CONTEST CLOSED Frugalista Challenge: Share Your Cheap Gift Tip and Win a $100 Gift Card




There are two ways to approach frugal gifting: Either you give what's expected and spend less than others spend, or you go beyond what's expected and spend the same amount that others would shell out for a more standard gift.

Me, I do a little of both, often splitting the difference. But one group of people I never hold out on is my readers. Because, guess what? It's Thursday, time for a giveaway!

Today's Frugalista Challenge is frugal gifting. Because, it's holiday shopping time already. Seriously? Seriously, because shopping frugally takes more planning. I'm going to share my tips for giving presents that cost less, then you leave a comment sharing your best frugal gifting tip, or what you want to try in the future to cut back on gift expenses.

Your comment is your entry to this week's $100 drawing, provided by See the bottom of the post for more details on the prize. You can get a second entry by Tweeting this post; make sure to inlcude @carriekirby in your Tweet so I can tally it.

The Frugalista's Cheap-Ass Gifting Tips

1. Stockpile gifts. When you find a good deal, buy half a dozen and keep them on hand for future gifts. This is especially valuable for children's birthday party gifts which can be somewhat interchangeable. Where to find good deals? This blog, retail blogs like, end-of-season clearance events (i.e., summer items are 75% off at CVS right now).

2. Groupon, and other deal sites. Groupon and YouSwoop are going to be a major part of my Christmas strategy this year. While you can print out gift or email certificates from these sites or transfer a Groupon to your giftee, personally I prefer using the certificate to buy a nice gift that you can wrap up or host your special person at an event or dinner.

3. with a free Amazon Prime trial. I always try to get a trial of Amazon's Prime free 2-day shipping service around the holidays. They usually only offer one trial per account, but if you've already gotten one, you can help a relative or friend set one up and then ask them to share it with you, which can be done on their Amazon account. Having 2-day shipping at my disposal not only allows me to grab great deals just days before the holiday, it also eliminates crazy last-minute shopping trips to packed malls.

Right now, you can get a three-month trial through Amazon Mom that takes you through Dec. 9 if you sign up today. Not exactly last minute, but a good motivator to finish holiday shopping early. Or join Amazon Student for a full year of free Prime -- you need a .edu email address.

4. Photo gifts with coupon codes. Shutterfly, Snapfish and other photo sites often publish coupon codes for free items or large discounts, like this coupon code for a free photo book from Picaboo. You may have to sign up for a new account, but if you have more time than money you can create a lot of photo gifts for very little money.

5. Slightly less than new items. People have different degrees of delicacy when it comes to gifts that don't come with a shiny new gift receipt. Some of us have no problem regifting and even buying presents at rummage sales (Heck, I recently picked up a still-packaged kid's craft kit on the curb that I plan to use as a gift.). Others might not mind buying a reconditioned iPod on eBay as long as it comes with a warranty.

6. The dreaded "do it yourself." OK, not dreaded to many people, just me because wrapping a present already strains my crafty abilities. There is no doubt the very best gifts are handmade items given by people with real skills like carpentry or knitting. But what about DIY gifts from the rest of us? There's no shame in giving cute jars of muffin mix or a homemade salt scrub, as long as the packaging is attractive. And homemade preserves from your own berry bushes? I'd take that over a sweater from Kohl's any day.

7. Shop with credits and incentives. Last year I used "fake money" for all my husband's gifts. I like this since we have a joint checking account and credit cards, so this way he cannot see what I spent on him. Swagbucks, credit card points, airline miles, programs that pay you for reading emails or taking surveys -- they're all sources of points or small PayPal deposits that you could save up for holiday shopping.

 8. Win presents in contests. There are so many blogs giving out prizes these days that odds of winning many items are pretty darn good. Money Saving Mom regularly lists giveaways for many, many blogs at a time.

9. Make use of returns. Need to return something and they'll only give store exchange? Another opportunity for your gift stockpile.

10. The non-material gift. If funds truly fail you, you're still not off the hook. There's always the promise to detail someone's car or take their kids/dogs/spouse for a weekend. But remember, it's only really a promise if you pro-actively follow through on it. No fair saying, "Let me know when you want to redeem that," and then forgetting all about it.

So, those are my tips. Now, on to your incentive for sharing your own gems of gifting wisdom! Leave a comment here with your best tip, and I'll enter you in a drawing for a $100 Groupon gift code, provided by Because, you know, lists all the Chicago daily deals, including Living Social, Groupon and more, complete with a map so you can pick one that's close to your giftee.

 One comment per person, please. You can get a second entry by sharing this post on Twitter, and please include @carriekirby in the Tweet so I can count you. OK ... go! Contest ends at 5 p.m. Friday.

Disclosure: This post contains lots of affiliate links. I will be using the points I earn from some of them for gifts.



