10 ways to build a gift closet that’s both deep and cheap

The holidays are about six months away. Why wait until the last minute to shop? Answer: You shouldn't. And you won't have to if you have a decently stocked gift closet. Some people I know keep their eyes open starting on Dec. 26 and are finished by mid-summer.

It's more than just the December holidays, though. A small selection of “evergreen” gifts (non-perishable, non-trendy) means you're prepared for any birthday, anniversary or new baby that comes along.

Building your gift closet doesn't have to cost much. I always trot out the example of the puzzle depicting the Sistine Chapel ceiling, the perfect gift for a jigsaw-loving relative. Still shrink-wrapped when I found it on half-price day at a thrift shop, it set me back a whopping 35 cents.

If you wait until the last minute, you're likely to spend more. On the afternoon of the baby shower, you might be tempted to stop at the first store you see and grab the item that's closest to the door. Compare that with, say, the 89-cent newborn outfit that I bought at a post-holiday clearance sale.

(It wasn't junk, either, but made by Carter's. And it was cute as hell. I made the girl-noise when I saw it.)

Incidentally, it doesn't really have to be a closet. I keep my stash in a cedar chest that I bought for $15 at a garage sale. Not only are my gifts cheap, they're guaranteed moth-free! Here are some ways to build an evergreen gift stash without breaking the bank.

Clearance tables. Both post-holiday and everyday “last chance” sales can yield amazing finds. In late December the department stores want to get rid of unsold hat-and-scarf sets, gloves, slippers and “executive” gifts (e.g., day minders or business card holders) — and all of these can be held until next year's Christmas or this year's Father's Day. Classic toys (stuffed animals, puzzles, books) can be had for a song if you're patient enough to wait until Target or Walgreens really wants to get rid of them. (I've seen discounts as deep as 90%.) Remember that clearance sales happen in a lot of places: hardware stores, craft shops, drugstores, souvenir stands, supermarkets, office-supply stores.

Tip: If you see a gift set (foodies, spa items) wrapped in a Christmas-y way, break it down and repackage the elements for a January birthday or for Valentine's Day.

Deal sites. Dealnews, Eversave, My Bargain Buddy and other money-saving sites can be dangerous if you're a compulsive buyer. Pick your spots, though, and you might see a lovely package of fancy teas that would be perfect for your sister, or a swell set of socket wrenches that would be perfect for your other sister. You'll spend relatively little to get them, especially if you get site credits for having referred other members.

Social commerce sites. Whether you're buying a gift item or a discounted gift certificate you can use to buy a gift yourself, Groupon et al. can really stretch your buying dollars. Recently I saw a $20 Old Navy gift certificate for only $10, which could translate into shorts, tank tops or other items (especially if you wait for clearance sales). You could also give the certificate itself, if it has a decently distant expiration date — a massage or a spa day would be a great gift for a babysitter, housecleaner or teacher. And a middle-school-aged niece or nephew might love to get $20 worth of buying power at Old Navy.

Thrift shops. It's amazing what you can find in the secondhand store — and as noted above, some of it has never been opened. Extra frugal points if your finds are “tag color of the day” specials or found during half-off sales.

Note: GRS readers discussed at great length whether it's okay to give thrift-store gifts. If this really makes you uncomfortable, don't do it. But here's my advice: Get over yourself. Nobody has to know where you bought the present unless you choose to tell them.

Yard sales. We're heading into the prime garage-sale season. I've found beautiful books, stationery and card sets, candles, book-and-toy combos, journals and other items — all new or seemingly unused — that became birthday or Christmas gifts. None of them cost more than $1.

Tip: Toward the end of the day, go back to the yard sale — they might be ready to haggle.

Rummage sales. The ones held indoors are even better than garage sales, because you're not sweating in 95-degree heat while you shop.

Social media giveaways/contests. Companies will do anything to get noticed — including hand out free clothes, books, sporting equipment, jewelry, TVs, computers or big bundles of cash. (Believe it or not, I once saw a contest whose prize was a year's worth of health insurance.) To find such contests, try using Twitter hash-tag searches (“#giveaway” or “#freebie”) or checking a Facebook app called “Wildfire.” Or do it the easy way: Find yourself a good freebie blogger and watch for the giveaways you really want.

Tip: Free software such as Roboform will fill in contact info automatically, making your entries more efficient. Also: Google “second-chance drawing” — contest junkies, aka “sweepers,” know that the odds are much better than in the initial drawing.

Take online surveys. You have to be choosy, since some companies ask for a lot and give back relatively little. But some people make a decent little side income answering questions. Depending on the site, you can redeem points for physical prizes, gift cards or even cash. I've had a lot of luck with Clear Voice Surveys and Valued Opinions, through which I've obtained dozens of Amazon gift cards in the past few years. (These days I don't keep them, though; I give them away on my website.)

Rewards programs. Got a credit card that gives points? Cash some in for gift cards you can use to shop or that you can give outright. Or join a rewards program like Swagbucks or MyPoints, which let you earn gift cards, prepaid debit cards and other items. I'm particularly fond of Swagbucks, myself; right now I'm squirreling away Amazon gift cards until Black Friday. I've also given Christmas gifts obtained through My Coke Rewards: magazine subscriptions, a NASCAR hat, a set of barbecue tools, T-shirts, movie tickets.

Tip: Ask family or friends to save My Coke Reward points for you. Check the recycle bins at work, or outside your apartment house, too.

