The end of the year tends to be a gift-buying bonanza, but, if you’re a parent, there’s a good chance you find yourself rolling out the wrapping paper all year long. Whether you’re on the hunt for gifts for kids, gifts for teachers or even baby shower gifts for your friends, you’ll probably find yourself most stressed out—and you’ll likely end up shelling out the most money—if you wait until the last minute.
In a given year, let’s say you bought:
Twelve $25 birthday gifts for kids (let’s call it once a month, with all those toddler parties!)
Three baby shower gifts at $40 a pop
Five gifts for teachers at $20 apiece, for assorted occasions
Five birthday gifts for assorted family members, at about $50 each
You’d be spending close to $800 dollars on presents, not even counting the end-of-year holidays. And according to the National Retail Federation, in 2017 consumers were set to spend an average of $967 on winter holidays alone.
Of course, creating a solid budget, and possibly using apps to track your spending, is a good way to start. But to go a step further, we spoke to an expert for ways to save on unique gifts for kids and adults alike, without sacrificing quality.
Retail analyst James Dion, founder and president of Dionco Inc., a Chicago-based retail consulting firm says, “I’m a huge, huge believer in Costco.”
According to Dion, Costco marks its products up less than any retailer out there (it has just a 14 percent operating margin), which means you’ll pay less at the wholesale club for an identical item at another store.
For example, while other retailers might sell smoked salmon for $40 a box, Dion says, Costco sells it for $19.99. That’s already a 50 percent savings, but he adds, “If you wait, and you’re lucky, they can get down to $4.99 a box.” Even if you don’t hoard salmon so you can give it out as a hostess gift throughout the year (!), Costco offers solid deals on plenty of products, from clothing and kids items to party platters and electronics.
If you don’t have a Costco near you, you can likely find similar deals at Sam’s Club, BJ’s or other wholesalers, although, according to Dion, their margins are slightly higher than Costco’s.
The same rule of watching for deep discounts applies to all your favorite stores. Stock up when you find great deals, then save the items for when you need gifts for kids, gifts for teachers, baby shower gifts or anything else.
While sometimes it just boils down to being in the right place at the right time, the trick to finding deep discounts is knowing when to look. Dion explains, “The absolute lowest price is often about three to five weeks after a big event.”
For example, you’ll find the best deals on sports equipment three to five weeks after each individual sports season ends; you’ll find the most affordable summer items, such as bathing suits, in July and August when the summer retail season is over. Visit Consumer Reports for a month-by-month rundown of the best deals in a variety of categories.
We all know to check for coupon codes before shopping online, but the real trick is to stack the deals you find. (Here are more tricks for being a smart online shopper.)
Some sites, like Ebates and TopCashBack, list discount codes in addition to offering cash back on purchases at thousands of online retailers. For example, at the time of this writing, searching “Kohl’s” on Ebates yielded a coupon code for 20 percent off, plus 3 percent cash back on your purchase, if you do so through Ebates. These cash-back sites work by sharing their affiliate commissions with the shoppers, so it’s a win for both the site and the consumer.
Stacking coupon codes with cash back incentives is a great start, but you can take it a step further if you use a credit card that offers cash back or other rewards.
Buying a gift bag and a card can add almost $10 to each gift, which is non-negligible if you’re giving many gifts a year.
Sometimes part of the gift itself can be used for the presentation. For instance, if you like including a blanket in your baby shower gifts, use the blanket to wrap the rest of the gift, like this cute example. Similarly, if a book is part of your gift, let it pull double duty as a card by writing an inscription on the inside flap.
Especially for teacher gifts and presents for adults who are especially prone to thinking your kid is adorable, setting your child loose on a piece of plain cardboard can yield a card that’s both free and more meaningful (and could be a good way to include your kids in the “money is finite” conversation). Cool gifts for kids can feel even more unique when they’re wrapped in the comics section of the newspaper.
Buying used items for friends or extended family may be poor etiquette, but it’s OK to bend the rules when it comes to gifts for your own children, especially if they’re too young to know the difference. After all, toys can be expensive, most don’t get much play time before being forgotten.
You can often find used toys in excellent condition for deeply discounted prices if you keep an eye on your local barter and swap pages on Facebook (for a page near you, try searching for “ swap Facebook” and see what comes up). It’s possible to find these items online at a site like eBay, but pay attention to shipping fees and user reviews so there are no surprises.
An extra trick to find the best-quality items at local consignment stores? Check Zillow for the neighborhood with the highest property values near you. Then search Google for consignment stores near that address. Those stores are likely to have higher-value items in better condition.
For clothing or accessories, sites like ThredUp screen every item prior to listing it on their website. Especially relevant for gift-giving, you can often find items that are brand new with tags. (In which case you might decide to bend the rules and gift second-hand items to your friends and family too! After all, if it has the tags, it’s not really used. We won’t tell.)
Research shows that, on the whole, people derive more happiness from experiences than from possessions. When buying gifts for your own kids, choosing experiences over possessions can also save money.
For example, an annual pass to your local children’s museum or a punch card to the trampoline park often pays for itself after two or three visits. Sites like Groupon, LivingSocial and CertifiKID are great resources for deals on local entertainment.
So finally go on that family camping trip and make the memories that really matter.
There are only so many Christmas gift ideas for kids, after all. If you buy for a lot of extended family each holiday, consider doing a name swap instead. Depending on how large your family is, it could save you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. This idea could also work if you have a family in which lots of people have similar birthdays—you could throw the names of all the summer birthdays into a hat and turn the family-wide gift exchange into an activity.
You can give Secret Santa (or “Hanukkah Harry” . . . ?) a digital twist with a tool like drawnames.com, which will create the list for you, taking into account any specific constraints (you can avoid buying for immediate family members, for example). A White Elephant exchange is another version of the same general idea.
Being a parent is expensive enough as it is. By planning ahead, you’ll get to experience that satisfying feeling of saving money over and over again. And that is a gift, to yourself.
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