How to Afford Gifts on a Tight Budget

Okay. So, now we know why gift giving is important, and we have ideas for how to come up with good gift ideas, but how do we afford to actually purchase the things we come up with?

While gift giving is a wonderful way to show that you care, it shouldn’t put you in debt or detract from paying bills or buying necessities. It’s just not that important. It’s fine to have wisely ordered priorities.

So, if you are on a tight budget, how do you afford gifts?

Budget for Them

Do you have a budget? If not, maybe you should consider it. (Another blog post for another day?)

It’s a lot easier to find the cash to buy gifts if you’ve been setting a little bit aside from each paycheck.

Take some time to determine how much discretionary income you have (left over money after you pay taxes and bills and maybe invest in a 401k) and then determine how much of that you’re willing to put towards gifts. It might be $5 per paycheck or it might be $20. Figure out what makes sense for you and then put that amount aside each time you get paid.

Based on this number and how often you get paid, calculate how much money you will have to buy gifts with each year. If you get paid every other week and decide to set $10 aside from each paycheck, this will be: annual gift budget = 10 x 26. Or $260 per year.

Now divide that number by the number of people you want to buy gifts for. Say you want to buy birthday and Christmas gifts for your Mom, Dad, brother, Grandma and two best friends. That’s 6 people for two gifts each so: budget per gift = 260/11. Or $23.63 per gift.

Once you know this number, stick to it! If you spend less on one gift, keep in mind that you can pay a little extra for another (and vise versa).

I get it, this is a lot of thinking and planning ahead for something as simple as buying gifts, but trust me when I say it takes so much stress out of the process. And if you want to add a bit more of your discretionary income to your gift budget around the holidays. Go for it!

Shop for Gifts Year Round

Much like my “pro tip” to listen for gift ideas all year, keep your eyes open for gifts all year.

Believe it or not, January is a great time to go gift hunting! In January stores massively discount all their left over Christmas paraphernalia, including gift items. January is also the month when everyone is returning the Christmas gifts they don’t want, and these are often put back on selves at a marked down rate. Stores are also running sales in January because everyone has been in a spending frenzy since Thanksgiving and they tend to tighten up on their wallets after New Years.

You can also make a habit of checking the clearance aisle/clearance racks in various stores. My favorites are Marshalls, Michaels, JoAnn, and Kohls. There are a lot of Black Friday worthy deals all year long if you think to check.

Go ahead and designate a shelf in your closet or a box under your bed (that’s my method), and store your purchased-in-advance gifts there for future gifting needs.

Worried you won’t remember that you won’t remember that you already bought a present for Mom’s birthday? Take advantage of the spreadsheet I use to track the gifts I’ve purchased throughout the year. Just input gifts to the spreadsheet each time you make a purchase and check it before you buy a gift.

I store my tracker on Google Sheets so I can access it from my phone when I’m shopping.

P.S. These tips apply to handmade gifts too! Don’t forget to shop deals for the materials you need to make handmade gifts.

Sign Up for Email Lists

I know they’re annoying, but they’re also helpful.

Remember the tip about checking Instagram to see what small businesses your family member or friend follows? Shop that business at a discount by signing up for their email list and waiting for a sale. Or maybe you’ll get a discount just for signing up!

Some businesses run sales all the time, while others run only a few throughout the year. Plan accordingly. For example, if I want to get a friend a Bible study journal from Well Watered Women, I know that they run very few sales. If I miss their Thanksgiving sale, I’m going to have to wait a long time before they run another sale. Having missed the sale, I might consider buying from The Daily Grace Co instead because they run sales frequently.

If you’re trying to buy on a budget, you’ll learn the sales schedule your favorite gift sources operate on and you’ll be able to plan when to buy what to get the best deal.

Don’t Be Afraid to Shop Thrift Stores

My group of family and friends don’t mind getting quality, second hand clothing as gifts, but even if you’re not into that, thrift stores can still be a great place to buy gifts.

For one, it’s entirely possible to find brand new items at thrift stores. You’ll pay a little extra. But it’ll still be way below retail prices.

Most thrift stores have lots of options besides clothing, though.

One of my friends collects red and white transferware china, so I check the kitchenware aisle of Goodwill every time I visit. Here’s a (tiny) list of other items I’ve found at thrift stores in the past several months that could make great gifts:

Have a family member or friend who really loves a specific brand of clothing? Try Poshmark where you can filter items to only see items that are “new with tag,” allowing you to buy brand new name brand items at lower prices. (If you don’t already have an account, insert my username – leahegood – as your referral code when you sign-up and we’ll both get $10!) You can also buy new makeup, accessories, handbags, and home decor on Poshmark. If you see something you like but it’s a little out of your price range, you can even make the seller an offer and see if they’ll come down on their price!

Ebay can also be a great source of discounted but new (or like new) gifts and some sellers allow you to make offers.

Regift Strategically

Regifting is the ultimate “gifting on a budget” hack.

This works especially well with gifts that weren’t selected especially for you. Think grab bag gifts from your work Christmas party or prizes for games at a baby shower. If there’s an opportunity to select what you want in situations like these, I often make my selection with regifting in mind.

If you receive a gift that was given specifically to you, but you don’t like it or won’t have opportunity to use it, be careful to note who you got it from so you don’t accidentally give it back to them or re-gift it in front of them. Try popping a sticky note reminder on the item before stowing it away in your box of gift inventory.

You can even make use of unused gift cards! Have a card with an awkward amount on it? You have two options.

  1. Try using the gift card to buy a new gift card from the same store. According to the linked article, not all stores will allow you to do this. But some will. It’s a matter of trial and error.
  2. Sell the gift card and get cash. You’ll lose money by using this option, but if you have a gift card for a store you don’t frequent and your family and friends don’t care for either, you might as well still put the card to use! I’ve heard of this before but just tried it for the first time using Card Cash and it worked! You can also buy gift cards at a discount from this website and if you use my referral link, we both get $5 off a $25+ purchase.

Use Coupons

Sorry to be Captain Obvious, but … don’t forget the lowly coupon!

That 30% off at Kohls we all get in the mail? Remember, Kohl’s doesn’t just have clothing. Use the coupon to buy towels for the bridal shower you got invited to or pick up an air fryer for your Mom’s birthday.

40% off at Michael’s? Grab soap to make hand molded soap for Christmas.

And don’t forget that coupons aren’t limited to what you receive in the mail anymore.

Whether shopping for gifts or for myself, I often Google, “coupons for xyz store” before I get in the check-out line at a store like Hobby Lobby (they always have a coupon) or Macy’s (they sometimes have a coupon). Writing this post made me think of this when out Christmas shopping a few days ago and I got $15 off my purchase! Downloading the store app to your phone often gives you easier access to current coupons and deals.

You can also add an extension, like Honey (yes, this is what I use and yes, it’s a referral link), to your web browser to automatically scan for active coupon codes whenever you check out online. Most of the time you won’t find any active coupons, but it’s worth it for the times you do. I saved $7 on top of an existing sale using Honey on Cyber Monday!

No matter what thrifty tricks you use to make it work for you, it’s totally possible to buy or make great gifts, even on a tight budget. It just takes a little bit of planning ahead and deal hunting.

What are your favorite tips and tricks for buying gifts (or anything else) on a budget? Which of these ideas do you like best? Were any ideas new to you?

Visit the Other Posts in This Series

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