group of undergraduate researchers from the school’s Public Relations Student Society of America Walter E. Griscti chapter confirmed that many students this year have near-empty pockets. The survey by USF students on Facebook showed that out of 250 responses, 83 percent said the economy is influencing their gift purchases. Forty-three percent plan to buy fewer gifts for friends and family.

Students who are buying are leaning toward cheaper gifts like plates of homemade goodies or gift certificates.

“I used to get gifts for my friends as well,” said Carlos Bardalez, a 24-year-old student at USF. “Now I’m just getting them for close family.”

Tina Sanchez, a USF senior, said she’ll have to cut the number of gifts she gives out in half. Sanchez, who works part time at the Manatee-Sarasota’s Life Long Learning Academy, will at least send out a Christmas card or e-card to cover as many friends and family as possible. “The key,” she said, “is to start early.”

USF student Mark Fisher, 26, from Toronto, agrees. Fisher said he had more success starting his Christmas shopping in the summer. “I bought my gifts in the summer when I had money,” Fisher said, “and I knew there wouldn’t be a rush so I could enjoy it more. I went to Best Buy, the Body Shop or Barnes & Noble ... or the liquor store for my brother.”

Gina Lion, a 23-year-old USF student, began saving money throughout the year for gifts. “I also make plates of cookies, brownies and chocolate-covered pretzels,” Lion said. “Christmas is more about giving so I’m not going to stop giving just because the economy goes up and down.”