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Megan said:

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For my own kids, I hunt for toys at garage sales (3 Lego sets for ~$10 last year), rummage sales, and clearance caps ($1.66 Melissa and Doug floor puzzle at Target!). The trick though is to put them away so you aren't tempted to give them away early.

dockster said:

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My tip has to do with gift registries. Lots of times, I can find the same item on a gift registry for cheaper elsewhere. I buy it for cheaper elsewhere, and then just call or visit the store with the registry. I tell them "my other half" bought the item but didn't get the registry list scanned, so it didn't mark the item as bought. They manually edit the list. So, your recipient wont get doubles, they'll appreciate that you got them a gift that they wanted, and you saved yourself some money.

I've done this at Macy's, Babies R Us, Bed Bath & Beyond, and other retailers. Never had an issue. And all parties (except maybe the retailer) are pleased!

FacelessGraceless said:

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I save my "rewards points" from my debit card, my credit card, and even Pampers points, and in the next month I'll cash them in for gift cards. The teachers love the bookstore gift cards, co-workers love their movie cards, on and on. All of the hard-to-buy-for people in one giant, impersonal (but free!) swoop!

Anu said:

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We save up our credit card points and redeem them for gift cards just before the holiday season. Lately I have been using survey money and Swagbucks to order gifts on Also I gather lots of toys for gift giving when Target/Kmart do their clearance sales.

CtrlAltTabby said:

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I do my holiday shopping year round, watching for sale items that are right for certain people. I'm also making a decent number of gifts, watching the sales and coupon combinations for Jo-Ann Fabrics. Occasionally I luck out and find good yarn at a garage sale.

Stephanie said:

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Michaels is always giving me 40% off coupons. The new Michaels in Hillside has all kinds of great kids toys, Melissa and Doug wooden toys, craft sets, science kits, etc. I've purchased most of kid's friend's birthday presents there lately.

rebecca said:


Stockpiling, for sure. Whenever I run across something I know someone would like, or if I run across a good deal on generic stuff like candles or picture frames, into the stockpile tote it goes!

babs711 said:

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Most of the things I do you have already covered. For example, I bought my son a $100 lego type kit from Target last January went toys went to 75% off - he will get it for Xmas this year. July is another good toy clearance month at Target and Kmart. I would add that a small way to save a littel bit of money is that I have my kids make all of the birthday cards for the parties they go to. Another small-ish way of saving money (especially for those paying the crazy Chicago sales taxes), is if there is a gift that will cost me a bit of money I will purchase on-line so that I do not have to pay tax. One more little idea, if buying at an on-line store, ebates and shopathome offer money back incentives if you go through their sites.

Beth said:

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Between two kids, I have a lot of teacher gifts (4 just for preschool alone!) so I have started making treat baskets. I take a basket and fill it with items such as granola bars, nut clusters, SOBE water etc. that I get free or very inexpensive. Then I top it off with a gift card from Starbucks that I have earned from Swagbucks. I even have my kids draw a picture for the card enclosure.

mithrilros said:

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I plan to make frozen cookie dough this year. I know a lot of people want to make cookies during the holiday season, but have a life so that they don't have time to do that... and how much better is a fresh warm chocolate chip cookie than one that's sat out a few days? So, I will make batches of several different kinds of cookies, and divvy them up into smaller batches so that everyone can make a variety of home made fresh cookies in a matter of 10 minutes per batch. I control the quality of ingredients, so the cookies will taste better than anything store bought. My cost is low from buying in bulk and shopping for ingredients carefully with seasonal sales. My time cost is less than if I made all those cookies myself and I think it's gift everyone will enjoy on their own time - maybe even in January when all the other treats have dried up. :-)

dandyone said:

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I find that kids are easier to buy frugally for. Games and toys go on clearance and can be stockpiled for the future. I found that August was a good month but stores are still clearing out their shelves for holiday merchandise so good values are still to be found.
I love garage sales and sometimes you can get brand new toys and games. I have picked up brand new Sorry and Monopoly games for next to nothing.
Lastly is Children's Resales- there are many organizations that have resales in the spring and fall. Have found many things new with tags.

goalie31mom said:

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I shop at outlet stores - when they have clearance sales I stock up and have gifts for the holidays and birthdays.

sarahmc said:

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We try to keep all gift-giving situations organized on one spreadsheet and plan ahead for the year, often buying things well in advance when we know what a certain person may want. I feel like just being organized is more than half the battle to saving money on anything.

Additionally, if we have a new prescription we take advantage of those coupons that are often in the paper -- $25 giftcard with new or transferred Rx -- at CVS. Over the last few years we've gotten hundreds of dollars in giftcards to CVS this way which we've given as gifts to other people (to family members who also play the drugstore game, that is worth so much more than $25!) or we just use them ourselves to buy gifts (for instance, lots of diapers and baby lotion for a baby shower).

