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Year-Round Holiday Shopping… With No Out-Of-Pocket Expense

Guest post from Annie

For my family, Christmas shopping is a leisurely year-long event. We are always on the lookout for gift ideas and bargains, and usually have most of our presents purchased by the end of October.

We have found this to be advantageous for several reasons:

  • We end up spending less money on presents while being able to give more.
  • We avoid the holiday shopping crowds in November and December.
  • Gifts are a part of our monthly budget instead of an end-of-the-year burden.
  • We have more time and energy to spend on family activities, developing holiday traditions, and focusing on the true Joy of Christmas.

I’m excited to share how MoneySavingMom.com helped me to purchase some very nice gifts this year without actually spending any of our income:

1. After about two years of clicking on emails and taking surveys, I earned a $45.51 check from Inbox Dollars in March.

2. When Crystal posted the Cents of Style Chevron scarf in June, I purchased it for $7.95.

3. I created a beautiful Shutterfly photo album of our daughter in August and paid only the shipping cost of $7.99.

4. I started using Viggle earlier this year, and just recently began shopping through Ebates – both thanks to MSM’s recommendations. Today I used a $25 JCPenney gift card that I earned through Viggle to buy nice sweater and a shirt to match the Chevron scarf. Shipping to the store was free. I spent nothing out-of-pocket, Ebates gave me $1.49 cash back, and I’ll receive a $10 Target gift card from Ebates as my sign-up bonus.

5. When I receive my $10 Target gift card from Ebates, I’ll browse the dollar bins and combine sales, Cartwheel discounts, and coupons to purchase stocking-stuffers such as toiletries, candy, nail polish, and note cards. (Okay, so I’m not QUITE done yet)!

6. Recyclebank is currently offering a digital subscription to All You for 400 points and a subscription to Real Simple for 475 points. I have more than enough points from completing free activities to order both of these.

In summary, we’re giving my mom a scarf, a shirt, a sweater, a photo album, two magazine subscriptions, and a stocking full of stuffers without even scratching the surface of our budget.

Between our year-long bargain hunting, leftover Inbox Dollars earnings, and gift cards from Viggle, Recyclebank, Swagbucks, and MyPoints, we may not need to spend any of our income on gifts this season! And that means more money in our savings account to meet our long-term financial goals. Thank you Crystal, for sharing the information that has enabled our family to do this!

Annie is a wife and stay-at-home mom who enjoys watching football, volunteering through her church and local ministries, and spending time with her family.

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  1. says

    Love it! So creative. We often pay for our friends gifts in this fashion. Again doing so is largely thanks to the deals we find on Money Saving Mom. I was able to give candles last year through a free offer posted here, and I filled a mug for a friend with free samples of coffee and hot chocolate and her favorite hand creme again all free and all the deals all found here on Money Saving Mom.

    • Julie says

      I applaud your creativity but do have one comment. I love Target and used to think the Dollar Spot was great. Such cute things right by the door. Thanks Target for showing me all the things I didn’t even know I needed and only a buck each! I did buy the cute things for the grandkids and others. I later found out when I used some of the items myself that they were often low quality. The cute gel pens didn’t work, the “nice” note cards were really cheap when you opened the pack. Don’t really remember other specifics but I don’t really buy much from there anymore unless it is something you can clearly see and know it will work. Same thing for the after-Christmas “deals” on the specially packaged gift items from Target. I bought some 75% and thought that was great until I opened the items and found most were junk. Again, I love Target but you have to be careful.

  2. Theres says

    Great post! I do my Christmas & birthday shopping year round using deals, coupons and specials stacked on top of each other. =)

    One suggestion- I make a list of the people who for whom I will purchase gifts during the year and carry it in my purse. I write down ideas of what they might like as well as what I actually purchase for them. I make sure that the gift I’m buying (even at a severe discount) has an intended recipient otherwise I could be tempted to purchase heaps things that I don’t need and will just sit in the closet. It has worked out very well.

