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Dec 102015
 December 10, 2015  Posted by  Expired

Holiday shopping can make you feel as if the “reason for the season” is emptying your wallet, but it doesn’t have to be that way. There are plenty of ways to save money on holiday gifts, entertainment and dining out through the holidays. Sign up for Living on the Cheap daily emails, RSS feed, Facebook updates and/or Twitter feed so you’ll get the current deals and cheap holiday tips without having to search for them.

Here are some of my best shopping and giving tips to help you save money this holiday season while letting your friends and family know you care.

Shop online strategically 

If you shop online, you can avoid the crowds and often get better deals. Here are my tips.

  • Amazon: Before I purchase anything, I check to see if Amazon sells it for a lower price (it often does).  Amazon offers free Super Saver Shipping for orders of more than $35, but the shipping takes longer, about 5-8 days minimum, so be aware of time limits.  You can also sign up for a free one-month trial of Amazon Prime to get FREE two-day shipping regardless of order price (and one-day shipping for only $3.99).  Sign up around Thanksgiving and get free shipping until Christmas — just remember to cancel the trial (it’s easy to do in your account) or you’ll be charged $99 for a year.  As a bonus, Amazon Prime gives you free streaming of TV shows and movies, as well as the ability to borrow Kindle titles for free.  If you’re a college student with an .edu email address, you’re eligible for six free months of Amazon Student Prime (it’s $49.50 a year thereafter).  If you’re a mom, dad or caregiver, you’re eligible for Amazon Mom – members qualify for three months of FREE two-day shipping with Amazon Prime, plus other discounts and deals.  With Amazon, you can create shopping lists and wishlists throughout the year as you’re browsing, which makes it easy to keep track of items you may want to give or to get.
  • Ebates, Fatwallet and ShopAtHome. These sites give you cash back for online shopping: 1% to 30%, plus additional coupon codes may be available.  Before you purchase something online, log into one of these accounts and shop through its link to that online store.  Not all stores are covered by each, so sometimes it helps to check each one for the best percentage.  I’ve earned more than $250 in the past several years using cash-back shopping.  If you forget to log in through one of these accounts before you fill your shopping bag, you can usually close of out the site and log in with a cash-back site and when you return to your cart of the shopping website, your items should still be available and you’ll get the cash back.
  • Free Shipping Day. Need some last minute gifts?  Free Shipping Day is Thursday, December 18, 2014. More than 2,000 retailers will be participating by offering free shipping with delivery by Christmas Eve, and many will offer additional discounts to compete for your business.
  • Handmade and unique gifts are my favorites to give and get. has millions of great gifts that can be narrowed down by categories, prices and more.  Shipping costs are usually reasonable.

Craft fairs and unique local stores

If you’d rather shop in person, you can still save money.  The first tip is to avoid the mall – unless you are going there for something specific that is advertised at a great price. Otherwise, you’ll end up paying too much and giving gifts with little creativity. Here are some better places to buy gifts:

  • Craft fairs, art shows and community markets are fantastic places to get unique and inexpensive gifts. Check out your local Living on the Cheap site for information about local holiday bazaars and craft fairs.
  • Buy local and unique. Columbus has some fantastic independent local shops that have both useful and unique gifts, as do many other cities.  If I can’t find what I’m looking for online, I like to browse these shops for inspiration. Plus, when you buy local, more of the money that you spend stays in your community.
  • Chain discount stores offer a good selection and lower prices – but they aren’t quite as original.  I prefer Marshall’s, TJ Maxx and Urban Outfitters for inexpensive gifts. If you must go to the standard big box stores, make sure you sign up for email updates and/or like them on Facebook so you’ll know about special “deals of the day” and sales.

Make your own gifts

Be creative — homemade food and handmade items can be some of the most useful and unique gifts.  There are tons of online tutorials for handmade and homemade gifts online.  Join Pinterest for inspiration — it’s a virtual pin board for you to find and save ideas/recipes/favorite things, etc.  Living on the Cheap has lots of homemade gift ideas, like these 15 quick and easy handmade Christmas gift ideas.

Examples I’ve given or received include homemade candy, mason jar baking/cookie mixes, jellies, homemade vanilla extract, spicy peanut butter (just blend in spices), wine and jewelry. One year, I made a bunch of recycled magazine bowls out of torn out magazine pages and added some wrapped goodies to the bowls.  Photo gifts are very popular and inexpensive as well, and perfect for friends and family.  Some photo gifts can be picked up in your local drugstore the next day, so these are great for meaningful, last-minute gifts.

Another thought is to give your “favorite things” or favorite treats. I do a “fun food” gift bag for a Yankee swap gift exchange every year at work that contains local and fun foods and it is always the most “swapped” gift of all. You could do all sorts of themes for this – for a foodie or someone learning to cook (favorite kitchen tools, spices, etc), friend bag (favorite lipgloss, lip balm, nail polish, files, bath products), etc.  Creativity is often what makes a gift great, not money spent.

What are your tips for thoughtful holiday gifts on a budget?

Val McCauley

Val McCauley was drawn to writing about Living on the Cheap after moving to Columbus from her small hometown after college. She realized that there were a ton of events and activities going on around the city, but there wasn't a website that made it easy to find out about these things. Her love of travel and desire to get out of debt after college cemented the need to live on less while still having fun. Over the last several years, she has paid off all of her debt and still has fun. In her free time, she loves to workout, play sports, and cook gluten-free meals. Val is the owner and operator of Columbus on the Cheap and That’s What We Did.

  2 Responses to “Thoughtful holiday gifts on a budget”

  1. I have found over the years that one gift someone really wants or can use is better than ten useless items. One year I gave everyone in my family a battery charger with rechargeable batteries, and it’s still the one everyone talks about.

    On the other hand, finding small but fun gifts at big discounts throughout the year is one way to fill up the space under the tree. :) Examples are freebies you get when purchasing from the department store makeup counter, or an inexpensive electric toothbrush you bought with a coupon when it was on sale, a themed gift basket with free samples, simple card games or puzzles, free photobooks or a free photo enlargement in a nice frame.

    A few times I’ve even given an actual daily deal voucher as a gift, but not every family member understands its value. :) Most of the time I use the vouchers to buy the gifts.

  2. Rewards programs, hands down. I trade all of mine in for Amazon GCs since, as you said, most items are sold there.

    Also, social buying sites. My mom just moved to Alaska, so her birthday present was a $20 certificate to The Body Shop, to help with the dry/chapped skin from the cold. She was thrilled and I paid $10 (and got 7% cash back because I love cash-back sites).

    By the way, don’t forget about Mr. Rebates, Extrabux and Those three tend to the have the highest rates. But, of course, always check to be sure.

    I like the idea of Pinterest for homemade goodies. I don’t give those anymore because I don’t have the time/energy/organization. But I *love* getting things that someone made. More time and thought are usually put into them.

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