Gift swaps. Got a gift you don't want? So do a lot of people. Invite family and friends to bring over items, then trade to your hearts' content. Try not to be sad, though, if someone brings a package of teas or socket-wrench set that look awfully familiar.

More about...Frugality, Giving

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Kristen@TheFrugalGirl
9 years ago

Yes! I do this all the time for my kids. If I see something on clearance or at the thrift store that I know they’d like, I stash it away for a birthday or Christmas present.

I don’t have a cedar chest, though…my finds are unceremoniously shoved underneath my side of the bed (my kids know they’re not allowed to look under there!).

Andrew
Andrew
9 years ago

You really think they don’t look? They must be better-behaved than any children I ever knew!

Kristen@TheFrugalGirl
9 years ago
Reply to  Andrew

I’m pretty sure they don’t look…it probably doesn’t even really occur to them that often as my bedroom is sort of out of the way, and my side of the bed is on the far side of the room.

They are pretty good kids, but I’m sorta biased. 😉

Frugal Texas Gal
Frugal Texas Gal
9 years ago

Ive been known to hide kids stuff at the back side (against the wall) of THEIR beds. What self respectiing lazy teenager actually looks at the far back corner under their bed

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago

My niece “hid” her Black-Friday finds on the top shelf of her closet — and told her two boys that if they tried to see what was up there, it would go back to the store. (The items were in bags, and the boys would have had to drag a stepladder in to open them. In other words, no “accidental” peeking.) It worked. When I was visiting, I opened the closet door to put away some laundry I’d done for her and one of the boys, who had followed me in, immediately turned and ran out of the room. He… Read more »

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
9 years ago

Good tips 🙂 I’ve traded rewards points for gift cards a few times and it really helps stretch the budget.

A few years back one of my siblings got into reading books by a certain author. He let us know that he’s like some as a gift — used or not. I was able to buy him twice as many books by going to the used bookstore and most were in almost new condition.

sandycheeks
sandycheeks
9 years ago

I have kept a gift closet for years, it has come in handy many times. But I won’t use the gift closet for events where someone has registered (i.e. baby shower, wedding shower). In those cases, I prefer to fulfill a part of someone’s wishlist.

No Debt MBA
No Debt MBA
9 years ago

My parents stockpile gifts. Some times with more success than others; my dad doesn’t always have the best of taste when purchasing for the stockpile.

I don’t actually have many occasions to purchase gifts since my family, friends and SO all aren’t big into swapping them. I also have very little extra space in our place to store anything like this. So no gift closet for me.

Erin
Erin
9 years ago

Leo Babauta wrote an interesting article about Christmas presents here:
http://zenhabits.net/bah/. I personally agree with Leo on most of his points. Gift giving is no longer something I engage in. For Christmas, my family forgets the gifts and takes a short vacation instead. You and your family could also give money to charity instead of purchasing gifts. I know foregoing gifts isn’t for everyone, but it sure does take the stress and expectations out of a time that should be about family, not Stuff.

Amber
Amber
9 years ago
Reply to  Erin

Erin/Andrew/No-Gifters – I agree that Experience outranks Stuff – but that is a debate we have talked to death on this site and let’s be real here. There are Always people you need to buy a gift for for some reason (like the baby shower example) and Donna’s point is it is better to have on hand ahead and on sale than to buy in a rush at full price at the last minute. If you want to travel with family instead of give each other Stuff, that is awesome. But your neighbor across the street who plows your driveway… Read more »

Lisa
Lisa
9 years ago
Reply to  Amber

Eh, I don’t buy this argument either. Just because someone does something nice for you doesn’t mean they want a gift in return. Sometimes a sincere thank-you is really enough. Or maybe a nice plate of brownies will do the trick instead of a “thing”.

I can’t see how spending money before I know I need to spend it makes much sense.

Erin
Erin
9 years ago
Reply to  Lisa

I agree with Lisa. Why would I buy something potentially useless for my neighbor who mows my grass while I’m away? I wouldn’t want my neighbor to buy me a useless trinket from their travels. I’d prefer to thank them by performing some sort of useful action, such as mowing their grass when they are away! Reciprocation goes a long way.

Frugal Texas Gal
Frugal Texas Gal
9 years ago
Reply to  Lisa

Because its almost always true that if you buy ahead youll spend less money overall, I suppose. Thats not just true of gifts necessarily. My house is full of meats bought at loss leader prices…if I went out tomorrow and got the steak at the store, It would cost threee times as much.

I think it depens on your personal philsiohy. for me, living on a pension, im more concerned on the overall cost, and so I almost always purchase ahead of needs, except for things like large household appliances.

Amber
Amber
9 years ago
Reply to  Lisa

Lisa and Erin I think you are nitpicking the example so as not to accept the idea as a whole. Everyone will have different needs for a formal or impersonal gift in our pursuit to live rich, gracious, frugal lives. I am sure it is different for each stage of our lives too. A lot of people are stocking up on baby gifts here, but that is not a need I expect to have in the near term, so I would never do that (now). However I expect to be invited to several parties in the next few months, so… Read more »

Lisa
Lisa
9 years ago
Reply to  Lisa

Amber, I don’t think Erin and I are nitpicking this at all. I think you are missing the point. Not everyone wants stuff. In fact, the only person in my circle who wants stuff is my mother. And since she’s my mother, I buy her whatever thing she wants and I don’t mind spending a little more money on it, because you know, she’s my mom. Getting good deals on food, in my opinion, is a different issue altogether. Food can always be used at a later date if stored correctly. I think this kind of post and thinking just… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Amber

If you’d prefer to bake brownies or something like that as a gift (or a thank-you), then go for it. I give homemade jams and cookies to some people during the holidays.
Or don’t give gifts at all. Up to you. But as Frugal Texas Gal notes, you’ll usually spend more than you need to if you wait until the last minute so why not buy when it’s on sale? That goes for brownie makings, too — you’ll probably see some sales on baking chocolate, sugar, flour, etc., as we get into November and December.

