If you’re shopping for gifts on a budget, you should know it differs from shopping for yourself: Ramen is generally not a much-appreciated present, and a card that says “Just wear the same clothes another year” in lieu of a gift doesn’t fly.
But a lot of the old tricks can still serve you well.
Going thrifting, a year-round favorite for budget shoppers and ironic hipsters, is a gray area for gifts, but used items as gifts is at least worth considering, says Claire Walter, co-founder of Denver deals website MileHighontheCheap.com.
“There are a lot of really fine thrift shops, boutiques and consignment shops,” she says. “If you have someone on your list who collects something — ceramic mushrooms, glass frogs, vintage linens, things of that nature — you can get those in thrift shops and you’re supporting something worthwhile.”
She notes that consignment shops from the national (like Goodwill) to the local (Boulder’s HospiceCare thrift store) support charities.
Laurence Bellas, assistant manager at HospiceCare & Share, says the store doesn’t typically see a big holiday rush. But he says even shoppers leery of buying used items should check the store’s inventory.
“We do occasionally get brand new stuff in here,” he says. “It’s always random, but you can find new stuff [and] very gently used items that make great gifts.”
The store has a wide range of goods, Bellas says, including a large number of books.
“We’ve had a great summer of donations,” he says. And, in line with Walter’s point, Bellas says money spent at HospiceCare & Share goes to a greater cause than corporate profits.
“One hundred percent of our profits go to hospice care, patient care,” he says.
Bellas might not be seeing a holiday rush, but Stephanie Schindhelm says the Boulder Book Store is ready for one. And Schindhelm, a manager at the store, says the used book section gets more attention every year.
“With the economy we’ve seen a huge jump of people giving used books as gifts,” she says. “We anticipate selling a lot of sale books and used books over the holidays.”
Even though Boulder Book Store is not a charity, Schindhelm says shoppers should consider the economic benefit of shopping locally.
“We’re people that live the community. We pay sales tax, whereas Amazon doesn’t, so some of your money is going to support schools and roads, whereas Amazon doesn’t contribute to any of that,” she says. “It’s much more of an investment into the community, as opposed to a box store or shopping online.”
Homemade gifts exhibit thoughtfulness, attention and skill. Unless, like me, everything you attempt actually makes the trash uglier when you put it in there.
In that case, Laura Daily, Walter’s partner at Mile High on the Cheap, says she highly recommends local craft shows as a low-cost alternative shoppers can find all over town.
“Pottery guilds, rec centers and community centers — some big, some small — a lot of high schools do them as fundraisers,” she says. “You’re buying a product that’s handmade and homemade, and without a middleman and a franchise, your prices are lower. So that is a terrific way to find some really cool stuff made by locals.”
Craft shows can save money over typical stores, and they also offer consumers a chance to make a globally conscious economic choice, Daily says.
“A lot of these fairs are fair trade,” she says.
“You know that money’s getting into the pipeline to help somebody in a Third World country. You’re buying their craft and that money is going on to them.”
The daily deal coupon, another year-long standby of budget shoppers, can help you give dining and activities you otherwise couldn’t afford. And this year it’s not completely awkward.
“This year the numbers are wildly high for people buying from daily deal sites,” Daily says. “There’s no shame any more in giving Grandma or the folks a gift card to a nice restaurant for $50 that you only paid $25 for.”
A recent online poll by deal site Yipit.com found 90 percent of users plan to buy a daily deal as a gift this year.
Walter says daily deal coupons can be great gifts in the right situation.
One of the best deals out there — scientifically measured in word-to-dollar ratio — is a magazine subscription, Daily says.
Most year-long subscriptions are cheaper than a night out and will fit your friend’s interests better than a gift card or The Hangover 2 on DVD. TIME magazine is only $30 for a year (56 issues); the biweekly ESPN the Magazine is $1 per issue for 26 issues. For traveler types, the monthly National Geographic is $15 for a year; for celebrity watchers, a year of Entertainment Weekly is $35. And for outdoor enthusiasts, Outside is $24 for 12 issues, Climbing is $15 for 10 issues, and nine issues of Backpacker are $12.
And as for the gift card: It’s not the most thoughtful or specific present. Gift cards (no offense, Aunt Lisa) say, “I know vaguely where a good gift might come from, but I gave up before I could pick anything.”
But if you’re going to go that route, at least save some money while you do it. Daily deal sites are one way; another is through local grocery stores, which offer programs to save money on anything you buy, including gift cards.
“A gift card can help you if you buy them at Safeway or King Soopers,” Daily says. “They give you bonus points towards gasoline, so buy a Target gift card at King Soopers and you get 100 points, 10 cents [per gallon] off your next tank of gas.”
The holidays should be joyful — not a time to resign yourself to bread sandwiches through April because you spent too much on gifts. Plan carefully and you can enjoy a jar of Jif and even an economy-size grape jelly, and maybe even give loved ones a thoughtful gift along the way.