    Believe it or not, I actually have Christmas gifts wrapped…in September. =)

    • says

      I do as well! My suggestion is to spread the shopping throughout the year. Ds’s bday is 5 days from Christmas, so some birthday clothes might actually be last summer’s end of season sales. Also instead of going to Bath & Body Works, hit up a vendor at a farmers market – you’ll put money back in your neighbor’s hands AND likely get a better deal!

    • Jen says

      I agree. I don’t know how much time she actually spent taking these surveys. Maybe it was only a couple minutes a day. But still if it took 2 years, it’s not even like she can do this every Christmas!

    • Jessica says

      Everyone is in a different financial situation. For some coming up with even a few extra dollars a month is nearly impossible. It really demonstrates dedication on her part to be able to give a nice gift she maybe couldn’t have otherwise. I agree though, I don’t do swag bucks or any of those other things. I might if I needed to though 😉

      • Stephanie says

        It depends totally on the amount of time you have. I use Swagbucks just for my normal search engine and in less than four years I have earned $400 in Amazon gift cards. It is not a huge amount of money every month but it has paid for some nice extras over time for something I would be doing anyway. When our budget imploded when I became ill it became how I pay for my fun extras now. Free books and kitchen gadgets are the best kind :)

        • Jennifer says

          It seems like a huge waster of time. How much could you make doing some babysitting or small work from home jobs. Your time is also valuable.

          • says

            I agree that time is valuable but I also know that everyone needs down time. Maybe she was doing the surveys not as something she had to do and with the stress of work, but as something she did while she watched the nightly news. So really, the $45 is a bonus.

    • Annie says

      It took 2 years because I put forth minimal time and effort. The money came mostly from clicking on emails for points, so it was worth it! I didn’t take the surveys on a regular basis. So no, I won’t count on a cash payout from Inbox Dollars every year if I continue to do this the lazy way :)

    • Ashley Penn says

      I don’t know why it took her so long. I make pretty good money with Inbox Dollars and I hardly EVER take surveys. I could get $30 (The minimum required to “cash out”) from them in a few months easy just by reading the emails every day and taking one survey a week. I got my first payout from them within 6 months. It’s not a LOT of money, but a free tank of gas is a free tank of gas.

  3. says

    I ALWAYS forget about Viggle, and its such an easy way to earn points! I usually use mine for free pizzas though =) Another one that I learned thanks to this site was the swagbucks TV, from the post about the woman who paid for groceries with Swagbucks. I love that I can just let the videos run in the background and let points accumulate.

  4. Aubrey says

    We always fly to see our families for Christmas and never pay to check on bags, which means only carry-on-sized suitcases with enough clothes for 2 weeks in a very cold climate! (and this will be the first year that our daughter actually needs a ticket, so for the past two Christmases it was 3 people with only 2 carry ons!)
    So the majority of my Christmas shopping is done by June when we drive to see family. I make a lot of gifts, do some shopping (using sales, clearance, deals I find online, etc.) and wrap all of the gifts I have at that time and leave them at parents/grandparents’ houses. Sometimes I don’t get it all done by then, but so far every year at least one set of parents/grandparents has driven out to see us sometime in the fall so the rest go back with them.
    It is so nice to be able to actually enjoy the Christmas season without stressing about having to get gifts for everybody when the stores are crazy busy!

  5. Kim says

    Ugh! I wish my Christmas shopping was so easy! I shop for my mom, dad, sister, brother in law, nephew, 2 aunts, 1 great aunt, then on the other side of the family we draw names so we only buy 2 presents but they are supposed to cost $100, also a niece and nephew to buy for. Then there are my two girls! Christmas is a very stressful time of year for me as I work full time and do many other things, then throw in Christmas and yippeeeeeee!

    • Theres says

      Hi, Kim,
      I totally understand…there are 30 people on my list and they all “expect” to get “real” gifts. I’m single and working but many of those for whom I buy are family members with kids (i.e. I’m giving 4 gifts to the same family). The only way I can handle the Christmas gift giving is planning ahead each year and starting in January with my list (see earlier post.)

      They don’t need to know that the cute little toddler outfit only cost me $7 when it retails for $28 or that I used a free gift card and 3 coupons for something else and it was only $2 out of pocket. I set myself a goal (i.e. no more than $5 per gift) and try to beat it each year.

