‘Tis the Season for Saving: Six Ways to Save Big on Holiday Gift Giving

By Mike Peterson
In November 23, 2011

The holidays are right around the corner, and if you’re like most people that means you’re probably looking for a way to get into the holiday spirit without getting yourself into a mountain of debt in the process. It’s always fun to give gifts, but shopping for friends, family, and the person on your office’s secret Santa list can get expensive – fast.

No worries.  This year, I’m kicking off the holiday season by sharing a few of my favorite shopping tips.  If you’re looking for ways to keep things frugal (and festive!) this year, consider a few of these:

Tip 1:  Cash in rewards points

This is one of the best ways to stretch your holiday shopping dollar.  After all, why spend money when you can cash in loyalty points, reward bucks, or gift cards?  Many popular stores – like Hallmark, Starbucks, and Best Buy, to name a few – have some sort of customer loyalty program.  You get a membership card, and for every dollar you spend, you earn points toward gift certificates or store credit.

Before you hit the mall this year, check and see if you’ve got any rewards coming your way.  A $10 or $20 gift card could help jumpstart your holiday shopping.

And speaking of gift cards . . .

Tip 2:  Use gift cards

Remember that gift card you got for your birthday last year?  The one from that store you never, ever visit?  The holidays are a perfect time to dust off any old gift cards you’ve got lying around.  If you’ve got unused cards, you can use them to buy presents for the people on your list.  Or they can make great gifts on their own — just make sure that there’s no personalized message on them first.

If you’ve got a few gift cards with leftover balances on them, use those, too.  A few dollars might not pay for a whole gift, but you could knock a few bucks off your purchase.

Tip 3:  Get thrifty

As in, “thrift store.”  No, really.  Thrift stores (or yard sales or flea markets) are perfect places to search for offbeat items for hard-to-buy-for folks on your shopping list, like your uncle who still watches VHS tapes or your niece who collects weird coffee mugs or 1980s toys.  Thrift stores aren’t just for kitsch, though.  You can find really nice things at thrift stores, too – like designer clothing with the tags still on or jewelry and accessories still in the original packaging.

Tip 4:  Swap with friends

It’s not new, but it’s new to you.  Swap parties aren’t just for the holiday season, but they can be a cost-conscious way to find great gifts.  Get some friends together and ask everyone to bring a gift or two.  Make some snacks, put on some festive music, and you’ve got your very own swap meet.  Swapping is ideal for items for younger kids, like books they’ve grown out of or DVDs they’ve seen a zillion times. Swap parties are also perfect opportunities to find homes for gifts you’ve received that just weren’t “you.”

Tip 5:  Clip (or download) coupons

If you’re not usually a die-hard coupon clipper, the holidays are a perfect time to start.  Before you start shopping, it’s a good idea to search for coupons first.  Check the newspaper – especially the super-thick Sunday edition – for store circulars filled with coupons, rebates, or special “doorbuster” or “early bird” sales for shoppers visiting the store at a certain time. If you’re more of an online shopper, be sure to check for coupon codes and free shipping offers before you hit the virtual checkout.

Tip 6:  Consider “Black Friday” . . . carefully

The great thing about Black Friday is, you can get some seriously good deals on high-ticket items.  If you know that your family is getting, say, a new flat-screen LCD television this year, it might be worth getting up at 2 a.m. and fighting the insanity to save a couple hundred bucks on your purchase.

That said, there really is something insane about getting up at 2 a.m. and fighting mobs of other holiday shoppers.  Plus, all of the deep discounts on Black Friday make it really easy to overspend – unless you’ve got some serious willpower, you might come home with more than a TV set.  Remember: You’re not “saving” anything if you’re buying something you don’t need and didn’t budget for.

So, that’s it for now!  I hope these six holiday shopping tips help you make the most of your gift-giving budget this year.

Happy holidays!

Mike is the author of “Reality Millionaire: Proven Tips to Retire Rich” and he has been published in a variety of local and national publications including Entrepreneur Magazine, Deseret Morning News, LDS Living Magazine, and Physicians Money Digest. He holds a B.S. in business administration from the University of Phoenix.