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31 Days of Giving on a Budget: 7 Ways to Give Generously (Day 15)

Welcome to Decembers series on 31 Days of Giving on a Budget. In this series, I’ll be sharing inspiring stories from my readers and posts with practical ways to give — even on a limited income.

If you have a Giving on a Budget story to share of a way you or your family has given to others this year or this holiday season, please email me your story and a picture to go along with it, if possible. I’d love to hear it and possibly share it during this series!

Guest Post by Katie from Intentionally by Katie.

In these uncertain economic times, it’s wonderful to see how many people are finally accepting the benefits of budgeting. I still remember many of the frustrations I felt when we transitioned to living on one income in preparation for our first child.

One of my biggest challenges was reducing the ability to give generously to friends and family. After nine years of marriage to a very frugal accountant, I’ve wised up about the money dedicated to “gifts” in our budget, I have learned how to get creative when giving… and am quite proficient at stretching our dollars.

Here are 7 of my favorite tried-and-true bargain shopping methods:

1. Develop a Gift Stash

I’ve always kept some generic gifts on hand. It began in the form of a box of picture frames, bath soaps, and candles. Gradually, it transformed into a small shelf in my linen closet and is now a large under-the-bed storage bin full of gifts for adults and children of all ages.

One of the things I’ve noticed over the years is that last-minute shopping can cost 2-3 times as much as you could have paid had you planned ahead. Having small items available at a moment’s notice for a hostess gift or a birthday celebration can save you time, money, and stress.

2. Shop the Clearance Sales

One particular Super-Target location in our area always seems to have the best clearance sales. Whenever I am near that side of town, I plan a trip to that store with the sole purpose of roaming the end caps. They often have toys marked 75% off, so I can grab $20 gifts for upcoming birthday parties for $5.

The key to shopping clearance sales is to think ahead. Plan for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and any upcoming birthdays and baby or wedding showers.

3. Think Generic

Don’t get hung up on buying a Hello Kitty present for little Sally Sue because you know it’s her favorite. If you know that Sally Sue’s birthday party is coming up and you see a Hello Kitty item on sale, by all means, get it!  But don’t feel trapped into individualizing your gift purchases. You can be generic, while still keeping it thoughtful.

There are lots of easy ideas for generic gifts for kids of all ages including: art supplies, puzzles, dress-up items and board games. I also like to stock up on nice picture frames to fill with our annual family picture and give them to my extended family for Christmas. It’s amazing how much they appreciate a 5×7 picture I printed for $0.50 in a pretty $3 clearance frame!

4. Shop After-Holiday Sales

Personally, I don’t go nuts with this, but I do try to hit a few clearance sales after Christmas each year. Why pay full price for a Christmas ornament in early December when you can pay one-fourth of the price in early January and hold onto it for a year?

Again, keep your eyes open and think ahead: Does your office have a White Elephant gift exchange each Christmas? Would your parents appreciate a picture of your child in an ornament frame? As always, don’t buy clearance items just because they’re a good deal. Give it some thought and have a recipient in mind when you make your purchases.

5. Shop Throughout the Year

We had no income this past Christmas because my husband had recently been laid off, so I was very thankful that I’d stashed a few particular items away throughout the year for our families. I’d found a great doggie gift in July for my brother-in-law at 75% off that I hid under our bed until Christmas, I took advantage of some free photo book offers in September and made books for each set of grandparents, and I had a pair of earrings for my mom that I’d found at a bargain a few months back.

However, don’t forget that you bought items for certain people once the holiday arrives!  I suggest putting a sticky note on the item with the recipient’s name and the intended time frame you want to give the gift.

6. Keep a Small Stock of Cards and Gift Wrapping Supplies

I save gift bags from presents I receive and store them in one giant gift bag near a standing box of wrapping paper and ribbons that I’ve bought on clearance. In addition to keeping stocked on wrapping supplies, always have a stack of greeting cards handy.

