A head start on Christmas 2016.

thIt begins: Yesterday I bought my first stocking stuffers.

They were in the clearance bin, as stocking stuffers often are: a trio of Crayola scented markers for 17 cents apiece. The markers will go to a flamboyant young relative who’s all about creativity; at age 9, the dude is using YouTube to learn how to knit an infinity scarf.

In years past I’ve hit post-holiday sales to buy the next year’s holiday gifts and even some items for the house. This year I’ve been curiously inert when it comes to bargain-hunting.

The Crayolas may have gotten me off my own mark, however, since I’ve begun to notice yard-sale signs. 


While I attend fewer sales than I once did, I’ve found them to be sources of great gifts (some of them still in the shrink wrap). Last year I went to just one, but as it was a community-wide sale it provided a lot of bang for the buck.

The bulk of my haul was books but I found a few other oddments that made small, fun gifts. Most became stocking stuffers, a tradition I enjoy. It’s an idea that’s gotten out of hand; last year I got a press release defining “affordable” stocking stuffers as those that cost $50 or less. Ho-ho-no!


Frugal-hacking the holiday

Pretty sure I’ve never paid retail for a stocking stuffer. Most of mine come from clearance bins, yard sales and the Financial Blogger Conference expo hall (home to fun and funky promotional items like piggy banks and teeny-tiny flashlights).

Last year I cashed in Hallmark Gold Crown points for a Starbucks gift card for my niece, lover of chai tea. My Coke Rewards points got me a $5 McDonald’s GC for one of my great-nephews, and a Black Friday special at Walgreens netted me some free Scunci ponytail holders for the other great-nephew (the flamboyant one).

Other odds and ends come to me as I find them: free-after-rebate items, giveaways (I’m not the only blogger who does these), dollar items at Jo-Ann Fabrics that cost 50 cents after the coupon, the “free” box at some of those yard sales.

Most of last year’s major gifts came from rewards programs like Swagbucks, My Coke Rewards and My Points, and from rewards credit cards. Cash-wise, I spent less than $50.

As the boys get older I weigh the pros and cons of putting too much in their stockings and under the tree. The older great-nephew is 14, and it won’t be long until he’s looking at college. Wouldn’t his needs be better served with some cash for textbook rentals? At times I think I should forgo holiday gifts altogether, and just transfer money into their accounts.


An affordable celebration

Two things keep me from doing that:

  • The fact that I generally spend little to no cash on them, and
  • I really like giving presents.

Holiday presents make me happy. While I do need to be careful how much I spend, wrapping and delivering gifts brings me fond memories of my own childhood holidays. Frugal hacks + careful spending = an affordable Christmas.

Incidentally, I budget for special occasions the same way I do for categories like insurance and retirement planning. That is, I assume that holiday spending is something I’ll do, and make plans so that it can be done without fiscal pain.

I’ve got seven months to stockpile rewards points and keep my eyes open for affordable gifts. The annual library sale takes place in early May, and it’s calling my name. Bonus: Books are easy to wrap.

How about it, readers: Have you been picking up items here and there? If you’ve already finished your shopping, feel free to gloat in the comments section.


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  1. Melissa F

    I did buy more than a handful of small gifts the day after Christmas at half price. I will save a few for this Christmas and use some for birthdays before then. I usually save my reward points until holiday time too. Besides that, I haven’t really thought about shopping for holiday gifts, but I probably should and will now.

  2. I married into a family that draws names and after some major discussion everyone decided to downsize that to a $10-$15 gift exchange. I’ve always had a gift container for last minute gifts. I purchased most from clearance sales, little thrifting and (gasp) re-gifting. This year, I was able to get all gifts from the box, also a couple white elephant exchanges too.

    • Donna Freedman

      Ohhhh, regifting: Forgot to mention that! When it’s done right, it works. And having an evergreen gift closet is fabulous, too.

  3. Yeah! Got quite a few gifts during after the holidays sales. Mostly I got gifts to save for next year’s Toys For Tots or my church’s Angel Tree. I always look for brand new books every Tuesday at Senior day Goodwill and save for the grandkids or gifts or donations. I have a stack already and they are only 58 cents for a paperbacks and I seldom have trouble finding good ones in pristine condition. It’s a great game to play to score deals and help others as well.

    • Kate Nelson

      Ann, I never thought of hitting the after-holiday clearance sales for Angel Tree gifts. Great idea! Though the kids are grown, I still like to buy toys at Christmas, and the local Angel Trees let me do that.

