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An image of three presents wrapped and stacked on a table

Key Points

  • Plan your gifts to your budget, not the other way around.
  • Save money on gifts by DIY, finding discounts, shopping online, or giving gifts of time or service.
  • Don't go into credit card debt for holiday gifts.

Gift-giving on a Budget

Let's be honest: gift-giving can be difficult! To begin, it's often hard to understand exactly what gift your loved one wants or needs, to find the right gift that fits that bill, and then to actually get the gift to the intended recipient on time. To top it all off, you might discover that your budget was especially low this month and that you don't have the funds to pay for that gift you purchased with your credit card!

Whether it's for a birthday, Christmas, graduation, an anniversary, or any other celebration, you don't need to go into debt to get the perfect gifts for those you love. Here's what you can do to get started:

  • Plan it out.​ First things first.  Especially if you're in the holiday season and will incur extra costs (for travel, etc.), create and examine your budget for the month.  Find out just how much money you will actually have to purchase gifts for friends and family.  Next, make a list of those to whom you will be giving a gift.  Assign a dollar amount for each gift you plan on purchasing (keeping in mind that there are some meaningful gifts you can give for free; see below).  Adjust your budget to your audience.  For example, for gifts you'll be buying, you can generally spend far less on an infant than you would for a teenager. Don't forget that you can also get gifts for groups rather than individuals.  For example, you could purchase a single DVD or board game for a family group rather than buying everyone individual gifts.  Ask your gift recipients what they need around this time.  Once you complete these steps, you can choose from any of the following ideas (or create your own!) to help you prepare gifts within your budget for your friends and family:
  • Work with stores. If you need to purchase your gift, then make sure you look in all the right places.  Plan ahead far in advance so that you can get the right gift at the right price.  For example, take advantage of post-Christmas deals to get birthday gifts for the upcoming year.  Don't purchase your Christmas gifts all at once; if you can, stagger them throughout the year.  Always be on the lookout for clearance and seasonal sales; even shop on Black Friday if you feel it would be beneficial to you.  Use store loyalty cards (which are not the same thing as store credit cards, which are detrimental to your credit score) to get even better deals and join rewards programs that save you even more.  Stock up on free samples (especially packaged samples that last a long time so you can save them for later).  Buy in bulk; it is perfectly acceptable to get multiple people the same gift.  Don't fall for the popular "hot toys," such as expensive collectible dolls that will simply end up battered at the bottom of the toy chest in a couple of weeks.  Get to know the store policies where you shop, such as their price-matching policies and when their products get marked down in price.  Find store and coupons apps that will give you store credit and/or discounts to save you even more.  Finally, don't underestimate the power of thrift shopping.  You can find nearly new items there for incredibly low prices without having to go through all the coupon-clipping.
  • Go online. This is an increasingly popular shopping method because of its convenience.  Shopping online can help you avoid transportation costs and even save you time you would have spent browsing the store's shelves.  Joining an online store membership such as Amazon Prime can even save you shipping costs and enlist you in rewards programs that give you store credit so you can save even more on your next purchase.  Subscribe to your stores' email lists and follow them on social media to be aware of current sales and receive exclusive discounts.  Make sure you spend time searching the online reviews of the products you're considering so that you don't regret getting a loved one a poorly-manufactured gift.  Take advantage of online sales, promo codes, digital coupons, and even Cyber Monday to make sure you're getting the best deals possible.
  • Make some memories. In your busy life, you probably don't get to spend as much time with your friends and family as you would like.  Why not gift them some precious quality time with you? There are plenty of free and inexpensive activities you can do together to get to know each other better and take a refreshing break from your hectic schedules.  From outdoor picnics to weekend dances, there's something to gift to people of all interests.  Be sure to take plenty of pictures and write down your experience to preserve those memories!
  • Serve. This is another heartfelt, money-saving gift that can meet anyone's needs.  Make sure you know the gift recipient well enough to make the service meaningful.  For example, if the person you know hates cleaning their house, then volunteer to clean for them on a specific day.  However, if the intended recipient would feel uncomfortable with someone cleaning their house for them, you could go a different route and offer to babysit for them to give them a night off.  If you get to know the recipient well enough, you'll know exactly what act of service you can gift them at the right time to meet their needs.
  • DIY.​ Put your talents to use by gifting your loved ones homemade treasures!  Try painting a picture, knitting a scarf, composing some music, or compiling written memories you share with the gift recipient.  Baked goods and home-cooked meals go a long way.  You could also create a simple gift that reminds your loved one of an inside joke you share.  Try combining a quality time gift with a DIY gift by giving them a framed photo of the experience gift you shared!  The possibilities and savings are limitless with DIY gifting.
  • Ideas. Need a little extra creative push to get you going?  Here are a few ideas to help you:
    • Small sums of cash or gift cards (especially to restaurants or gas stations)
    • Subscriptions to apps, movie/TV streaming services, magazines, etc. These are not too expensive and are gifts that keep on giving throughout the year​​.
    • Buy a membership to a warehouse club like Sam's Club, Costco, etc. This can help save the gift recipients' money, too!
    • Collect coupons to stores you know your loved ones use
    • Seeds and inexpensive gardening supplies
    • Books with money-saving advice
    • A great, reusable lunch kit
    • Extra electronic chargers.  Who doesn't need more of those?
    • Something meaningful and/or humorous.  For example, if your loved one has a quirky affinity for penguins, find some funny penguin socks to give him or her.  This is a great way to save money without looking like you're scrimping and saving. 

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