Laura
Laura
9 years ago
Reply to  Erin

Ooh— I LOVE the idea of spending Christmas gift money on a family vacation instead! There are no children (yet) in our family, so it’s always just a bunch of adults getting together. We treasure the time and don’t focus on gifts, though we do usually exchange a few small things. It is always a bit of a struggle to rectify the desire to do something special for each other while knowing that none of us needs more crap in our lives. Spending the money on renting a cabin together for a weekend sounds perfect to me. So, thanks for… Read more »

Alison
Alison
9 years ago

I’ve done this kind of thing before and it’s really easy to get out of control. It’s not hard to buy 10 of something if it’s 90% off, but it’s easy to give away one or two and leave the remainder as clutter. If I buy without a specific person in mind half the time I discover that the gift isn’t really suited for anyone I know. I’ve waisted a lot of money stocking up on some item that I later decide I don’t like very much, but is too nice to just get rid of. Yard sales and time… Read more »

Megan
Megan
9 years ago
Reply to  Alison

This. This, this, this.

I have a friend who stockpiles gifts, too, and got to the point where she had an Excel spreadsheet with a list of her inventory, with another column filled with names of people who could receive each gift. Column A would list, like, “puzzle,” while Column B would list “Grandma Sally, Cousin Bertha, and George.” It just seems like a lot of work.

I also hate the idea of having some generic gifts on hand. While I hate shopping, I pride myself in really thinking about each gift recipient.

Frugal Texas Gal
Frugal Texas Gal
9 years ago
Reply to  Megan

I have one of those and its not a lot of work…only for the most part I do it the other way and name the family person and the gifts I have, except for generic gifts. Whether generic gifts are good depends on whether you are in an office that has all those giftable opportunities all the time. I dont know, but I did for years.. I do a four hundred dollar holiday, which includes gifts for two kids, seventeen family members and prime rib christmas dinner for all. My stash includes pewter picture frames, vera bradely, bath and body,… Read more »

Julie
Julie
9 years ago

Does anyone really like getting those Bath and Body products as gifts? I hate them and it seems either my daughter or I get them from somebody at least once or twice per year. I have always suspected that they are merely re-gifts being passed along.

Luke
Luke
9 years ago
Reply to  Megan

Megan, I have to say I agree entirely that giving generic gifts isn’t the most fun and that most of the time you’d be better off not giving anything if you can’t be bothered to take a few minutes to find something they actually want! None of my family are particularly easy to shop for, but wishlists have changed this up and it’s now very easy to purchase something I know they’ll actually want. You’re still free to shop around (for example, Amazon has universal wishlists, or allows you to remove things from family wishlists if you buy them elsewhere).… Read more »

Leah
Leah
9 years ago
Reply to  Alison

totally agree! My mom did (still does?) the stockpile thing. I was at her house over Christmas helping her clean out some boxes. Crazily, we found one of her gift stashes with a lovely pair of bright red mittens. Those ended up in my Christmas pile! But the craziest part? The tag indicated that the mittens were from a store in a city we had left in 1994. So, yes, my mom had a box she hadn’t unpacked in 16 years with gift stash in it!

elena
elena
9 years ago

I love your posts, Donna. Frugal and fun. I like that your gifts are inexpensive to you, but not cheap junk. I’m bookmarking your site now.

I like to look for gifts when I travel. I’m relaxed and enjoy looking then and budget that into my trip.

I used to have a gift box, but the regularity of needing gifts has shrunk for us. Having a few generic baby items on hand is nice though.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  elena

Thanks, Elena. Re travel and gifts: A friend of mine buys a Christmas-tree ornament on each of her travels. Often isn’t really a Christmas-tree ornament, but rather an item that could become an ornament with the addition of a loop of ribbon or a piece of wire. This makes her tree memorable because she gets to recall the places she’s been; I enjoy asking her where she got different items because there’s always a story attached.
This might be a nice subsection of one’s gift closet: holiday ornaments (whether they are or not) from Bali, Honduras, Germany, Nova Scotia….

Susan
Susan
9 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

I do that too. I don’t like to shop much and love to travel, so I always buy a Christmas ornament as a souvenir to take home. My Christmas tree has memories from all my travels, and they are packed away and not clutter for most of the year! Putting up the tree each year brings back all the memories. My friends love to explore looking at all the assortment on the tree. Ski trips, Europe, Islands, Adventure trips….hopefully many more to add.

imelda
imelda
9 years ago
Reply to  Susan

What a lovely idea!! I’ve always hated souvenirs, in general. Recently I’ve been trying to pick up something substantial on my trips, because I DO want something to commemorate them. I’ve tried jewelry, home decor items, etc.

But that’s getting kind of expensive, and sometimes begins to feel like tchotchke souvenirs, too. I love the Christmas tree idea!!!!

Luke
Luke
9 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

Germany is great for Christmas decorations, but Germans are very canny and have well and truly cottoned on to the fact that they sell well.

When we were on a recent trip to Boppard (Rhine valley), decorations were *extortionate*.