      Don’t let gift-giving steal the joy of Christmas!
      With a little planning, you can do it!

    • Jennifer says

      My list used to be out of control, too, until I had frank discussions with a number of family members and friends. We now no longer exchange gifts with a massive list of people, we have pared it down to a few, which frees up a lot of time, energy, and money. I only had one person get in a twist over it, the other dozen or so seemed almost relieved!

  6. Jessica says

    I’m confused- are you only buying for one person then? You’re not buying anything for anybody else?

    I buy throughout the year and maintain a checklist of what I’ve got for each person. I use Swagbucks to buy amazon.com gift cards, I use coupons that I get from the Meijer pharmacy that are off any item in the store and use those on clearance items like bubbles or crayons, I look for things secondhand, I make some gifts, I use giftcards from mypoints.com.

    We don’t actually do much gifting though, we’re pretty low-key. The baby is getting a Fisher Price toy radio. Her birthday is Christmas Eve. She’s getting a quilt made of her receiving blankets for her birthday (she’s turning 1, so she doesn’t care!). My 3 year old son is getting a set of lacing beads, an electric toothbrush, and some stocking stuffers. My oldest will be 7, and she’s getting a Lego advent calendar, a couple of chapter books, and some stocking stuffers. We’re going to bite the bullet and buy a family iPad this year using giftcards the kids have received for birthdays and using the balance of our Christmas budget to pay for the rest of it. We budget $100 per kid for Christmas and $50 for their birthdays.

    We give our parents 8×10 photos of the kids. They have houses full of “stuff” and don’t need any more. Really. My parents are hoarders (seriously) and my inlaws are packrats.

    We don’t exchange with our siblings, but we do buy for our nieces. I usually give a “consumable” gift like bubbles and sidewalk chalk or paper and fun crayons that won’t clutter up their house.

    For my oldest daughter’s teacher, I give a bag of school supplies. By Christmas, the classroom supply of #2 pencils, Elmer’s glue, tissues, hand sanitizer, and erasers is usually low.

    My husband and I don’t exchange gifts, but I do fill a stocking for each of us with little treats like mints or beef jerky.

    • Annie says

      No, there are definitely others to shop for! I thought that detailing every gift for everybody would be too long and repetitive, so I decided to just use the presents for my mom as an example.

  7. Cheryl says

    I have found it easy to do the year round shopping when buying for adults. The kids are a different matter as their interests can change before the birthday or Christmas comes around. Unfortunately, the 2 kids have birthdays in the month before Christmas, so no “summer” type gifts for their birthdays. I suggested to Great grandma that she give them magazine subscriptions. Highlights, Ranger Rick, and America Girl were hits in that category.

    • Amanda says

      It sounded to me like she is using the checks and gift cards from InboxDollars, Ebates, Swagbucks, etc. to pay for the gifts (such as the scarf and photo album), rather than “paying out of pocket”.

  8. Diane says

    We simplify by not buying many gifts or for many people. We buy for the kids in the family (nieces, nephew), not our siblings. Grandparents get photos and maybe something homemade. My husband and I might get each other one thing for less than 20 dollars. My parents and in-laws have enough money and they can buy anything they truly need so we do keep it simple and stick with a photo or photos. Last year a company had a great deal on photo products for signing up for an account and I made photo calendars for my parents and in laws with photos of our daughter for about 8 dollars combined. We get our child one or two gifts.

  9. Carla says

    I always buy Bath and Body Works items at their aemi annual clearance sale at 75 per cent off and save a lot of money and my family members seem to appreciate receiving these as part of their gifts. Many times I put one in their stocking and it takes up a lot of room, so with an orange a few pieces of chocolate and a candy cane I can do stockings inexpensively for the grown ups without a bunch of cheap junk. occaisionally I add something else, but it is always something I have found at a yard sale. I also just stocked up on 75 per cent off summer toys at the grocery store. things like bubbles, fancy chalk etc. Never forget to check these kinds of places, too.

