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7 Ways to Save Money and Stay Organized When Shopping for Christmas Gifts

Guest post by Misty from The Frugal Family

I know, it’s 75 degrees today. The corn stalks are swaying and it’s not even really fall yet! But, if you’re a smart shopper, you’re going to start early!

Take it from me. My husband and I buy gifts for about 35 people and any of those people get multiple gifts from us. Yes, I know, it’s insane. Good thing I know how to shop, huh?

Here are a few things I do each year to get started:

1. Make a complete list of everyone you buy for.

If you don’t make a list, you’re going to end up with several people you forgot on December 23rd and you’re going to have to run out and find something, most likely paying more than if you had strategically planned. Don’t forget Sunday school teachers, classroom teachers, the mail man, or the paper delivery guy. Those are the ones that sneak up on me!

2. On the list of all the people you buy for, plan out gift ideas.

It never fails. My dad and father-in-law are the hardest people to buy for. Every year Andy and I scratch our heads trying to decide what to buy. This year we already have gift ideas on the list next to their names. That way, if we come across something that’s a great deal and it’s on our list, we can scratch it off!

3. Keep your list with you.

Who knows when you might be in the mall and find a clearance section that has items at 75% OFF! “Wait, did I already get him a gift or not? I can’t remember…” This is why you carry your list with you. If you find a great deal, you can just pull it out and you’ll know if you need to purchase the item or not.

I used to be bad about this. I would pick up things throughout the year for my nieces and then it would be time to wrap gifts and they’d have 10 gifts because I forgot all the other little things I’d picked up for them here and there. Keep a list, keep it with you, and keep it up to date.

4. Don’t be afraid to cut back.

This was a huge problem for me. I love giving people gifts. It’s honestly one of my favorite things to do so I hated the thought of not spending as much as I used to on the people that I loved. I had to realize these things:

  • Not everyone expects expensive gifts.
  • When you buy someone an expensive gift they often feel like they have to buy you an expensive gift which they can’t always do. It can make them have to spend more than they needed to.
  • You can still give fantastic gifts by shopping smart.
  • There are many gifts you can give that are free or almost-free! Look for free Photo Gifts, Canvas Prints, Photo t-shirts, calendars, and more. And, you can always give the gift of service. There aren’t many moms that would rather have a candle or body spray over free babysitting for a night.

5. Give gifts of time.

Like I just mentioned above, giving of your time is costs you nothing out of pocket. You can always make a nice gift certificate on the computer and give free babysitting, lawn care, baked goods, house cleaning, and more. The ideas are endless.

6. Start saving now.

If you have craft skills, find some local fall festivals and sell your goods there. You can sell things you make on Etsy or Ebay. You could also give sewing, piano, or music lessons if you’re good at what you do.

Another idea is to take surveys and earn cash or gift certificates. I did this last year (surveys) to make extra Christmas money and ended up with several Amazon Gift Certificates in return which helped to save me money on Christmas gifts! I’ve also sold hair bows and chocolate popcorn at local vendor fairs to make extra cash.

7. Watch the ads.

Last year I was able to score several (seven, if I’m remembering right) Milton Bradley board games for around $1.20 each after coupons and rebates. Keep your eyes open. Deals like these will come and you need to be ready to grab them!

Misty is a wife and stay-at-home, homeschooling mom to her three small children. She loves, loves, loves to save money and get a good deal!  Misty has a great desire to serve God and finds joy in sharing her money-saving tips and the deals she finds on her blog, The Frugal Family.

photo credit

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  • ShopSanity says:

    You might add:

    8. Keep your receipts and see if the items go on sale later, even after Christmas. Many retailers offer one time price adjustments if they drop the price within 2-4 weeks after you buy an item. If you go back with your recipe, they’ll give you the difference between what you paid and their current price.

  • I have found the most meaningful gifts cost the least. My husband only wants two things every Christmas…a photo book of our year, and a personalized calendar with pictures of my daughter and I. Stuff is just “stuff”, but gifts that take thought will be cherished.