The idea of collecting materials that can be incorporated *into* a decoration is a great one, would work particularly well for folk with kids as it could be turned into a craft project as well as a memory of their childhood (and a family holiday).

Crispy
Crispy
9 years ago

I tend to side with the people that don’t care to keep a pile of generic gifts on hand – it just becomes “Stuff” after a while. And neither I nor my friends and family need more Stuff. We’ve really cut back on the gifts that we give to people – most of my family and friends have everything they could want, so when we do give gifts, it tends to be consumable food or beverage items or magazine subscriptions. The one time of the year that I *do* keep a few extra gifts around the house is Christmastime. Having… Read more »

Nina
Nina
9 years ago
Reply to  Crispy

I think you’re really in the same camp as Donna, but under the impression that you’re disagreeing.

Pretty tree ornaments are one of the easiest things to stockpile because they’re 75% off by New Years. They’re also readily available in most thrift stores. If you keep the gift reserve to a shoebox or so you’re benefiting more from having that bit of stuff around all year than buying them as needed in season.

Laundry Lady
Laundry Lady
9 years ago

I have a stock pile of yarn from years past, much of it bought on sale or clearance. (Like my Lion Brand Suede yarn, $5-$8 a skein, bought on clearance for $.99 each). As a result, I usually develop a stock of handmade baby items for showers. For a while I had at least four or five blankets in the closet in girl, boy and neutral patterns. Now it’s mostly yarn in the closet so I have to plan ahead a little more. Fortunately baby sweaters and hats don’t take too long to make. I also have created handmade items… Read more »

PB
PB
9 years ago
Reply to  Laundry Lady

I do this too! I am working my way through my stash of yarn — wasteful to have it around — and am enjoying making baby things that I can give away to the many new family members who are suddenly appearing. Useful, heartfelt, and if I say so myself, beautiful.

Pamela
Pamela
9 years ago

I agree that last minute shopping leads not only to overpriced gifts but some pretty stinky ones, too. But I do like to buy highly personal gifts that reflect what I know about someone. And stockpiling gifts might not be timely or appropriate in that situation. What I do instead is keep a list of potential gifts in a file. When I’m stuck for ideas, I check it out for inspiration. I do usually save money because items on the list are often highly special but not necessarily expensive items that will have real meaning for that person. I also… Read more »

Tanya
Tanya
9 years ago
Reply to  Pamela

I had gotten out of the habit of stockpiling but this post reminds me what a great idea it is. I’m starting the potential gift list idea immediately, and keep it in my wallet where it will remind me to be on the lookout for gift ideas. Like you said, Pamela, I like to give – and receive – gifts that are very personal and have a lot of meaning.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Tanya

Good idea, Tanya. And I’d like to point out to folks that “evergreen” is not the same as “generic.” The gifts I pick out can be personalized to the recipient in that they are high-quality items that this person would love, whether that’s a cloth-bound journal or a well-written novel. What I’m NOT doing is buying six on-sale bath sets and giving them to people who would never use such items. One of my relatives is a single working parent of two high-energy kids. She LOVES getting spa stuff because it’s a way to pamper herself. But I wouldn’t give… Read more »

Frugal Texas Gal
Frugal Texas Gal
9 years ago
Reply to  Pamela

I think it depends on the ineterests of the family-I have four college students in the bunch, two who are improving thier homes, one who is a chef (and I know what tools she has), so its not hard for me to buy a head and have a “personalized gift” Howver, I also buy gift cards and credits ahead for places like amazon, target and william sonoma, and those get used later on in the season.

Juliana
Juliana
9 years ago

Is it possible that Mom might need/want “executive gifts” too?

Coley
Coley
9 years ago
Reply to  Juliana

No, Mom doesn’t need any “executive” gifts. Neither does Dad. Nobody does.

I absolutely hate those things. Any sort of “golf-stress-tie-desk-flashlight-all-in-one-organizer” with green felt on the bottom is a total piece of garbage.

Real executives don’t have any of these things.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Coley

Well, of course it’s possible. I just mentioned Father’s Day as one example of a holiday/occasion.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

P.S. Get used to saying “Oh, how kind of you to think of me!” or “Wow! Thank you so much!” in case an 8-year-old son or daughter, or niece or nephew, gives you an executive gift some day. You’re not allowed to call it “garbage.” You don’t have to USE it, but you do have to thank the giver.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Coley

Now, Coley, unless you personally know every executive on the planet you can’t make that kind of statement.
I agree that a lot of it is junk. But I’m not advocating buying junk. If you see something of this ilk that has a useful function/doesn’t look trashy, buy it. If not, move along.

LMN
LMN
9 years ago

I dunno. You have to be careful about this. I don’t like the idea of always trolling to buy stuff, no matter how cheap. And I’ve been trying to pare down, not build up my piles of things sitting around the house. {Aside — did any of you see the season premiere of the show “Hoarders” on Monday night? Careful about stockpiling stuff “for someday”}… For some people, compulsive shoppers, buyers, people who are trying really hard to change their habits, I think this could be dangerous. I suppose it all comes down to balance, like so many things in… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  LMN

I’m well aware of hoarding. And I’m not advocating it. The point of a gift stash is that its elements are heading back out the door on a semi-regular basis. Put another way: I don’t STILL have the items that I bought at a clearance sale two years ago. They’ve all been given away. But I like having items on hand that can be given on short notice. Example: Last Christmas I gave gifts to several people I found on a swapping site called SwapMamas. One was looking for clothing for a preemie who was about to come home from… Read more »

Pat S
Pat S
9 years ago

White elephant gift exchanges are another great way to keep costs low while ensuring a good time.