Before I learned to make my own cards, I used to go to Hallmark every few months with a list of upcoming birthdays and buy several $0.99 cards to have on hand. You can also buy a set of 8 or 10 blank note cards and write “Happy Birthday” inside. No one says you have to buy a card with a poem that someone else wrote!  Let’s be honest: people usually throw away their greeting cards, so don’t spend too much money on them.

7. Build it into the Budget

This is so important! None of these ideas will work for you if you haven’t built a line item in your budget specifically for “gifts.” Pretty much everyone buys gifts, whether they can afford them or not… so why not write down an amount that you’d like to spend on certain people for holidays and put it into the budget?

If you use the cash envelope system, put a little money in the gifts envelope each month so you have a pool to pull from when you find a great sale.  If your budget is strictly on paper, take some time with your spouse to write out who you plan to buy gifts for, and the amount you’d like to spend.

Having a $50 bouquet of flowers delivered to your mom for her birthday will likely seem excessive once you see the grand total of your gift-giving budget at the end of the year. You can buy her a beautiful bunch for $10 and deliver them by hand and save yourself a lot of money 🙂

Are you beginning to see a common theme here?

Plan ahead!

Put money aside for gifts, intentionally keep your eyes open for good deals, and pretty soon you’ll find you’re able to give generously while staying within your budget!

Katie is a Christian wife and a stay at home mom of 3. She blogs about managing her family, frugal living, cooking, organizing, and all things homemaking at Intentionally by Katie

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  • amanda says:

    One thing I’d like to add to this is not to forget to include the cost/concept of shipping the item to the recipient in your gift budget. We live over 6 hrs away from most of our family, and I wasn’t so great about estimating shipping in our budget this year. At least now I know for next year! 😉

    • So true, Amanda! I live away from a lot of family, too, and shipping can add up! One trick I learned this year is to shop for gifts on with my Target Debit/Credit Card. There are many cute gifts in their clearance section for under $5 and they ship for free directly to the recipient’s door when you use your Target card. Don’t forget to use too for extra cash back. And I recently used the Target coupon, Buy $50 in items and get a $10 Gift card back. I purchased $50 in diapers for my kiddos and used the free $10 gift card to buy and ship 3 different Christmas presents to three different recipients across the U.S.

      And I’ve already started shopping for presents for next Christmas LOL. Planning ahead is a great way to spend less on very nice gifts.

    • The USPS still offers Parcel Post. If you stand in line and ask the clerk for the cheapest way to ship, they aren’t going to tell you about Parcel Post. But, if you ASK to send it Parcel Post, there’s no problem.

      It takes a little longer. The last time I used it, it only took 10 days, though! You can ship a large, heavy box for less than 1/4 the cost of sending the package priority.

      You can compare rates on the USPS site for a specific box parcel post versus priority. The last time I sent a box that way, it was around $21, but it would have been over $100 had I shipped it priority!

  • Stephanie says:

    These are great ideas! I’m probably partial, though since I already use methods 1-6! I would add yard sales can even be good places to look for gifts. This year in fact, I am giving my niece an adorable jean skirt with the tags still on it that I found for $.50 at a yard sale over two years ago. I knew she would grow into it eventually, you can tell I believe in planning ahead 🙂

    • Jessica says:

      Yup, I do that too! I am raising my kids that they are used to mommy shopping that way and my oldest (6yo DD) *loves* coming with me during the summer months.

      I also enjoy visiting thrift stores for gifting items. Whether it’s a basket or platter to hold cookies or a NWT LL Bean corduroy skirt like I got for DD’s birthday, you can find some treasures.

  • Annabell says:

    Oh man, day 15 already!? I have some catching up to do! Thank you so much for posting so many helpful things! I just love this blog! 🙂

  • J says:

    Katie, all good tips, some I already do and have managed to whittle the money spent considerably lower while still giving appreciated gifts.