  • Amy says:

    We buy gifts for our Sunday school teachers and classroom teachers, but I’ve never given a gift to our mailman. Can someone shed some light on this for me?

    • Kayla says:

      Since your mailman is providing a service to you, and if you’re happy with that service, many people choose to show appreciation to their mailman (along with newspaper carrier, garbage man, etc.) by giving them a gift around the holidays. Often times it is something small, like a box of chocolates, homemade cookies, a nice pen, etc.

    • Marsha says:

      I usually give something small to my mail carrier, as well as other service providers (the woman who cuts my hair, babysitters, kids’ music instructors and the like). My parents carried on a Boxing Day tradition and I guess I’ve absorbed that lesson. Since we don’t truly “do” Boxing Day in the U.S., I just make these gifts part of my Christmas tradition instead.

    • Misty says:

      My mail lady is always super kind to us, so for Christmas I buy (or make my own) a multi-pack of hot cocoa mix and split it between the mail people and garbage collectors.

    • Lana says:

      We know which fast food restaurant near the post office she stops at every morning for her breakfast so we give her a gift card to that restaurant.

    • The week before Christmas, we bake tons of goodies and package them up in decorated paper bags. We give the bags along with homemade hot cocoa mix to people who bless us during the year, such as postman, police and fire station, librarians, our local emergency clinic and our trash collectors. It’s something my children look foward to each year. I have to say that those who get overlooked the most (ie. the trash collectors) are so very grateful.

    • Sandra says:

      I have a large number of deliveries throughout the year via UPS and a fair amount of mail and packages via the U.S.P.S. I gift my mailman and UPS guy with $10 cash and a small note of thanks in a card. I give a large jar Yankee candle to my hair dresser which I purchased for $9.99 (Regular price $25.00) at TJ Maxx. But, last year I made a large pot of chicken noodle soup during a blizzard for the snow removal guys. I think it was the best of all the gifts I gave to those who provide me and my family services. It was abundantly clear how much they appreciated it for the response was beyond anything I could have imagined!

  • karen b says:

    In our families only the kids get gifts, & we draw names for that so it has cut our gift giving way down. 3 children equals only 3 gifts for each side plus the parents which you are right the hard ones. We make food for teachers, busdrivers, mailman, & paperman. Also food for anyone else that we need to give too or want to give too. Since we started this it really has helped. We try to draw @ the christmas before or early in the year so we are able to buy all year. We also set a limit not to exceed, works for us.

  • Danielle B says:

    Our strategy for Christmas this year as far as extended family goes is watching out for the photo deals. Over the next few months the photo books, photo cards, and prints will be offered from several sites for super cheap.
    I’ve already taken the time to load special pictures to each of the most common sites (,,, That way I can be prepared each time a deal rolls through. No sifting through tons of pics trying to find the best ones! I also created a folder of the best pictures, in chronological order, of the last year in the picture area on my computer. That way if a new site comes up that’s offering a great photo deal, it’s much easier to load the right pictures and take advantage of the offer.

    • Jen says:

      This is a GREAT idea! I’ve missed out on a few great deals because I just didn’t have the time to sort through all the pics and decide what to upload, etc. I’m definintely going to work on this for the Christmas deals. Thanks for the idea.

    • Emily says:

      Super smart idea and one that I’m going to steal. I’m going to put on my “to-do” list (which actually already has “organize the digital pics” as something I’m working on this month) to organize great pics in a separate folder for this purpose. I spent forever last year putting together photo mugs for both sets of grandparents at the last minute (so bad I even had to have one shipped to my in-laws house in another state because I knew it would never get to my house on time for us to bring it with us). Anyway, they ended up being a huge hit with the parents, and I’m definitely doing it again this year.