T
T
9 years ago
Reply to  Pat S

Eh, it depends on the quality of gifts your fellow exchangers bring. Let me tell you about the neck exerciser I got this past year. xP At least we brought useful gifts…

Amber
Amber
9 years ago

I do this but also keep the “gift spreadsheet” so when I buy something 6 months ahead I know that Grandma Sue is already covered and I don’t go back and buy Grandma Sue 10 more things. It is not a lot of work, I pop open Google Docs, fill in the item, the price, and the name – done. Also, records save me from mistakes such as giving SIL bath soaps more than one year in a row (she was getting a complex but we just didn’t know her at all!!) Also for everyone decrying the accumulation of Stuff… Read more »

Annie
Annie
9 years ago
Reply to  Amber

I laughed at your comment because for the last three years, my brother-in-law and his wife have given me bodywash and lotion for Christmas. It’s nice stuff but I have super sensitive skin and can’t use it, so it gets donated. I hate that they’re wasting their money, but I suspect it’s being regifted to me anyway.

Amber
Amber
9 years ago
Reply to  Annie

Oh believe me I understand now and they will too if you speak up! She turned it into a funny joke and it has never been a problem and no one buys her bath stuff anymore.

Julie
Julie
9 years ago
Reply to  Annie

Annie,
I am in exactly the same situation you are. Those bath and body products give me rashes and yet I get them at least twice per year. I am sure they are re-gifts. I would really be curious to know if anyone ever uses the products themselves.

I don’t usually even donate those. I typically throw them in the trash.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
9 years ago
Reply to  Julie

Funny. My nieces LOVE the bath & body works stuff and go through it like water! Wish I could get all of yours to share with them. I also have a coworker who loves it. I think the shower gel and handsoap are fine but the lotion is too pungent. I give (not as a gift) any lotions I get to either her – so long as she promises not to use them in the office anymore – or to my nieces. Everyone like something different, I guess!

Andrew
Andrew
9 years ago

You may think that holidays/ birthdays etc. aren’t the same without gifts, and you’d be right. They are BETTER! Celebrate these days with experiences–see a play together, cook a complicated meal together, go sailing, take a language lesson–anything that’s different and fun.

There is nothing deadlier and drearier than giving someone a gift just because it’s expected that you do so. Odds are that it’s something you didn’t want to buy and something the other person didn’t really want to have.

Abby
Abby
9 years ago

You know that all these gifts you see at thrift stores and yard sales have NOT been appreciated and that’s why they’re there. Why would you buy and give them, however inexpensive they are? This really bugs me, stop feeling obligated to give crappy gifts already! And tell everyone you give gifts that you’re getting off the crazy merry go round, you won’t believe how relieved you and they will be!

Frugal Texas Gal
Frugal Texas Gal
9 years ago
Reply to  Abby

You know that all these gifts you see at thrift stores and yard sales have NOT been appreciated and that’s why they’re there. Why would you buy and give them, however inexpensive they are?

Well, really, thats an easy one. One person’s treasure is another person’s trssh. The brand new, untouched vera bradely wristlet i got is neither trash nor cheap. Someone bought it, didnt ike it, and put it in the donation pile. Same with the collectible civil war book. The mistake would be to assume that all thrift shop and yard sale goods are “cheap trash”.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago

Again, I’m with Frugal Texas Gal: I see a LOT of beautiful things at yard sales that for some reason weren’t appropriate to the person who received them. Or maybe that person is purging Stuff too, after years of shopaholism.
Their trash IS my treasure. Seriously: I have a relative who keeps a journal. If I see a beautiful blank book for a quarter, why NOT buy it for her? She’s going to use it. It’s not clutter, it’s not Stuff, it’s not trash. It’s a gift that I chose with her in mind.

Nancy L.
Nancy L.
9 years ago

I tried establishing a gift closet, but I found I hated it. If I bought gifts that were generic–scented candles, bath soaps, etc, I never really wanted to give them to people because it was just more “stuff” to clutter up their lives. If I bought gifts ahead of time for specific people, if it was something that they really wanted, they often went out and got it for themselves before the gifting occasion cropped up. Even with my son’s friends, it was hard because if I bought X toys, by the time their birthdays came around, they no longer… Read more »

Crystal
Crystal
9 years ago

This post makes me wonder exactly how much money I have completely wasted over the last 10-15 years, lol. I am bookmarking this and starting my own gift drawer – especially with great baby clothes finds. It seems that everyone my age (28) is getting prego on me, hahaha.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Crystal

Crystal: I see a LOT of really lovely baby items at yard sales. Some of them are seemingly unworn. Some even have the tags on them still.
When I was writing an article about yard sales, I saw an organic cotton baby bib from babyGap — cute, spotless and only 25 cents. Went home and looked it up: the retail price was $12.
Yikes. Go to yard sales, parents! (And gift-givers!)
Kids are always doing something damp and disgusting to their clothes. Does it MATTER where the sleeper or shirt or bib came from?