  • Kelly S says:

    This is a great post! I LOVE to give gifts but sometimes go overboard. I like your ideas because not only are they frugal, but they spread out some of the stress too… it’s much more fun to stop by Target and browse when I feel like it than having to go right this second because there’s a birthday party in the afternoon! 🙂

  • Katie, this is exactly the plan I use and it works very well. Sometimes I feel like I’m not giving enough. One day my husband said, “What have they bought for our kids?” That made me realize I don’t need to bust my budget to please someone else. Because when I have a party, I really just want to share time with friends, not get lots of presents for my kids. Thank you for sharing this.

  • Judith says:

    Thrift stores can be a great place to stock up also. Last year I found an almost new copy of Tyndale’s One Year Book of Christian History for $2 or $3 at Goodwill and gave it to my Dad for Christmas. He has read it every day and enjoyed it.

  • Emily says:

    I have to second the suggestion to buy and hand deliver flowers if you’re able instead of having them sent. When my mother in law had surgery we chose to buy flowers at the grocery store and I brought them to her myself rather than having them delivered. Not only was the cost substantially less, she enjoyed the visit from me much more than she would have enjoyed seeing the delivery man.

  • Victoria says:

    You had me nodding my head at each step. I have used your ideas for years in my own household and what I love about it most is the lack of stress I feel when our family is invited to several birthday parties in one week. I simply go to my gift box and pick out appropriate gifts, then head to my gift wrap box (reused or bought deeply discounted) and wrap them, then head to my card box (new cards bought at yard sales) and I am done. No last minute trip to the store and no blowing my budget. Love it!

  • Stephanie says:

    My husband was unexpectedly laid off at the beginning of November and other than a needed shirt, pair of pajamas (both on clearance) and a bag of candy no money was spent on gifts. It drives my husband crazy that I shop year round because he wants to be able to personalize everything to the recipient- he was very grateful that I was able to go into the gift stash and pull out a few books, toys, and a puzzle. Every year we give a pair of warm pajamas as well and I was able to pull two of the three from the clothing stash. My girls are young enough that they are happy to receive almost anything and my stepson loves penguins and wouldn’t care that his penguin shirt was $4. Everything looks festive since we keep a stash of gift bags and tissue paper and are using that for everything.

  • Thanks for the great tips. We can jellies and jams in the summer and that is our go to gift for hostesses, teachers, friends and family. It’s great to not have to think about individual gifts or come up with something unique each year.

    We also wrap a lot of our gifts in newspaper end rolls. Our local paper sells the end rolls for just a couple of dollars and we use that with some ribbon to wrap our gifts. Sometimes the kids will color or stamp the paper.

  • Marie says:

    This is a great post! I use all of these methods as well and it truely is a blessing. Because of this we were able to help a family of 5 this year for Christmas! We were able to give each of the three children 6-8 gifts and gift cards and other smallgifts for the parents. It felt amazing to be able to provide Christmas for a family who otherwise wouldn’t have had anything.
    January is the month to start looking at Target for the 75% off toys! Also, is the time to look at wrapping paper, tissue etc. if you need it.
    If you like the ornaments that you can personalize, after Christmas is the best time because they will put whatever year on it you want!!
    Definitely keep track of who you buy for so you can keep your eyes open throughout the year. I also keep track of gifts for kids my kids age.

  • I love the idea of a gift stash and stocking up on wrapping supplies. Even little things like that can really add up when you’re purchasing them last minute. And budgeting is important so you don’t end up racking up debt for the holidays.

  • My oldest daughter and her friends all make gifts for each other.

    My daughter has given her friends paper dolls, sheet music, and bookmarks that I have printed for just the cost of paper/cardstock and toner.

    Her friends have given her homemade treats, a stuffed cat that her friend sewed for her (her friend was 10 years old at the time), homemade bath salts, etc. One a friend gave her a book from the thrift store. This group of girls has become really creative with giving gifts, and they plan and do it out of their own budgets (they are all 11 and under!)

    My son has given chocolate chip cookies and other edible gifts for his friends birthdays.

    If you grow succulents, they can be divided and repotted to give as gifts. Likewise, other houseplants or outdoor plants that will grow from cuttings make nice gifts. I have given flowers from my garden along with homemade jam and bread to friends.

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