Sara said:

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Well, maybe I'm stingy, but my biggest money saver is a lack of sense of obligation to give everyone extravagant gifts. Our son only gets a few things from us, because, hey, we don't want to stress the receiving of the gifts anyway. We don't make birthday or Christmas wish lists or talk about what Santa's going to bring him. Cuts down on the gimmes in our house. Also, he still isn't old enough to appreciate the difference between new and used. :-) Everyone else gets simple gifts, sometimes homemade, sometimes a $10 giftcard...well, you get the idea. We keep it simple.

Secondly, all the other things that have been said...rewards points, stockpiled gifts (I buy a lot on clearance after holidays, even gifts for adults...think Starbucks gift packs, holiday photo frames and the like), homemade stuff, stuff bought with coupons and store credits.

Mari said:

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I suggest buying wrapping paper, bows, etc. At the end of the season, and save them for next year. I do that every year during the after Christmas sales. Those are items that are necessary, and an often unforeseen expense that end up racking up costs when packaging gifts at the last minute.
If I need to buy helium inflatated balloons, I go to the dollar store, where I can also pick up inexpensive greeting cards, wine bags, and boxes.
I would rather scrimp on ancillary items like these, rather than the gift itself, which I try to get just one of what that person really wants, as long as it is in my price range. I am not a fan of regifting, as I have been a victim of this practice in the past, and I hated it; I would not want to inflict that on anyone else!

genniegrove said:

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Well, I'm a hardcore WantNot fan, so you've already covered my love of the "gift closet" (seriously, almost everything comes from her links). I also check Target's Daily Deals and Woot every day for gifts to sock away. I'm very big on homemade bread (with Nutella) as a teacher gift, as well as crafts. Many of my best gifts have come from eBay. I'll put in the person's last name or hometown as a search term and just find cool stuff, like vintage postcards to frame :)

julie said:

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One way I save at gift-giving time is to get 100 postcards at Vistaprint that are plain on the back and printed with "A gift from [kid's name]" with a cute picture. For the cost of shipping ($5ish) I eliminate the cost of 100 birthday cards from the budget!

hawk3ye said:


My gift closet is also stocked with reusable gift bags, pretty boxes, all sorts of ribbons, paper 'grass' packing material, tissue paper, and even wrapping paper in reusable condition. I save a ton of money by never buying the wrappings, and a lot of times if you are bringing a gift to a shower or party, the wrapped box is going to be seen and admired a lot longer than the actual gift!

I'm also a merciless re-gifter, and always have been because I'm allergic to most perfumes and soaps. I just have to keep track of who something is from, usually by taping the tag till the item until I've regifted it. I've never had a problem.

For deals on big gifts, especially electronics for our parents, my husband and I always watch You can track a specific type of item, brand, or even a specific model across various online retailers.

Jackie Tithof Steere said:


This year I am going to try to redeem points on my credit cards and debit card for gift cards for the holidays. In fact, I hereby pledge it. Here's hoping my nieces and nephews don't get stuck with hardware store gift cards. :)

thepennywatcher said:

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shopping online has saved me so much money. I especially like amazon & ebay's daily deals and of course woot.

stacy said:

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I like to stockpile. I also buy in advance so I don't rush and spend more than I should.

srfagan said:

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I hit my local library's used book store to buy children's books for baby showers. They're .10-.50 a piece, so I can get a bunch for the price of one from Borders.

sbcthemuse said:


Instead of wasting money on only-to-be-used once holiday wrapping paper, use colorful magazine pages or decorate with markers, bows, ribbons that plain tissue or newsprint that more and more is coming in shipped packages.

adrianne said:

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I’ve always used a “present closet” for my kids and for those last minute b-day parties. Like everyone else I stock pile and am on the lookout for end of season clearance items and wrapping for the following year. Garage sales can also be a great source. Last month I bought my son an unopened RETIRED Lego Bionicle set which retailed for $140 for $25. Score!! One of the things that has helped me the most was to start keeping track of what we were actually spending at Christmas. A couple of years ago I put together a spreadsheet for ALL our gifting and was horrified at the total. Now I list every single little item and stop when each child is well covered (yes, that Bionicle set is already on there). We used to do gift cards for all the teachers but once you get over 10 teachers that can get out of hand. The last few years I have baked with my kids and sent lovely boxes (from the dollar store) filled with treats and handmade cards. It gets the kids to actually participate in the gift giving and has saved us a ton of money.

prettyisa said:

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I tend to do a mix of year-round shopping, careful regifting, and making presents. I also buy online things on sale and save them up for future gifts!

JenK said:


Two small things...but they add up...for kids' birthdays, I have my girls make the child a card. No one actually *keeps* those $5 store-bought cards and my kids love to draw and decorate. The 7 y/o writes lovely things now, and the 3 y/o writes "happy birthday" (from my example) but completely out of order.

For teacher gifts, we have a parent coordinate one classroom gift and families are free to contribute any amount they would like, usually $5 to $20. The teacher then gets a nice gift certificate for over $100.

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