photo by jek in the box
Guest Post by Katie from Three Blondes and a Redhead
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 generously give gifts 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 some of my tried-and-true bargain shopping methods:
::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.
I remember the days when I would actually decline a birthday party just to avoid buying a $10 gift that wasn't in our budget. But now, as long as the schedule allows, my kids get to attend many of the parties we're invited to because I try to have a couple of gifts in my stash for boys, for girls, and some which could be for either gender.
::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. In the past, when I've tried to find a $5 gift at the last minute, it's usually something junkie and I end up paying a premium for a bigger gift that I know the receiver will actually enjoy.
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.
::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!
photo by allerleirau
::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.
::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.
::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.
::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. 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 in 2009 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 thread 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 to a 4-year-old son, a 2-year-old daughter, and a new baby due in October. She blogs about managing her family, frugal living, cooking, organizing, and all things homemaking at Three Blondes and a Redhead.