    • Sandra says:

      You can get 40 prints free this week at Target with the Target coupon available! 🙂

  • sona says:

    Some ideas for “older folk.” A good many have all the “stuff” they need, other than current pics/photobook of grands of course :o) But time spent with them is priceless. as mentioned above for lawn care, help with house or computor help, car wash. Moms and daughters often do things together, if there is money available for gift giving, how great to be treated to lunch by a son/SIL/DIL/older grandchild. Note card with stamps, Pedicure/manicure, Grandparent book( the ones you answer lots of questions about your history for the grands..this could be hand made quite inexpensively). On occasion my 7 sibs and I went together and sent our folks to a concert or a play, which none of us could afford alone and they couldnt either. Hope these get your thinking caps warmed up :o)

  • Marsha says:

    I use Google docs to organize my holiday shopping – it’s super easy and accessible from phones, too, making it even more useful. Using the spreadsheet feature, every year in late winter I create a tab for that year (so in March of this year I made the “2011” tab) and use the column headers across the top for people for whom I’d like to buy presents. Down each person’s column, I put ideas as they occur to me through the year, including website, store, and price information. Then, as I buy an item, I make that line item bold. I keep the rest of my ideas to carry over to the next year’s tab. I have one master tab at the front of the workbook where I keep information like sizes, favorite colors, sports teams, etc. Since I started this list I feel like I’ve been able to give more while staying in budget – not only because I can track spending, but also because I don’t end up with duplicative items or costly size/color/whatever mistakes. Plus, by seeing gift ideas across a row in a spreadsheet, I can easily consolidate sources, saving on gas or shipping. Totally works for my Type-A personality!

  • Heather says:

    My grandparents ended up so many gifts one year since they have a pretty big family that my Grandma finally put her foot down. She initiated a rule that no more than $1 per grandkid can be spent on her and my Grandpa. I pool together my husband’s, mine, and my brother’s dollars every year to find something useful for just $3! It has become a competition now to see who can stretch their dollars the farthest and I love it!!

    (This from the same grandma who would hand us the grocery ads on long car rides and ask us what we’d make for dinner based on what was on sale… and then she’d write it down and go shopping for her weekly meals!)

  • Amy says:

    My parents are in their late sixties/ early 70s. And I totally agree with some of these comments. The last thing they need is more stuff. We go over after Thanksgiving and get all the Christmas things down from the attic. And do all the heavy lifting to help get decorations done. We also put out their Christmas lights which only line their sidewalks along with wreaths. We started doing this after I learned that the yard service charged them $75 to do it. It is fun to do and saves them money. We do lots of picture books and a lunch in a nearby shopping area because they do such a great job of making it festive. I also make steak tar-tar for Dad on Christmas eve. 🙂

    I save all year long. Putting a dollar or two away every time I can. I pick up gifts all year too – the lists of what you have are a great idea. I think I am going to start doing that!

  • I know that holidays can be a hard time for a lot of people who don’t have a lot of money to go around. I wrote this article last year about frugal Christmas shopping.

  • These are great tips! I’ve already started keeping my list in my phone using Evernote.
    I especially love the part where you talk about cutting back. So often I have found myself buying extra gifts just because I feel like I don’t have enough. This is the first year my family (extended family) has set a limit. I think it will force us to be more creative and make our gifts to each other more meaningful. I’m really looking forward to it!

  • Amanda says:

    These are some great ideas. But this year I brought a bunch of mason jars and am going to make brownies in a jar, cookies in a jar, pancakes in a jar, etc and give those. Sometimes getting a nice food gift is better than another DVD or something like that (especially if I don’t know what to get a person or there isn’t anything specific they want).

  • Lynn says:

    Love #4…scale back! Our children each receive 2 or 3 presents from us their parents, one from grandparents and that’s it. Our extended families on both sides don’t exchange gifts at all. For a while we did, and we came to the realization that none of us really needed anything. Instead we give the gift of our presence…for those living within driving distance this equals time spent together near Christmas, just playing games, telling stories and sharing meals for a day. For out of town family (my side) it means lengthy phone calls or Skyping. I’m thankful for family on both sides that are like minded in thinking that the lavish gift exchange is not what is important. Some of us do enjoying gifting others, though, and so instead of doing it at Christmas it might just be randomly throughout the year. I see that as a much more thoughtful way of giving….they truly were thinking about me when they saw it and it wasn’t an obligatory seasonal gift.

