Frugal Holiday Gifts Under $10

Frugal Holiday Gifts Under $10

I distinctly remember the sound of my mom’s voice one Christmas Eve when she said, “you’re actually doing your Christmas shopping today? I thought you were kidding!” It was my first year of law school and my last exam was December 22nd, I flew across the country the next day, slept 16 hours straight, got up, and went out to get some gifts for my family at noon on December 24th. I never came close to repeating that whirlwind of a holiday shopping “season,” but I can’t say that other Decembers have felt any more pleasant. The two Decembers after our son arrived were incredibly stressful.

Last year was different. I was done with holiday shopping by the time the turkey was cold on Thanksgiving. It was nothing short of wonderful to be able to enjoy Christmas activities throughout the month of December without having to deal with shopping malls, overcrowded parking lots, holiday pricing, cranky drivers, and scrambling at the last minute for just one more gift. It was nice to sit back and enjoy the spirit of the holiday season. Even before I got laid off and self-imposed a $0 budget, I planned to get all the shopping done by the Friday after Thanksgiving. Thankfully, that strategy requires that I start shopping in July, so going forward I only have a few gifts left to buy, and I think that I can get them all for under $10 or so, especially if I can buy things with gift cards or rewards points. Total. But just to be fair to readers, I did spend up to $10 each on gifts already in the Gift Closet. This is how I plan to pull it off:because I tried to pack holiday shopping in with the Christmas activities and traditions I wanted to start as a family.

  • Christmas Shopping in July. And September. And November. This year I kicked off my Christmas shopping at the Target Toy Clearance sale, which happened in July. But I am applying the same philosophy for the next 2 months. I have a list of all the people I am buying gifts for, and their ages, and keep my eyes peeled for good deals on gifts that would be appropriate. If something is over 65% off, I snag it on an impulse buy. You’ll notice the $2 board games snagged at a Toys R Us sale, many Target toy clearance items for 70% off, and Disney items for 75% at the grocery store. The only items over $10 are the $20 Apples to Apples game and one of The Little Mermaid blu rays was $13. Admittedly, I think this works better for the under-6 crowd on my list. As you get into teenage years, I think it’s a lot harder to find something that just about any kid would love. This is the current state of my Gift Closet for the kids on my list (left) and my son (right):
    Gift Closet October 2013 Santa's Stash 2013
    I give gifts to 15 children, including our own. I like to give my nieces and nephews (all 10 of them) a fun toy and an ornament.  After taking stock, I realized that I have enough toys for everyone except one child. For one family of five children, we are giving the family a board game and ornaments for each child. Gathering everything for this picture, I realized that I’ve spent just under $40 for my son, plus a big pile of new-to-him books and a Thomas the Tank Engine track set that I scored on consignment last spring. That means that Santa is DONE shopping for him!

