The Gift Box

by Shaunna Privratsky

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I used to panic when December appeared on the calendar. I fretted over money and scurried from store to store, never quite satisfied with the over-priced gifts I eventually bought. Then we'd spend January and February paying the credit card bills.

All that changed when I started a gift box. Four years ago, my mother-in-law and I shopped the after-Christmas sales. We picked up a plethora of gifts for the following Christmas at huge discounts. Elated with our bargains, I stored everything in a large plastic container.

The Gift Box, as it came to be known, isn't just for Christmas gifts anymore. I store birthday, anniversary, shower, secret pal and kids' party gifts. It's perfect for those last minute party invitations or a hostess gift when you're invited to dinner.

It is simple to create and maintain a gift box. Just keep your eyes open for inexpensive items that would make a great gift. Don't always think big. Smaller items can be combined to make a fine gift basket or package. I recently spotted a bin of discounted stationary gifts for only $1 each. A pretty notebook, matching envelopes and a gel pen made an appealing teacher appreciation gift and I'm sure it will be more useful than another "Greatest Teacher" mug.

When shopping ahead, take a moment to visualize whom the gift will go to. Sure, that leopard-print lampshade is a steal for only $3, but who will be the lucky recipient? Pass up a bargain if you can't use it.

Consider careful re-gifting. If you were given a lovely present but cannot use it, put it in the gift box. Just make sure the person who originally gave it to you won't be hurt or offended if you give it to someone else. Re-gifting is fine with large families, distant friends or acquaintances. Go ahead and send that eight-piece crystal decanter set to Aunt Bertha in Alaska. She'll be thrilled and you'll have one less gift to buy.

Keep in mind that it is not the price you pay, but the thought and spirit of giving that you put into gifts. Don't be sucked into the mentality that the more you spend on someone, the more you care for him or her.

Relentless advertising in the media causes most of the frenzy of holiday overspending. Ever notice that toy commercials double, if not triple, in the period between Halloween and December 25th? Teach your kids not to believe everything they see on television. I overheard my nine-year-old daughter telling my six-year-old son "Those toys don't really fly. They just show that on TV so you'll buy it, then it breaks." What a savvy shopper!

Don't overlook garage sales and thrift stores in your search for the perfect present. You can find gently used items for that special someone at a fraction of the cost. Ceramics, glass, collectibles, artwork, home decor and kitchen gadgets are just a few ideas. Keep an open mind and you may find treasure in someone else's trash.

One of my favorite mugs was a Christmas gift from my best friend. It reads "I love having you as a friend." On the back it continues "It makes me look normal." We still laugh about it. She gleefully confessed that she only paid 10 cents at a second-hand shop.

Whether you start now or wait until the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season has settled into a bright New Year, you can start a gift box. Any container, shelf or cupboard will do. Whenever you spot a bargain for future gift giving, put it in your gift box. Choose each item with care and you'll be rewarded again and again with the ideal gift when you need it.

Shaunna Privratsky became an expert in personal finance out of necessity. Between writing, reading and gardening, she is always on the lookout for bargains. Please sign up for the free newsletters at The Discount Diva. You can also visit Shaunna on Google+.

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