Inexpensive gift ideas for the newly frugal!

My Story: Money Saving Gifts

contributed by CJ

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When my husband and I were first married, I was stunned at the amount of gift giving required of married couples. There are weddings, birthdays and baby showers for family and friends, Christmas gifts galore for kids and adults, not to mention gift-shipping charges and the price of gift-wrapping and bows! It can really strain a budget unless families take control of their gift-giving costs. Here are a few of the inexpensive gift ideas that we have found to save money on gift giving while still providing quality (even exquisite) gifts to family and friends:

Baby Showers

I have found that many baby gifts can be purchased on sale from department or baby stores, or from stores that take overstocks or inventory leftovers, such as Ross Dress for Less, Tuesday Morning or Big Lots. Baby items often sell in bulk packages that can be divided out to save money while still giving great gifts that will be useful for mother and baby. For example, last year I bought packages of fleece baby blankets (each package containing three blankets) and wrapped bows around each blanket before giving to the mothers, who each loved the soft and fuzzy blankets. Cost per gift: $3.

Birthdays and Weddings

Again, some of the stores that sell overstocks, such as Ross, Big Lots and Tuesday Morning, will have beautiful and affordable gift baskets and gift sets of scented lotions and soaps that are great for birthday gifts to women. Or you'll find kitchen items such as decorative glass bowls, cutlery or decorative dish sets to help a newly married couple. I also watch for books of interest, such as the National Geographic visual guide to the Bible that I purchased for only $5 recently (which makes a great Father's Day gift).

I also try and watch the seasonal clearance sales at Kohls, JCPenney, Sears and other major department stores. Last year, we were able to get $75 sweaters for five different men in our family for $5 apiece on clearance.

The best method I have found to save money is to buy gifts early, early, early, and store them in a special container or box at home. I have already purchased next year's family Christmas gifts at affordable prices, including brand-new designer ties for men in our family at only $3-$5 apiece from a local sale.


I save a certain amount of money each year to shop Christmas clearance at Rite Aid, Smiths or Shopko (buying gifts in advance for next Christmas). This past Christmas, I purchased beautiful porcelain snowflake bread serving dishes ($30 apiece before Christmas and $4.99 afterwards) and fleece snowflake blankets on clearance. In addition, I purchased matching sets of poinsettia pot holders and oven mitts with cookie turners and gingerbread cookie mix. I try to purchase what will last for a year in storage.

I also look for sales as the holidays approach. In the past, we bought Christmas cake mixes and ready-made frosting and gave it with a disposable cake pan. Many families we've given this gift to told us their children loved making Christmas cake together as a family Christmas activity. And we took advantage of sales on baking items to make our own gifts for neighbors (I am a huge fan of giving homemade cupcakes or cookies decorated for Christmas).

Another inexpensive gift idea for Christmas is simply to pool resources among family members. For instance, we found a great sale on a digital camera this year, and we will split the total $100 cost between four brothers to give to grandparents. We paid $25 apiece for a gift that will appear to have cost hundreds of dollars, and which none of us would be able to give individually. Family lotteries or gift rotations are also a great way to help budgets (rotate each year among all your close relatives so that each family gives to only one family and receives from one family, but will receive from and give to another family next year so that all families give to each other over a certain number of years). My husband's family draws names each holiday to assign next year's Christmas gift-giving among extended family members.

Gift Wrapping

Buying gift-wrap from the dollar stores or wrap and bows on Christmas clearance is a great way to save in packaging costs. I also use my grandmother's trick that was leftover from the Great Depression years. I save the gift-wrap and reuse it if I can. I open my gifts very slowly (when possible) and fold and save the wrapping paper. In addition, I save all ribbons, bows and gift-bags that are still in excellent condition, and fold and save tissue paper from flowers and gifts. Using this method, I have not bought gift-wrapping items in over a year (apart from Christmas wrap on clearance) and my gifts still look beautiful (I do not reuse parts of wrap damaged by tape).

Saving on Shipping Costs

I save and store boxes from items mailed to me in order to save on packaging costs later in the year, especially at major holidays like Christmas. I also save the packing materials from each box (Styrofoam peanuts, air packs, bubble wrap) and the materials from household moves, such as moving paper that wraps dishes and other breakables (and makes excellent packaging material when wadded up into balls). I will also use old newspapers crinkled up for packaging material.

In addition, I try to figure in the cost of shipping with gifts to out-of-state persons. For instance, I will purchase small and light gifts for friends out of state, or send cash or a check in a nice-looking money-pocket greeting card. After learning how so many retailers are now setting gift cards to expire, I now send cash or a personal check instead of gift cards to avoid wasting time and money.

Greeting Cards

The least expensive method is, of course, to compile an email list for family and friends and send e-cards for major holidays and/or birthdays. Some websites, such as American Greetings, offer year-round e-cards for a small annual fee (without the spam from the free e-card sites!), such as $1.50 per month ($15.99/year) for unlimited e-card sending. This method also saves on postage costs.

However, being more old-fashioned, I typically buy bulk greeting cards from Walgreens or Ross Dress for Less when I see the boxes on sale. I have paid $3 for 20 all-occasion cards or $4-$6 for 40 or more cards that I use for Christmas, birthdays, weddings, baby showers, etc. Michaels craft store also sells note cards, Christmas cards, and thank-you cards ($1 for 10 cards) in their $1 bins every now and then, so I stock up on those inexpensive cards when they appear.

In addition, you can save postage while sending exquisite cards by sending photo cards. Costco and online photo retailers offer photo Christmas cards or Baby Announcements for an inexpensive cost, and you save on shipping because these cards can mail at the rate of a post card instead of the full cost for a first-class envelope.

"My Story" is a regular feature of The Dollar Stretcher. If you have a story that could help save time or money, please send it to

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