    • If we didn’t have a $0 budget, I would be going after the deals on my favorite sites like Hip2SaveLiving Rich With Coupons, and Money Saving Mom. They are already posting great deals for gift closet items more and more frequently in the run up to the holidays. It’s hard to resist the deals even when your holiday list is complete, so last year I bought a lot of gifts in December for upcoming birthdays. As always, if snagging a great deal online, use ebates or Shop At Home to get cash back. (see which one offers the most cash back). I’ll be posting the deals I’m digging on the my Facebook and Twitter pages, so if you are on the lookout for inexpensive gifts, you might want to Like our Facebook page or Follow us on Twitter.
  • Promotional Gift Cards. Last year I received a “$5 off any purchase” coupon from Lands’ End and immediately went to their website to see what I could find under $5. Do you ever get those? I get them from Eddie Bauer, Shop Your Way Rewards (Sears/KMart/Lands’ End), Victoria’s Secret, and Stride Rite. The best way to spend these is to go online if you can get free shipping or ship to shore. Click on the clearance section and sort by price: lowest to highest. Look at everything under the value of your coupon and you might find a great gift. In the past, I’ve found a free shirt for myself, free pajamas for our son, and a free ice scraper mitt that my mom loved when Santa gave it to her in her stocking. If you must go into the store, just try to exercise restraint. I went in to Eddie Bauer to spend the $10 coupon they sent out last week and, despite plenty of shirts and gadgets under $10, walked out $50 poorer. You might also have some promotional cash hanging around from a recent purchase at Kohl’s or Carter’s or KMart/Sears/Lands’ End (through the Shop Your Way Rewards).
  • Unused Gift Cards. I had a $25 Banana Republic gift card for four years, but never spent it because I couldn’t imagine that they would have have anything under $25, and they don’t carry petites in the store, so I can never try on clothes there (maybe that has changed?) Anyway, I finally visited one, determined to spend it, and found a necklace on clearance that was perfect. I don’t buy a lot of music or television or movies, so I have had a $50 Apple gift card sitting in my pocket for almost a year. It’s time to spend it, even if it’s not on me. If you have a collection of unused gift cards, take a peek at the store’s inventory and see if there’s something there that someone on your holiday list would like. Heck, maybe they would like the gift card! Just go in to the store and use your gift card to buy one that looks like new.
  • Rewards Programs. A bunch of companies have rewards programs where you can accrue points by purchasing their products: Disney, Kelloggs, Coke, Sears/Kmart/Lands End (Shop Your Way Rewards), Best Buy, and Huggies, to name a few. My credit card has a points program for purchases when I can redeem for gift cards, which I can give as a gift or use to purchase a gift. Check out the items that are available for purchase with points and you might find something perfect for someone on your list. All it will cost you is the time it took to collect and enter all those point codes. I collect the point codes in a box on my desk and after accumulating a bunch of them, I enter them on a rainy day.
  • Shop Your Closet. Last year, I bought my son a Tag Reader for Christmas (it’s a pen that reads storybooks when you touch the pen to the words). He does like it, but he never really took to the product the way my niece did when we brought them along during a recent trip to her house. She is older and learning to read, so it’s more age-appropriate for her. The Tag Reader came as a package with a carrying case and two boxes of books, but I never gave him the second box of books. Guess what my niece is getting from us for Christmas this year? She now has a Tag Reader, so she is going to get the box of books that my son didn’t get last year. They are still in brand new condition, and I know she will appreciate them much more than my son.
  • Couponing. Last year I Santa stocked everyone’s stockings for free. Everything in there was part of my couponing spoils. What’s a stocking for, if not for free toothpaste, toothbrushes, razors, shave gel, candy, body wash, lotions, and other random but useful stuff? If you’ve never tried “extreme couponing,” check out my favorite resources and give it a whirl. The CVS Black Friday sale was a great resource for these items, including Matchbox cars and Play Doh for our son, an “As Seen on TV” foot scrubber for mom, chocolate for dad, and snacks for my spouse. I will be sure to post my CVS plan here or on Facebook when the ad is published next month. Here is a pic of what I got last year at CVS, for $10.

CVS Black Friday 2012

  • Homemade gifts. I don’t consider myself a DIY-er in the gift-giving department, although I did make a diaper cake for a baby shower recently. When the mom-to-be was opening it, someone asked me if I got the idea from Pinterest and I told her that I don’t go on Pinterest because it makes me feel inadequate. I’m not lying. You’ve heard of “Facebook Depression,” no doubt? Well, I have “Pinterest Shame,” where I feel like I should just give up on the whole parenting thing if I can’t do a 3-tiered birthday cake in the shape of Thomas the Tank Engine. So, I stayed away from Pinterest as long as possible, but now that I’m facing the challenge of buying 10 ornaments for nieces and nephews for $0, I caved and opened an account so I could pin some possibilities for homemade ornaments. I will have to pay for materials, but they’ll be less than $10 if I can coupon it right, and hopefully a homemade gift will be a more sentimental gift than the $20 Lenox ornaments I had been getting them in years past. I have a few ideas pinned on Pinterest if you want to suggest anything.