Adam P
Adam P
9 years ago

I’m sort of a consumable gift giver myself, and don’t really give a lot of gifts unless it’s for someone special, in which case I enjoy taking the time to find that special gift for them (family, best friends, boyfriends/girlfriends). I guess that’s being a guy in his 30s for you, don’t have to deal with the random shower gift problem. When I do need a random gift like this, a bottle of wine is usually what I end up with (birthday party at a person’s house). A high rated bottle for around $20. I’m at the liquor store once… Read more »

MutantSuperModel
MutantSuperModel
9 years ago
Reply to  Adam P

If you’re into wine, developing a nice wine collection is a great way to combine storing something for yourself AND a gift closet. My brother is an expert at getting cases of wine at excellent prices through Craigslist. He gifts many of these (my family is a bunch of winos). Some of these have been VERY special bottles that would’ve been impossible to gift otherwise. Just an idea for you.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago

I never drink…WINE (shout-out to all you Bela Lugosi fans). However, someone told me about a site called AccidentalWines.com, which sells very good wines that for various reasons (damaged label, et al.) can’t be sold at retail.
Not saying you should give damaged-label wines as a gift, unless the recipient wouldn’t mind. But it’s a way to get your own wine cheaper, which in turn stretches your giving dollars.

BeautifulMonster
BeautifulMonster
9 years ago

I learned this lesson as a kid. My mom had an awesome gift closet, both from re-gifting and sale items. She was ready for anything. The other thing I do is buy multiples of good gifts. For example, I once found a sale on Klutz kits and I bought about 5 body crayon packs. Good for almost any age kid and many adults. The things didn’t last a year and everybody loved them. Kids would often open them during the party. Simple trick, great results.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago

I’ve found Klutz gift kits (juggling, jacks) at yard sales for a quarter and yes, kids DO go nuts for them. Which brings up another point: If you get enough cool items like this at yard sales, why not give one “big” thing instead of a goody bag at your child’s birthday party? One more thing about children’s gifts: My sister and I adopt a family each year at the holidays, and I also sent a few out that way via SwapMamas. If the gift is awesome enough, it can also be dropped off at Toys for Tots, the Angel… Read more »

Rozann
Rozann
9 years ago

I’ve done the gift stash for many years; but usually only for my own family. We raised our five children on “used” gifts so when I’m shopping at a thrift store or yard sale and see something that I believe one of them would enjoy I buy it and put it away for either their birthday or Christmas. I keep it all in a big plastic tub in my closet. In late fall I take an inventory and see what I need to fill in the gaps and make a shopping list. They get some used, some new and everybody… Read more »

Andrew
Andrew
9 years ago

Gift closets? Excel spreadsheets? Where’s the spontaneity? Where’s the serendipity? Where’s the joy?

This isn’t fun, it’s just accounting.

Amber
Amber
9 years ago
Reply to  Andrew

Andrew – it’s OK that you don’t agree. But I get a lot of Joy from Excel (yes its nerdy! We’re all a bit nerdy on this site though). Plus I don’t like the last-minute rush so my organized ways help the Peace of the Season come to me more easily.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Andrew

But yard sales et al. ARE serendipitous ways to give! When you see a beautiful item that makes you say out loud, “That would be PERFECT for Linda!” — well, it’s a lot of fun if you like that sort of thing. A few months ago I found those stretchy gloves (the kind that look small but actually fit adults) remaindered at Target: two pairs for 33 cents. I bought a couple of dozen, gifted some to a relative, saved a few for the holiday family and donated the rest to a shelter. Tell me there’s no joy in any… Read more »

Rach
Rach
9 years ago

I have a stash of baby clothes and kids gifts – for the kids gifts I buy craft stuff or tote bags/purses for my daughters friends that we pick out something to put inside like bath stuff, jewelry, a journal etc. Craft stuff usually is appreciated and can be for a boy or a girl.

Jen
Jen
9 years ago

Just be careful of where you keep your stash. We have a family member who keeps a stash. It smells of their basement when you get it.

Also, same person often buys multiples of an item. It’s hard for a kid to look excited the third time they get the same musty-smelling book!

A different family member actually keeps a little notebook of the gifts she gives every year. Says that several times it has prevented her from having the same “great idea” multiple times in a row!

partgypsy
partgypsy
9 years ago

The only thing I do this for is a) kids birthday gifts and b) christmas ornaments. Kid’s birthdays seemed they were coming up left and right and we would often buy something overpriced at the last minute (usually on the way there). Mostly around Christmas time clearance, I stock up on relatively classic gifts for both genders: littlest pet shop and polly pockets for girls, scale cars, latest superhero for boys, and crafts for both are well received. Ironically a couple speed racer toys I had bought, when I got around to gifting them noticed on Ebay they were selling… Read more »

elisabeth
elisabeth
9 years ago

My Dear Husband taught me the value of keeping track of what you’ve given in the past — which he learned from giving his mother the same book on Mother’s Day two years in a row!
But, while we like to buy ahead (our holiday gifts this year will all be variations on “Clouds” and we’ve already bought a number of cloud guide books, cloud-themed note papers and the like), we don’t buy generic gifts to keep around. However, we have been known to grab a bottle of wine from our own rack rather than buy a gift….

