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Giving Gifts on a Budget

Updated on May 9, 2011
Save money on gifts
Save money on gifts | Source

   It's said that it's better to give than to receive, but that pearl of wisdom neglects the common pain of the pinch in your pocketbook for months to come after generous giving.  Giving gifts can get expensive. The easiest way to reduce the cost of gifts would, of course, be to not give them. However, that's not an appealing option to many people.

My husband and I used to spend a small fortune on gifts, especially Christmas gifts.  We’d then spend months paying them off.  A couple years ago, we decided we couldn’t afford to continue giving the way we had been, so we made a change.  Not only did this benefit us financially, but we had more fun planning gifts, and our gift recipients enjoyed their budget-friendly gifts more because we put more thought into making their gifts special.

Shop All Year

The number one thing we started doing was shopping throughout the year instead of waiting until October or November. Not only does this help us spread the expense throughout the year so it’s much more easily absorbed, we have the opportunity to get great deals as they happen, so we get the gifts at the best price we can find.

Gift cards can be used as gifts themselves, or you can use them to buy gifts.
Gift cards can be used as gifts themselves, or you can use them to buy gifts. | Source

Use Discount Gift Cards

Whenever possible, we use gift cards we’ve purchased at a discount rate from places like ebay or Plastic Jungle.  If we can get a gift card for 10 percent off and buy the item for 50 percent off, it’s a savings of 60 percent!

Cash in Online Rewards

We use sites like Swagbucks and MyPoints and apps like Shopkick and CheckPoints, and we cash in our rewards for gift cards, which then become gifts (like Starbucks for my mom and sister) or can be used by us to buy gifts.

Use Online Shopping Rebates

Sites like ebates and Mr. Rebates offer rebates for shopping online. Whenever we make online purchases, we try to use one of the sites so we can get a percentage of our purchase’s price back.

Take Advantage of Mail-In Rebates

We love rebates! We’ve found that the best gift-type products with rebates are store specific, meaning a store either offers the rebate, or a manufacturer offers the rebate for buying the product at a certain store. You can get items at steeply discounted prices or even free(!) after rebate.

Menards is our favorite for rebates because they always offer rebates, whereas they’re special offers featured rarely at other stores. Tools are common items for rebates, as one would expect from Menards, but you can get other great things as well. We were able to get two great decorative collage picture frames for free after rebate ($36 value), which were perfect gifts for our sisters, both of whom love taking and displaying pictures. The only catch with Menards rebates is they must be used at Menards (they’re store credit, not cash), but that’s not a problem for us because we just use them to buy more rebate items!

We’ve also always had good luck getting good rebates at Kohls on Black Friday when prices are deeply discounted already (plus they always offer Kohls cash that day!). This year we also got a couple of Black Friday rebates at JC Penny, and a couple weeks later we got a good Toys R Us rebate on games.

Advice for Getting Rebates

With coupons, these gift tubs of games, popcorn, and a popcorn tub, which you can't see due to tissue paper, cost less than $2.
With coupons, these gift tubs of games, popcorn, and a popcorn tub, which you can't see due to tissue paper, cost less than $2. | Source

Use Coupons

While most coupons are for items like food and toiletries, occasionally coupons for toys and other giftable products (unless you gift cereal—in which case you have an abundance of coupons to draw on throughout the year, and probably some confused and disappointed gift recipients).  Our best score was last year when Hasbro released several $4 and $5 off coupons on games like Pictureka and Monopoly.  While the coupons were good on the board games, they were also good on the card games, which cost $4-$5, resulting in free games.  We were able to use lots of these coupons (extras purchased on, a coupon clipping service), which we bundled into groups of four together in popcorn containers from the dollar store and boxes of popcorn (purchased with coupons, of course) for a dozen family game night packages for less than $2 each.  These gifts were cheap for us, but the recipients loved them.  As my aunt repeatedly said, “It’s just a bucket of fun!  What a great gift.  It’s so much fun.”

Try Mystery Shopping

We often do mystery shops and have found them to be a good source of gifts.  They have allowed us to take friends out for free meals.  We also get products from various stores, like Aeropostale and Spencer Gifts.  These are great because we get reimbursed for our purchases, which results in free gifts for others.

Swapping Provides Great Gifts

If your recipients don’t mind gently used items (mine don’t), try On this site you can trade books you no longer want. While most of the books I get are for myself, friends and family often will request I use it to get them books they want for birthdays or Christmas.

You could also set up swaps with friends and exchange items for regifting.

This is the start of next Christmas's stocking stuffers.  I save free samples and other freebies I pick up throughout the year.
This is the start of next Christmas's stocking stuffers. I save free samples and other freebies I pick up throughout the year. | Source

Use Free Samples for Stocking Stuffers

Throughout the year I sign up for various free items offered online or in stores, like the free two-ounce bottles of lotions and soaps Bath & Body Works offers through Facebook.  These free sample sizes are the perfect size for stocking stuffers.  At the beginning of the year, I set up a box and fill it with products I receive over the coming months.  You can get a large variety of products this way—some yummy, some practical, and some funny (like the adult diapers I got my dad, who hopefully won’t need them for years.  We all found the look on his face quite funny.)

These emergency car heaters were easy to make, budget friendly, and appreciated by the recipients.
These emergency car heaters were easy to make, budget friendly, and appreciated by the recipients. | Source

Make Gifts Yourself

For those who are good in the kitchen or crafty, you can make things yourself. Most of my friends are too busy to cook and/or don’t like to cook, so for them, food gifts are great. Sometimes I give the gift of a meal; if I make lasagna, I’ll make an extra pan to share. I give gifts of homemade bread and cookies. For Christmas this past year, I canned blueberry sauce (made in July when blueberries are in season and therefore really cheap) and apple butter (made in October when apples are cheapest), which I paired with a homemade pancake mix, which was just dry ingredients combined together and so easy even the most kitchen-challenged person could make it (if you don’t can, pick up a nice jelly or syrup at a farmer’s market or the grocery store). I also make cookies and candy and other yummy treats.

I’m still working on being craftier, but I’ve made scarves, ornaments, hollow books, and I also made emergency car heaters  (cheap and a big hit with recipients)—I spray painted the coffee cans for this, so I count it as a craft.

Give the Gift of Time

So many people have all the stuff they want and/or need, but they don’t have enough time.  Coupons for time are usually a great hit.  You could offer free babysitting, house cleaning, etc., depending on what the recipient would appreciate.

Choose the Tips that Work Best for You

I hope these tips help you save money on gifts, just like we have.  The gifts are more fun to give because we have fun with the journey of finding gifts throughout the year.  Those we give the gifts to appreciate them more, too.  They like knowing we were thinking of them throughout the year, and they like hearing of how we procured their gifts (they admire how we get so much for free or cheap).


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