    • Emmie says:

      Absolutely your family has embraced the holiday spirit!!! The joy of being together. I have noticed that we really don’t need or want anything as adults gift wise. Well not in our immediate family so why not just share each other!

  • scrapper al says:

    My nieces/nephews are quite young. For Christmas (and birthdays), I give the parents money for the kids’ college funds. I figure the kids won’t miss unwrapping one more toy, but years from now, they might be able to pay buy books for the semester.

  • krystal says:

    x mas in our house is like militay locked on where we have to go. i come from a divorced family that have both remaried. and also have divorced grand parents that have remarried to say the least i have lots of extended family!
    that being said we have lots of ppl to buy for. my daughter is blessed with tons of loving grandparents. our daughter gets plenty of presents. we choose one big ticket item and ask that they all go in on the one useful gift that we other wise would not be able to afford. (last year we asked for a wagon which was VERY WELL LOVED ) limiting the amount of gifts and time and money looking wraping and all the smaller gifts.

  • kathleen vasquez says:

    Thanks to shopping early, I am completely done with christmas shopping and I went below my budget. I am so happy because I am a college student on a budget. I even loaded up on tons of board games using the recent hasbro coupons (got games from 0.48-1.02)! There really isn’t any young children in my family but I am planning on making a huge toy donation to toys for tots with all of the extra toys! 🙂

    • Emmie says:

      What a great idea! We don’t have little kiddos too much in our family so that idea of donation is great! The coupons help out oodles too!

  • Jessica says:

    I shop through the year also, but we have really cut back. Here are my own tips:

    1. If you have a very low budget, talk to your family about it well before your gift exchange. Pre-arrange to not exchange gifts or to just get one gift for the whole family so that no one feels left out, on the spot or ashamed.
    2. Talk to your parents and explain that you’re saving the money for the kids’ education, braces, lessons, etc and so you cannot afford to go all out for the extended family.
    3. I do a lot of handmade items, especially for little ones. Handmade hats, scarves, toys, recycled crayons, I Spy bottles, you name it.
    4. I pick up the drugstore freebies throughout the year and have used those for teacher gifts. Each year I was able to give all the teachers at our small daycare center a gift bag with hand lotion, sanitizer, a candle and so forth, for practically free.
    5. Cut back with your own kids. If you go hog wild one year they will expect it every year thereafter.
    6. For the grandparents and great grandparents, we do a framed family photo or a wall calendar with photos. None of them needs more stuff but they love photos.

    • Hope says:

      I have never heard of an I Spy bottle. Could you explain what that is?

      • Jessica says:

        There are various ways to do an I Spy bag or bottle. I went the bottle route so my 4.5 yo daughter could help. I used empty, dried water bottles. Take the label off. Find about 20 small items to go inside- mini clothespins, beads, buttons, foam shapes, legos, etc. Then pour in sand, rice, or whatever filler. We added a little glitter to make it pretty. Put on the cap and seal with glue or electrical tape. We made a list of the items in the bottle and attached that as a tag on the bottle. We made 20 of these for very low cost. 50# play sand was like $3 and we still have a lot leftover, we already had glitter, we got the empty water bottles free from someone we know, and I already had lots of bead, buttons and small doodads although a friend let me rummage through her stash too. She had leftovers from sewing I Spy bags.

  • My side of the family started exchanging names a few years ago (as my sisters and I started getting married and having kids.) Each person gets one $15-20 gift, so that’s all you need to worry about buying. (Most of us shop smart, and $15 can go a long way.) Then, if we want, we can buy or make something small for the kids, and make something like cookies, ornaments, jam, or cocoa mix for each family. It has worked out really well for us – each person gets one or two nice things instead of a dozen small things, and we get together and enjoy each other’s company with less of a focus on the stuff. And it isn’t as much of a burden since we exchange names at least 6 months ahead of time and everyone knows all year they will only need to spend $30-40 as a couple.