Library Booksale 2013 Pinnable

  • Used Books. My family and friends are used book lovers, so I keep my eyes peeled for good books that I think they (or their children) will like. I have two favorite sources for good quality books for cheap:
    • Library Booksale. My local library had its used book sale a few weeks ago. I love library booksales because they sell hardcovers for $1, better than any used book store I’ve ever visited. I usually spend the bulk of my time in the children’s book room, where the really nice, like-new, books, are tagged at $2. I look for children’s books I know and love that are in good condition. One of my friends still uses her VCR, so I scored a pile of Disney movies on VHS for $0.50 each. (Including my favorites — Robin Hood and The Little Mermaid!) But for those who may not share my love of used books, I tried to find books that look brand new. Here is what I looked for:
      • Books without scratches or indents on the cover. If none are obvious, tilt the book sideways and look at the way the light reflects on the cover — if there are dents, you’ll be able to see them.
      • Books that crack when you open them, like no one has ever opened the book before.
      • Books without an inscription or name on the first few pages, and flip through to see if there are any marks on the pages.
      • Books with a medal on the cover indicating that it’s a Caldecott Medal winner, or other winner of another children’s book accolade. If you’re not familiar with the book, this is a good indication that the gift recipient will enjoy it.
    • Paperback Swap. My Paperback Swap list is full of books I want to get other people. Paperback Swap is a site that exchanges used books. You list the books you are willing to part with, and when someone requests the book you send it to them. Each book you send out gets you a credit, and the ability to request a book from someone else. The sooner I get it on that list, the more chance I’ll have to receive it before Christmas. Last year, all the books I gave my dad were from Paperback Swap. All it cost me was the price of mailing out my used books when they were requested. If you’re new to Paperback Swap, you can get two credits just by listing ten books on the site, so you can get two books for free!

For someone who hates to shop or loathes looking for a sale, this method is not for you. But I love the challenge of giving great gifts for under $10 — it’s like a game to me. If I can’t do it, I can’t do it. But if I can … well … I guess nothing will change, but our bank account will be happy I could do it. Happy shopping! Or are you already done?

17 thoughts on “Frugal Holiday Gifts Under $10

  1. I wonder if you can resell the $50 Apple card for, say, $40 cash, if you don’t plan on using it on something truly valuable for yourself? Don’t just spend it because you have it, if it’s not truly going to generate something worth it for you.

    • That’s a great point. I should look into that. I’d love to watch the Game of Thrones series, but I just can’t bring myself to spend full price on something so fleeting!

  2. Decades ago my dad made ornaments out of pieces of a cardboard egg carton, some yarn or macaroni glued on for ornamentation, and gold spray paint. I think Mom still has at least one. I quilt so I’ve given lots of handmade ornaments over the years. Sites like Better Homes and Gardens are a great resource. In our family, we try to add one ornament a year, usually picked up on vacation.

  3. Kudos! Great job. I usually “start” in the summer, but I’m not aggressive enough, and I have a little problem with perfectionism, so I’m always searching for the elusive perfect gift. I am almost done with my 10 year old’s Christmas though. He loves both Legos and Minecraft. Lo and behold, Lego has come out with Lego Minecraft! My budget isn’t quite as drastic as yours, so I purchased all 3 sets on consecutive paydays. I don’t think he even knows that they exist yet, so he will be over-the-moon happy.
    Great tips, here!

    • That’s a great suggestion! There are plenty of subscriptions you can “buy” with rewards points. I know Coke Rewards has some magazines on there; and my Dad is a voracious reader.

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  5. Great advice! I love your gift closet. I always try to store extra things I pick up through the year too and recycle them into gifts.

    Some cheap (but not cheap looking) gift ideas are to sign up for some freebie sites. You can group them together and go by the dollar store to pick up something to turn them into gift baskets. Like a coffee cup full of tea and coffee samples or a little gift basket of lotions (you can pretty much pick up a free travel sized bottle of lotion a month at Bath & Body Works if you sign up for their coupons).

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