Emma
Emma
9 years ago

I shop ahead where I can, but find that it only works if I buy based on specific people. I’ve bought things before because they were such an amazing deal, then I’ve had them sitting around for ages wondering what the heck to do with them. I have made some good buys though. A major Canadian drugstore can have some amazing sales on certain items, and with a rewards card you can get even more bang for your buck. After this last Christmas I went in there for toothpaste and ended up walking out with 5 men’s toiletries gift sets… Read more »

Ali
Ali
9 years ago

I usually really like Donna’s posts, but this habit smacks of hoarding. Also, I think I’ve gotten gifts from gift closets before, and it makes me feel like I don’t rate more personal consideration. I’d rather have nothing than get a gift closet gift. I’m finding that I’m giving fewer and fewer gifts, simply because I don’t want the reciprocation of all of the crap that other people buy on sale.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Ali

If you do it right your recipient will never know it was “a gift closet gift.” Instead, she’ll say “This is great! I’m almost at the end of my current journal!” Or the kid will immediately start playing with the toy. Or the next time you see the recipient on the street she’ll be wearing the hat-and-gloves set.
Again: I’m NOT recommending that we cram our homes to the rafters with second-rate junk. Is the worth of that hat-and-gloves set diminished because you bought it on Dec. 30 rather than on Black Friday?

Amy
Amy
9 years ago

If you’re a good gift giver, it makes sense to buy something when you see it (and when it’s cheap) and then save it for the next holiday or birthday. But if you mainly give gifts because it’s expected and not because you really know someone well, more likely than not you’re just going to give token gifts that are still unwanted. You’ll save a little money, but you’re still not saving time/clutter/hassle in the big picture. For most of us, we get too much and have too much, and it’s really, really difficult to know what someone else would… Read more »

Tracy
Tracy
9 years ago

Try talking to your family and see if they’re willing to forgo holiday gift-giving instead (at least for the adults)… save yourself money, save them the annoyance of dealing with Stuff they likely don’t want. If you do see the perfect gift during the year–the puzzle your puzzle-loving relatives would love for 35 cents in June–great, get it and give it to them then… no need to save appreciating your family for the holidays. They’ll be more surprised to get it then than at the holidays when everyone gives gifts. Caveat emptor, my extended family agreed to skip Xmas gifts… Read more »

MutantSuperModel
MutantSuperModel
9 years ago

I love this post. This line right here made me giggle: “(It wasn’t junk, either, but made by Carter’s. And it was cute as hell. I made the girl-noise when I saw it.)”

A smart gift closet is really not a bad idea at all. My mother does this and the only reason I know is because she’s shared it with me as a tip. Funny enough, my mother is often hailed as one of the BEST gift-givers in my family. She tends to do her best work on E-bay.

Heather E
Heather E
9 years ago

When I was young, my mom had a gift closet for my friends’ parties, but I always dreaded birthday parties because of it. I hated giving a gift that my friend wouldn’t really like. Once kids are over 10 or so, the generic gifts just don’t cut it anymore. Most of this stuff just got donated or thrown away in the end. Recently I ran into a woman at a clothing store shopping for Christmas. She was so proud of the ugly clothes she was picking up for 90% off. She admitted that sometimes the clothes weren’t quite the right… Read more »

Frugal Texas Gal
Frugal Texas Gal
9 years ago

While I appreciate many of the comments, I would simply observe that some of us LIKE giving gifts. My family has deliberately not chosen to give up that tradition, because we like giving so much (not that we also give gift cards, experiences and homemade gifts). While I realize for some folks this is chore, its not for everyone-and w’ere a pretty religious family. Also, with regards to the “joy” as Adam calls it-I absolutely get a thrill when I get a gift for cheap that I know a family member will love-no chore whatsoever. A gift closet does not… Read more »

chacha1
chacha1
9 years ago

I like giving gifts, too. The commenters here who are coming down so hard on the post are clearly forgetting to “do what works FOR YOU.”

Live and let live, people. Your way is not the only way, and Donna is (AS ALWAYS) crystal clear that this type of frugality is not for everyone.

Kyle
Kyle
9 years ago

I have always wondered why my aunt started shopping for next year’s Christmas right after we celebrated Christmas the previous year. As I have grown older, I understand and this article hits its on the head! My dad’s side of the family trade gifts every Christmas, so if we follow the suggestions in this article, it will be not so “expensive” the week before Christmas! Thanks everybody for your comments!

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
9 years ago

After determining what a “gift closet” is, I have decided I will pass on having one entirely.

Anne
Anne
9 years ago

With a baby on the way, you might find yourself with a gift closet in reverse. I have one for all the useless and ridiculous gifts I get on a regular basis. I usually let them pile up and sell them for pennies to the local consignment shop.

(I hope they get used by someone with a different kid and different tastes.)

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
9 years ago

Addendum to my original comment:

“Gift swaps. Got a gift you don’t want? So do a lot of people.”

You know why this is, right? It’s because they get the crappy junk that this article suggests we collect to later force upon our unsuspecting friends and relatives. I wouldn’t want *any* of the things mentioned in this article as “gifts”. Please, save yourself some time and get me nothing if you’re going to give me crap you found at a garage sale for 35 cents.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago

Tyler: I promise not to buy you anything. Feel better?