  • Emmie says:

    What we have started doing for our parents, grandparents is pool the money together and buy a gift that they couldn’t usually afford and want. It is helpful for us since sometimes those expensive gifts are hard for one budget to swallow.

    For my family that lives further away we send gift cards to each child usually around 20$, and then a family giftcard for an activity they can do together.

    Also something we tried last year. Does your kiddo want an expensive gift try a pawn shop! They are willing to bargain a bit, and they have some great things here and again. Mostly just love each other, and share the meaning of the true gifts in life, and the reason for the season!

  • Emilie says:

    My sister in law and I bought groceries (mostly on sale) over a couple of weeks and I spent a Saturday afternoon making freezer meals. We were able to give 14 freezer meals to my inlaws for around $75 (which we split). My MIL loved it and it lasted her a couple of months.

  • My husband and I don’t have a lot of people to buy for (I have a small extended family). But we do draw names for his side of the family and limit the monetary value of the gift. I introduced this idea with my MIL last year because it was becoming too much hassle and headache buying for all the adults and thankfully she loved it! It helps take the pressure off of buying one random thing for an adult that they will probably not use.

    For our nephews I shop EARLY! In fact I’ve been done with their gifts for about a month now. They are all so close in age (one set of twins and another is 15 months younger than the twins) so they get the same gift but maybe in different colors, or a different book. I try to keep the focus of their gifts educational (books, learning games, etc).

    This year since my PePaw is in a nursing home my mother and I are going to be baking for all the staff and residents (that can have the treats). We’re starting to make some cookie dough now and freezing it before the rush of the holidays set in. At a certain point food and treats seem to be better gifts because honestly how much more ‘stuff’ can we all have?


  • Last year we bought each adult couple in our family a Satsuma orange tree from our local feed store. They put all their fruit trees on sale in Dec. to reduce stock before the New Year. Satsumas are great because they can be grown in a pot or in the ground. They can even be grown inside near a window! Everyone was excited about them and we get regular updates and discussion about who many oranges each person has and “why?”. I think we’ll continue buying fruit trees at least for a couple of years.

  • Something else we’ve done with a large group (usually a group of women) is do an ornament exchange…bring an ornament wrapped and everyone leaves with a new one! It’s a neat way to get interesting ornaments and inexpensive…you can cap the price of the ornament as well. This a low pressure way to share in the holiday spirit!

  • Maegen says:

    Does anyone else have family who, “Cheats?”

    We used to draw names on my husband’s side, but my mil and his grandma would always get us, “A little something.”
    Needless to say, we felt awkward giving them nothing, especially once we had our boys, and they started sending very generous checks for them.
    Anyway, I usually end up giving photo gifts or something similar.

    I’m not really complaining because I feel so blessed to have them all in my life-I’ve just always wondered if ours is the only family where drawing names wasn’t a huge hit. 🙂

    Love all the tips-don’t forget mailing costs. That’s one that always sneaks up on me. I may skip cards this year. I got a bunch for free last year, but then I spent a small fortune to mail them. Love getting them, but it does seem like an extravagance.

  • celia says:

    My very best advice for staying organized at Christmas is , if you are going to different places, to wrap the presents going there in matching paper. So all the presents going to Grandma’s are in gold paper and everything staying at home is green, etc. I learned this the hard way after driving hours and leaving gifts at home. It is MUCH easier to scan for the same color, especially during the hectic holidays.

  • Amber B. says:

    I’m late to responding… It’s sad when I’m too busy to keep up with my beloved MSM site. 😀 Anyway, I agree with everyone’s posts. Rather than drawing names with my extended family, we each buy a decent, gender-neutral gift ($20-ish) and do a white elephant exchange. Often white elephant exchanges are gag gifts but not this one. It’s a lot of fun because a dozen or so adults participate (no children).

    Besides that, I wanted to throw out my plan… Daily Deal sites. I already bought my mom a 5-course dinner for two at a local mystery theatre. She’s going to love it; and, since I had a free Eversave credit, I got it for $13!! I also snagged the $50 giftcard (paid $25) at I’m hoping to really stretch that around the holidays!! 🙂

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