  4. All year long I send for freebies & samples to become stocking stuffers for my kids & 5 grands.

    Sometimes I download activities or interesting lessons/puzzels for the grands.

    I usually pick up art type supples during back to school sales.

    Walgreens generally has deals on clay, playdoh & bubbles. Another option is the $1 store.

  5. Kate Nelson

    Funny this should come up. I was just trolling the clearance section of some web sites and thinking I should get started on C-day now! We buy for *everyone* in DH’s family…

    • Donna Freedman

      Go for it! Only amateurs pay retail. 😉

      • Carolyn Cooper

        Wasn’t it Woody Allen who once said, “The greatest sin is paying retail?” Last Saturday (4/16) J.C Penney had a 1 cent T shirt sale. Not “buy one, get one for one cent.” You could only buy one T shirt or tank top in each department, but still I spent only 5 cents and got a nice selection of tanks and Ts for the gift closet.

        • Wow!! What a score Carolyn!! Nice!

        • Donna Freedman

          Very nice! I’m envious.

          Too bad you couldn’t buy multiples to take down to the Dominican Republic.

          • Carolyn Cooper

            Some times kids come to the project poorly dressed and the teachers are trying to build up a closet of clothes to give to those kids. Those 5 T shirts, along with some other finds will go toward that clothes closet.

          • Donna Freedman

            What a nice idea. Clearly, you guys rock.

  6. Cathy in NJ

    My problem with buying ahead for Christmas gifts or stockings is I just want to give it immediately. I went to a few yard sales last Saturday and found a Christmas tie for my husband, a butterfly earring organizer for my daughter and amber earrings for me. I am so happy with my bargain treasure I want to give it now.
    It doesn’t help that I have very limited storage.

    • Donna Freedman

      Is there room under the bed? That’s a good place to store things. But I know what you mean about the urge to give the stuff now, though. I really wanted to give the markers to B right away. I think it would be more fun to put them in the stocking, though, so I’ll resist.

      • Cathy in NJ

        There is room under the bed, but its too visible because of the high clearance from the floor and would encourage snooping. I have a shelf in a closet that might work. I will have to clear out the useless items currently there to make a bit of quality storage.
        If I find two or more yard sale finds it would be easier to present one and stash the others. I would have something to quell the urge.

        • I don’t know about you guys, but I hide things in my freezer. Really – if you Ziploc bag things and as long as there’s no moisture in the bag when you do, something labeled “leftover rutabaga 2013” is not likely to get snooped, trust me.

  7. I typically don’t buy Christmas presents for anyone except the husband (we do stockings only, most of the time … though last year he got a new paella pan from Santa). I might buy something for my sisters off their Amazon wishlist. Otherwise it’s just my parents, who say “don’t you dare buy us Stuff,” and a couple of close local friends, who I generally try to take out for a meal or something like that.

    Our stockings tend to filled with 3 to 5 consumables and then one small gadget. Our only gift problems come when we are visiting my husband’s family, because they tend to want to do gift exchanges but not to tell us about them until we are already in transit … which would be a little too late. I am doing my level best to have us avoid attending his family holiday gatherings because they are no fun for either of us, and expensive.

  8. We don’t buy ahead like this simply because it’s too hard to make sure that the gift is really what we want to give (or what they want), and you usually can’t return stuff purchased that far in advance. We do, however, save money all throughout the year, so that our holiday gift purchases are fully funded when that time does come to start buying.

  9. You know I never care what the stuff you get us costs. Then again, I’m happy to get body wash as a stocking stuffer, so perhaps you just raised me to be weird.

    We mainly forgo stocking stuffers (other than any you send) since I’d rather spend the money we allot on bigger stuff for Tim. Still, when I’ve gotten them in the past, I doubt I ever paid retail for a stocking stuffer. Or most other Christmas gifts, really.

  10. I used to do this but, now that we’ve moved to drawing names, I can’t get the name of my giftee until December. Argh! At least we’ve agreed on a price limit which they were averse to in the past. I’ll take that as poor compensation.

  11. Punkin Pye

    The Albertsons near my house is closing down. I picked up glow sticks, fingernail polish, and lip gloss for Christmas stocking stuffers. I’m getting a head start on Christmas. I don’t usually start until June, LOL.

  12. No gloating rights here. A couple of years ago, I tried buying my daughter clothes for the next Christmas when sales happened in March. I felt so clever and proactive! Since that time, I have gently been informed that I should perhaps steer clear of clothing-as-gift. Sigh. But stocking stuffers is another matter… I’ll keep my eyes open.