Andrew
Andrew
9 years ago

Not a proponent, in general, of staying in the closet, but some of these gifts probably should…

Milk Donor Mama
Milk Donor Mama
9 years ago

I do this for certain people. We are not huge gift givers. But my baby boy is about to turn 1, and I’ve stashed several Melissa & Doug wooden toy cars and trains for him, which he will get. I picked them up at the thrift store over the past six months or so and paid a whopping $3 total, instead of the $60 they would have been new. I also keep a small stash of kids’ games, puzzles, markers, crayons and coloring books when my older child (4) gets an unexpected invite to a birthday party. Things that I… Read more »

stephanieg617
stephanieg617
9 years ago

I have a small gift closet as well with kid stuff both to be given to our children and a half dozen or so small presents for birthday parties. This saved us when we were able to attend a 5 year old’s birthday party with no notice (our plans changed and the hosts said please come). The new still in packaging butterfly garden that I paid $1 for was the hit of the party. On Amazon that thing is nearly $20. We also provided the money to ship the caterpillars so it was about $5 for the entire gift. We… Read more »

Hannah
Hannah
9 years ago

I would never stockpile impersonal gifts just to have on hand for when an occasion arises. If a person is only worth an 89 cent gift that I didn’t pick out for them specifically, they’re probably someone who I don’t need to be giving a gift to at all. I don’t feel any pressure to give gifts to people I’m not close to. For the people I am closest to, I enjoy picking choosing well thought out, generous gifts. I know some families are big on giving gifts even to people who are barely acquaintances, but that has never been… Read more »

Frugal Texas Gal
Frugal Texas Gal
9 years ago
Reply to  Hannah

But this assumes that the gifts I buy are worth eighty eight cents in value and that I havent thought who I buy for-I suspect that misses the point of the original article.

This past week I got a real pewter picture frame for around a dollar, for a person who collects silver and pewter frames. Was it cheap in terms of cost? yes. Was I thinking specifically about her when I bought it? Of course.

Vale
Vale
9 years ago

I am right with you Donna! I have had a gift tote for years and it has saved me much time and money – especially with gifts for small children. After Christmas sales are a must shop event for me. I buy birthday and next years holiday gifts at a tremendous reduction. I also shop throughout the year at the clearance racks for gifts for adults and needs for me and my family. Just printed the Old Navy Groupon you mentioned… they have tank tops for $2.- this Saturday and I am sure I will pick up some 4th of… Read more »

Amber
Amber
9 years ago

I think this post just divides the thrift/discount/clearance shoppers from those who do not. One of us is not gonna convince the other side we are right because we both are. Some of us get real joy out of that cheap steal, some would hate to spend the hours of sale-shopping it takes to pull off and could make more money at home blogging. I agree with an earlier poster, do what works for you.

Rosa Rugosa
Rosa Rugosa
9 years ago
Reply to  Amber

And a third type who prefers to avoid or minimize the gifting as much as possible. I personally have been moving in that direction myself.

Bella
Bella
9 years ago

Thankfully is most circles (friends/family) that we operate in there is a strict ‘no gifts’ policy. Birthday parties for adults – no gifts, bring a potluck item and your own drinks. I highly recommend it! The exception is immediate family – in which case gifts are pretty significant – and off a wish list. Same with weddings and baby showers I barely have room in my home to store wrapping paper – a gift closet – no way!

Teacher
Teacher
9 years ago

Thank you- I just signed up for the Clear Voice Surveys. I was always intrigued but fearful of sharing info with possibly illegitimate sites.

Sue
Sue
9 years ago

I do a gift cupboard; when I see something – that I know someone who I would normally buy gifts for anyway – would like, especially if it’s at a good price (or if it’s something unique), I’ll pick it up, throw a post-it note with their name on it, and write it on a list. Come frantic gift-giving season, I know who I have stuff for, and who I don’t. I can spend a minimum amount of extra time and money shopping. It’s a system loaded with serendipity, since I’m not actively looking for a gift at the time,… Read more »

Evangeline
Evangeline
9 years ago

Donna, your ideas are both timely and helpful. To the nitpickers, just remember that a frugal life is all about mindful spending. If you want to have less stress and you would have fun following this menthod, enjoy! If it’s going to bring your spirits down or it’s not your cup of tea, then choose another way to be mindful of your dollars.

Donna, please keep the tips coming. Whether I agree with everyone of them or not, I always am able to garner enough tips to keep me coming back to learn more.

Janet R
Janet R
9 years ago

When my sisters children were small, she always had an au pair. Sometimes they joined us for Christmas, sometimes they went elsewhere, some brought au pair friends living in Jewish homes to join our celebration. I never knew who would show up so I learned to have generic gifts for those awesome young women who joined our lives every year. I was grateful for their care of my family and didn’t like to see them outside the festivities when the rest of us exchanged gifts and when they were undoubtedly missing their own families. Consumables like bath salts, lotions, gift… Read more »

Trina
Trina
9 years ago

My brothers in law work at office jobs and need dress shirts every year, so I always go to the after Christmas sales and get them shirts that would normally be $50 for $2. Thrifty and smart, yes. Generic or cheap, no. 🙂

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Trina

Not generic, not cheap and very likely welcome. Good call.

Julie
Julie
9 years ago
Reply to  Trina

Just wondering where you shop that you can always find dress shirts in just the right size for $2.00 every year.

Andrew
Andrew
9 years ago

If holiday gift-giving were outlawed tomorrow there would be a momentary gasp of dismay from the great American consuming public, but in very short order we would all be wondering how we ever got caught up in these silly rituals.

And that goes double for Christmas cards.

JANE
JANE
9 years ago

I have given clocks for wedding presents and would pick them up when I saw them for a good price. One time a newly wed husband called and asked me where I got it as it didn’t fit their decor so they wanted to return it for something that did. I paused and thought hard. I remembered or so I thought. I hope I gave him the name of the right store. Anyway he didn’t contact me again.

Ellen
Ellen
9 years ago

Love all of Donna’s articles. However – I’m in Canada, and don’t think many of the Web sites are available to Canadians. It’d be great if she could supply some!

20 and Engaged
20 and Engaged
9 years ago

A gift closet is a great idea, but I think I’m going to go the route of making my gifts or no gifts at all.

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