    • Clara says

      Ha! Kathy, I had to look up “obtuse” and it has so many meaning I’m not sure which one you were going for, but if it is insensitive, I have to agree! ; )

    • Patty says

      I don’t think they are. I LOVE this blog, but I feel that anytime a commenter has a dissenting opinion, they are considered to be negative. I had a similar thought as some of the other commenters, it seems like a ton of work for little return. For example, the earning $45 over two years returns her .06/day for her time. It does seem like a very poor return on the time investment. This is not be critical of the writer, because this obviously works well for her, but rather bring attention to the idea that better money can be earned elsewhere. I do understand that money is very tight for families, but I think that unless you are bedridden, significantly more money can be earned elsewhere. Collecting cans/scrap wire (legally) or picking up coins off the ground would bring in more than .06 per day.

  10. L says

    Bravo to you for finding ways to budget for Christmas, instead of like many people, using their credit cards! And to find a way to purchase a shirt, a sweater, a scarf, photo album, and magazine subscriptions for free should be commended. All of these will make a very nice gift!

    I put money away each month for Christmas, so I feel ready in October when I start making my list, but it would be awesome to snag more than one or two free quality items for gifts! We give a lot of gift cards (movie passes, restaurants, clothing stores) for most of the people on our list; parents, teachers, etc. And for my kids, I used to buy ahead, but now that they are a little older (and more particular in their “wants”) I found that I was spending a lot of time returning items because they no longer wanted something they mentioned back in January. So for me it is better to wait.

  11. Diane says

    I am the personal shopper for both my single brother and my mom. I do all their gift shopping all year long Christmas, baby showers, wedding gifts etc. I do this from another state. I start shopping in January for the next Christmas. My brother gives me a dollar amount for his gifts each year. I collect gift items all year. If I see something I think will be a good gift but I need some input I will text the spouse or mother of the person to bounce the gift idea off of them. Bath and Body works has some great coupons throughout the year. I especially like the small free item with no purchase coupons. They make great stocking stuffers or a great little something extra with a gift card. For the people who have everything, I try to give consumable gifts. This year I am giving coffee gift baskets. I pick up the coffee when it is on sale and add creamer or Torani syrup. For a friend on tight budget I buy McDonald coupon books $1.00 each so she can treat her young children once in a while. If you are purchasing gift cards several grocery stores offer bonuses for purchasing them around various holidays. These bonuses can be a gift card for their groceries or larger credits towards gas purchases. You can either give the grocery store gift card or the equivalent money for the gas cost you save. I consider it a challenge to try to match the needs and taste of the recipient to the gift.

  12. says

    We have a larger extended family that insists upon exchanging gifts :-) so I’ve found ways to spend nearly nothing on these gifts by using rebate items, free items, free samples, coupons, & some homemade items. Basically, I create a gift basket for each person (around 10-15 people usually). I get the baskets for free at a local recycle/reuse center and I collect them year-round. The baskets get a mix of homemade salves or vanilla extract that I make at home, free after rebate items (staples and officemax are great sources for me), free samples if any are gift-quality (tea, coffee, etc), and anything I’ve gotten from the drugstore freebies throughout the year. The baskets will have a theme that’s relevant to the receiver (art supply basket or coffee basket or bath & body basket). I save my higher value stuff for more personal gifts like free photobooks for the grandparents or a $10 off $10 JCP coupon might buy a gift for my daughter, and I love to spend a few nights a year doing a big vistaprint order, getting whatever freebies-for-shipping-costs they have available at the time. I stash it all in one gift closet. This really has reduced stress around the holidays and reduced my holiday spending to around $100 and no credit cards. It might sound like a lot to some, but that covers about 20 people total and is a big reduction from what it was 5 years ago when we crammed all our shopping into December.

  13. says

    I love some of the ingenuity in this post. We give mostly handmade gifts each year and try to have everything done by Thanksgiving so we can enjoy the holidays.

  14. Emily says

    These are great ideas. I’ve started but am not done yet. I’ve been using free shutterfly codes to get photo gifts and only pay shipping. So far I’ve gotten a calendar, a magnet and 2 personalized notepads from them.

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