    • I love your moniker. Reminds me of Dickens, and the Puritans, both. Or maybe a Victorian character in a story with a moral.

      In 1925, my grandparents married and among the other vows, they vowed to never owe money. In 1925. And they kept their vow. The only significant debt they ever had was the house, which was paid off as fast as they could manage it.

      • Thank you, Amber. I look forward to growing into my name. The “Prudence” is developing. The “Debtfree” draws closer and closer. What a great vow your grandparents made on their wedding day!

  13. Some years I get an early start, but not this year. I have bought one birthday gift, a mother’s day card, and I’m wondering what to give for the remaining birthdays. Christmas is even further away. I have an easier time with the Angel tree at work and the gym, perhaps because I don’t know too much and so don’t think “they won’t like that.” I enjoy shopping for the Angel trees.

    Now I need to make a list of possibles, so I can look for sales. Some of my more successful gifts last year were things that went against the usual “something useful” grain. One was a framed print I got at a charity auction. The recipient loved it, precisely because it was beautiful and non-utilitarian. And maybe to impress the new GF.

  14. We’re no where near finished with shopping, but we purchase ahead of Christmas and birthdays. As soon as we see a really good deal or a clearance item, we purchase and stash it away. We tend to do it more with birthday presents opposed to Christmas. Fortunately, there’s really no kids for us to buy for in the family, so we don’t have to worry about buying something that a kid may not be “into” next year. And of course trying not to forget we have items put away in a closet!


  15. Isitaneedorawant

    My children are grown, they are in school, just starting careers and in various stages of moving out.
    My favourite thrift shop run by volunteers and church rummage sales have been the mother lode of well priced items.
    Yesterday I was at one church sale and purchased for my husband ( anniversary, Father’s Day or for his birthday) a new shrink wrapped package of book and 4 cd’s of a local artist’s last 25 years of music. The price and support for the organization can’t be beat. My husband is astonished at the items I pick up to ( inexpensively) celebrate family occasions.
    At this same sale I picked up napkins for a dime each and cards 2 for 25 cents. Lovely thank-you, birthday and sympathy amoung them.
    My daughter with me was able to pick up a few house hold items for pennies that she needed.
    I picked up 5 pencil sharpeners for a total of 25 cents. They will be a hit in a Christmas stocking or Easter basket. This year I had place small shopping bags that expand to a good size but fold to be smaller than an envelope. That one was appreciated by all.
    I have also regifted to each child a 100% wool blanket( I inherited a few) and each selected a quilt that my SIL has gifted over the years.

    • Donna Freedman

      Those all sound like great deals. I wish there were a place that nice near me; when I lived in Seattle I attended my church’s annual “Superfluity” rummage sale and found some pretty nice things (desk for $5, small chest of drawers for $1).

      At another big Seattle-area event, the annual Lakeside School rummage sale, I bought six cloth napkins for a quarter. That was back in 2004 and I’m still using them. Also bought my two-foot-tall Christmas tree there ($1) and a bag of tiny ornaments (75 cents). Still using those, too.

      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  16. Sonya Ann

    I’m still working on Christmas and gleaning what I can. I have a ton of points from cc and other sites saved up and I think that I will cash them in at the end of the year.
    I scored some new Target scarves at Goodwill. I think I bought 12. That was an awesome find.
    Keep up the good work!

  17. Very smart! Starting holiday shopping in December usually translates to a fat credit card bill in January!

  18. Have I already finished shopping?! Heck NO! But, at least you have me thinking about it.

    Reality is, I don’t want anything but time for Christmas. Kids, of course, want way more. We have, however, compromised in that if the kids have ‘name brand’ clothing on their list it comes from the Value Village. Second hand never hurt anyone, and was likely on the backs of the last kid as long (ie short) as it will be on ours.

    Thanks for the kick, I’ll get working on my list!

  19. I’m always noticing bargains and have a mental (and some manual) lists of things to buy my girlfriend and nephew+niece. Luckily, I’m a great secret-keeper and holder of good things until they are ready.

  20. Ha ha! That is SO true. I used to do that kind of thing all the time: start buying Christmas gifts about in February… The summer sales were the high-point of my gift-buying strategy.

    Now that I’m single and no longer have to come up with stuff for the husband’s relatives, and my son earns enough to buy whatever he wants whenever he wants, I tend to put it off until closer to Christmas. UNLESS, that is, something kewl surfaces in an estate sale. Last year I found a brand-new, still had its tag on it heavy enameled cast-iron stock pot. Since he’s a great cook, he was delighted with the thing.

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