Thrifty Tips

5 Creative Ways to Save on Gift Giving

Gift giving can be both expensive and time-consuming. Nearly every occasion requires a financial outlay, at least a card, often gift wrap and a gift. To minimize the effects of celebration on your wallet, we have compiled a list of our own strategies for thrifty gifting.

Homemade Gifts:

A few homemade gifts that we have had success with include:

  • Homemade candy
  • Homemade bread
  • Useful homemade items
  • Engagement brownies. (James somehow convinced me to marry him with this tasteful homemade gift.)

There are really two keys elements to a successful homemade gift. These include proper packaging and knowing your audience.

When we gift cinnamon-roasted almonds (click here for the recipe), we package them in glass mason jars with pretty fabric ribbon. The packaging elevates the gift, and makes it seem more luxurious (and expensive). 

When we gift cardamom bread, we only gift it to relatives that have asked for it in the past, or relatives that we know love cardamom bread. It isn’t something we would give to everyone on our gift list. 

Greeting Cards:

We buy three different varieties of greeting cards in bulk. These purchases result in saving both money and time (at least for us because we spend too much time agonizing over selecting a card at the store). The three varieties that we purchase are:

  • Blank Greeting Cards
    • We keep a stock of blank greeting cards on hand that are useful for (almost) every occasion. We currently have a 20-card set featuring Monet paintings that we bought at a local bookstore. 
  • Graduation and Congratulations Cards
    • We were invited to A LOT of graduation parties last summer, so we purchased a 36-pack of graduation/congratulation cards for $10.99. Half of the cards are congratulations cards, so they work perfectly for wedding announcements, baby announcements, high school graduation, college graduation, and other notable achievements. 
  • All Occasion Assorted Greeting Cards
    • We just recently bought a 24-pack of assorted greeting cards. The cards are manufactured by Hallmark and legitimately look like $5-$7 cards. We haven’t seen an assortment like this one in stores (maybe we haven’t looked hard enough), but Amazon sells the boxed card set for about $24. Note, the Hallmark set is heavy on the birthday cards (which works well for us), but keep that in mind before purchasing. We actually just mailed a birthday card to James’ grandmother this afternoon! 

Gift Wrap:

Gift wrap can be quite expensive, so we implement a few strategies to combat this unnecessary cost. 

  1. Purchase plain brown paper bags and brown tissue paper in bulk. This tends to be much cheaper than traditional gift bags, and you have the option to personalize the bags with stamps. 
  2. Reuse gift bags. 
  3. Purchase wrapping paper and ribbon after the holiday season. There is actually quite a bit of non-holiday gift wrap that is sold at LARGE discounts during January. We buy season-neutral wrapping paper and nice fabric ribbon at a great discount.
  4. Skip the wrapping paper and gift bag, and tie a nice ribbon around the gift.
  5. Use the colorful Sunday cartoon page from your newspaper (if you still get a printed newspaper) for wrapping paper. Kids love it!

Shopping Year Round:

This is, perhaps, the best way to save money and still give thoughtful gifts to your friends and loved ones. Plan ahead. Keep a mental or physical calendar of the gift-giving occasions that occur in your life throughout the year.

 There are very few gift-giving circumstances that require a gift with only a few days notice. Birthdays and holidays come at the same time every year. Even weddings and babies usually provide at least a few months’ notice.

Planning ahead for gifts allows you to decide on a price range for each gift, to think of multiple gift possibilities, and to search for the best deal on a gift. We have put this principle to the best use with Kristin’s father. He is a man who deeply appreciates quality and who despises purchasing clothing for himself. Every year, one of his favorite (and very expensive) brands has one or two seasonal closeout sales. This year, we were able to purchase 2 very nice pieces of clothing for Kristin’s father at less than half the usual price. We will give him one item for Father’s Day and save the second item for his birthday, later in the summer. Kristin’s dad will be delighted with the nice gifts, and we were able to stay well within our budget for both gift-giving occasions.

That example may seem a little extreme to you. The fact is, that most consumer goods move through a price cycle over the course of a year, or even a few months. Retailers raise and lower prices for promotional reasons or in response to market changes. If you give yourself time to shop for an item, you can almost always get a deal on it. That being said, it helps to be a little bit flexible in your choice of gift. If you are determined to give a very specific item, you might not find a deal. For example, if you want to give your mother a nice, burgundy, cashmere sweater for her birthday, you are pretty likely to find a deal on a sweater of reasonable quality over a 6-month period. If you are set on giving your mother a specific sweater from Neiman-Marcus, it may not go on sale before her birthday, or her size might sell out while you are waiting for the best price.

Plan ahead and be reasonably flexible. You’ll find a nice gift for a nice price if you give yourself time.

This technique offers the added bonus of providing enthusiastic shoppers and bargain hunters with an excuse to shop. James loves hunting for a deal. Just be sure to stick to your original plan. Don’t blow your budget because you found a killer deal. Nor should you buy something that the intended recipient will not like or use, just because it was a steal.

Group “Activity” Gifts:

Many families gather during seasonal holidays to exchange gifts, particularly families that include children. These gatherings can be great fun, but they can also be very expensive. One way that we have found to reduce gift expenses without garnering ill will from our families is to incorporate gifts into an activity. The simplest gift-giving activity is a “white elephant” style gift exchange, in which participants draw a number from a hat and choose to either open a new gift or steal someone else’s gift in the order of the numbers they have drawn.

To implement this strategy, we set an overall gift budget for the event. Often, we even set aside a limited amount of time in which to shop for the gifts. Since the gifts are for a general audience, we do not have to personalize the gifts. Instead, we just choose unique or useful items that fit into our budget. Many times, the most popular gifts are surprising.

This technique is a huge money saver, and can be great fun for the gift givers and receivers.

Final Thoughts:

Gift giving doesn’t have to be a major financial burden. It really is the thought that counts. We hope that our strategies will help you find your own ways to be more thrifty in your gifting.

Do you have any thrifty gifting tips? If so, please leave a comment below!

3 replies »

  1. First – adore the proposal brownie! I really like upcycling old cards into gift tags and last Christmas friends even gave me gifted wrapped neatly in old posters / newspaper they then drew on with metallic marker. Super cheap, eco friendly and a bit of fun!! Thanks for sharing


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