Where to Find the Cheapest Holiday Gifts

Lori Bowen of North Augusta does some holiday shopping at the Salvation Army Thrift Store in Augusta, Ga. on Friday, December 10
Alamy
By Geoff Williams

'Tis the season for shopping and great deals -- unless, of course, you don't have a lot of money. In that case, the holiday displays, brightly colored wrapping paper and catalogs arriving in the mail can be unpleasant reminders of how broke you are.

But even if you're experiencing a cash crunch, you can still complete your gift list. Here are some places to find affordable gifts off the beaten shopping path -- and some way off the path.

Flea markets. Flea markets are known for housing a cornucopia of treasures, from antiques to new products, and from expensive to cheap. There's probably one near you: According to the National Flea Market Association, there are more than 1,100 flea markets throughout the country. And, of course, don't discount the flea market's close cousin: the garage sale.

Libraries. Nobody's suggesting you check out a book and give it to a family member or friend with the warning that it must be returned in two weeks. Some libraries, however, have seasonal book sales to drum up income, and others have stores that sell books year-round.

"My local library has a store that sells books for a dollar apiece to raise money for the library. Most of them are in very good shape, and there are books of all kinds," says Tracy Bagatelle-Black, a public relations executive in Los Angeles.

Barter. If you have something to barter -- a skill, for instance -- you might be able to find gifts that way. There are numerous bartering organizations (including u-exchange.com, tradeaway.com and barterquest.com) that you can generally join for free, although there are usually bartering fees and shipping costs involved. So your mileage may vary as to whether you find this route practical or not.

Dollar stores. If you don't have much money, these stores are famous for offering inexpensive household items and gifts. Five Below (FIVE) is a chain of stores in which everything is $5 or less. The company's spokesperson suggests checking its collection of "Hottest teen gifts for $5 or less" on the website Pinterest.

Consignment shops and thrift stores. Each features inexpensive merchandise, but there is a difference between the two. "A consignment shop implies higher-end, quality clothing that has been carefully selected for sale, rather than a thrift store where you'll find a wide range of donated merchandise," says Farrell Klein, a spokesperson for thredup.com, which is more or less a consignment store, but technically a fashion resale site because it pays sellers upfront for their clothing.

In any case, consignment shops, thrift stores and fashion resale stores can all yield inexpensive, appealing gifts.

Your local church, temple or mosque. %VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%Reaching out for help may not be the easiest thing to do, but if you belong to a church, temple, mosque or have some other religious affiliation and are broke, and especially if you have children, this is the time to contact the office and ask if it has any programs or charities collecting holiday gifts for the needy -- and then get yourself on the list.

A charity. Other organizations to consider approaching include Toys for Toys, which has a nationwide network of programs through which it gives wrapped, new gifts to children up to age 12, although sometimes up to 16. The Salvation Army recommends making contact as early as October, so begin looking into its gift-giving program as quickly as possible.

Also check with your local food bank and see if it can connect you with other charities, or the food bank may have its own. For instance, in Central Ohio, a charity called Wagons Ho Ho Ho supports the Mid-Ohio Food Bank and donates 400 wagons filled with food to needy families. Receiving free food might allow you a little extra money for gifts -- and, if nothing else, ensure that nobody's hungry over the holidays.

"The families that receive these wagons many times have to choose between foods and utilities. Oftentimes, food dollars are the first to be cut," says Donn Ditzhazy, board president of Wagons Ho Ho Ho.

Dumpster shopping. It may sound like an act of desperation that only someone hitting rock bottom would try, but plenty of well-off, environmentally minded people do it. It's a form of holiday shopping that has something to offer those with few funds as well as those who simply want to try something different.

Jeff Ferrell never hesitates to do his holiday shopping in Dumpsters. Ferrell is a sociology professor at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas, and author of the book, "Empire of Scrounge: Inside the Urban Underground of Dumpster Diving, Trash Picking, and Street Scavenging."

He says the best items he has pulled from the trash over the years include a diamond bracelet, vintage watches, designer women's wear and expensive writing pens.

But actually searching through Dumpsters for things to give away as Christmas gifts? Yep, Ferrell says he does it all the time -- and people return the favor. "Given that much of what is thrown away is new or like new -- or classic and vintage -- my finds and subsequent gifts over the past few years have included new coats, high-end jewelry, watches, cut glass, artwork and the like," Ferrell says.

True, rooting through trash may not be the most conventional way to shop or the safest way, so if you're intrigued, take common-sense precautions. It also may not exactly be a pleasure cruise for your five senses, particularly your nostrils. But, hey, you can't argue with the price.


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Where to Find the Cheapest Holiday Gifts
Black Friday is an excellent time to buy a new TV, as we predict a variety of size categories will hit their lowest price points. But don't expect the best deals to be tagged with name brands. Typically, the rock-bottom prices apply to third-tier manufacturers; brand-name TVs tend to see their best price of the year in late December as manufacturers look to clear stock before revealing 2014 models.
There's no shortage of digital camera deals around Black Friday, but premium current-generation cameras are just a few months away from being replaced by a new line of 2014 models. If you're eyeing a brand new digital SLR, we recommend waiting until after CES and into February for 2013 cameras to become "old," and thus receive aggressive discounts from retailers.
For those of you looking to get a leg up on any fitness New Year's resolutions, you should resolve to wait to buy any fitness equipment. During Black Friday weekend 2012, we listed just two Editors' Choice fitness deals, while December and January each saw more than five times that amount on a variety of gear including heart rate monitors, ab machines, ellipticals, and yoga equipment.
While we don't know anyone who doesn't appreciate a seasonal throw blanket, we don't recommend giving them as gifts this year unless you've got a stock of them in the closet from last season. Not only does holiday decor get cheaper after the holiday in question, but bedding and blankets fall to their lowest prices of the year come January and February during "White Sales," which have been a colorful tradition since the 1950s.
Perhaps better received than throw blankets, gift baskets and wine subscriptions are especially popular during the holidays. But as the giver, you'll get a better deal on specialty foods (i.e. Omaha Steak gift bundles, fruit baskets, and assorted baked goods) if you wait until December; last year we saw twice as many Editors' Choice deals close to Christmas than around Thanksgiving.

If you have your sights set on a trip to California or Florida, by all means purchase airfare around Black Friday and even closer to Christmas; last year we saw up to 50 percent off coupons from Frontier, JetBlue, and Virgin America. However, if it's an international getaway you're after, we advise you to hold off on booking your flight until the new year. Last year, we saw zero Editors' Choice airfare deals between Thanksgiving and New Year's. But in the first two months of the year, Air Canada offered the lowest base rate we'd seen for flights to Toronto; JetBlue took 80 percent off select flights to the Caribbean; and Lufthansa offered roundtrip fares to Europe for $471.

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