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13 frugal gift-wrapping tips

Why spend a fortune on stuff that will be torn to shreds on Christmas morning? Use these alternatives to ribbons and bows.

By Donna_Freedman Oct 31, 2012 2:58PM
Logo: Gifts (Image Source Black/Jupiterimages)How much do you spend on wrapping supplies each holiday season? And does it irritate you to see those pretty papers and beautiful bows torn and tossed aside?

Frugal options exist, of course: 
  • Stock up at the after-Christmas sales. Last year I paid as little as 50 cents per giant roll of paper and a dime apiece for bags.
  • Look for wrapping supplies at thrift stores and yard sales.
  • Open gifts as carefully as you can, and reuse the paper and ribbons next year, trimming off the tape marks/ragged edges.
  • Check the recycle bin behind your apartment building, since a ton of gift bags and wrapping paper will be chucked come Dec. 26. I've rescued and reused both; a couple of years back, I found a giant, still-shrink-wrapped roll of wrapping paper next to the Dumpster.

But maybe carbon footprint is as important to you as cost. According to Stanford University, if every American family wrapped three presents in reused materials, the saved paper would cover 45,000 football fields.

A frugal and eco-friendly approach would be to place gifts under the tree with tags and no wrapping. Of course, though, the tantalizing "What could this be?" factor provides a holiday frisson, and some people really do love to tear open a gift.

Creative, inexpensive and eco-friendly alternatives for holiday and special-occasion gift wrapping can save you money and/or ease your environmental guilt. Start looking for these items now, and you'll have plenty by mid-December. Keep your eyes open the rest of the year, too, especially as regards secondhand stores and garage sales.

Bonus: A bunch of these ideas are paper-based. There's nothing like that "rrrip!" sound as an excited child (or spouse) tears into a mysterious package.

Reduce, reuse, recycle

1. The Sunday funnies.
Colorful and fun at any time of the year. Not a subscriber? Talk to the manager of a coffee shop, fast-food joint or family restaurant to see if you can pick up the comics on Mondays. They'd just be recycled anyway. (You might also be able to get extra coupon sections this way, either for yourself or to use to help others.)

2. Newspaper end rolls.
If there's a newspaper or printing company near you, inquire about buying the nearly depleted rolls of newsprint, which still have a lot of paper on them. Use them plain, or paint, stamp or otherwise decorate. (It's one way of keeping kids occupied the week before Christmas.)

3. Grocery bags.
Cut them open, and wrap with the supermarket logo on the inside. Stamp or paint them, or simply accent with twine à la "brown paper packages tied up with strings . . ."

4. Maps.

Check yard sales (including the "free" box) and thrift stores. Or maybe Doctors Without Borders mails you two or three a year.

5. Magazines/comic books.
I once knew a woman who chose arresting images from fashion magazines to wrap small gifts. Comic book/graphic novel pages would work, too.

6. Foreign-language newspapers.
Sometimes these are available for free; if not, check coffee shops in areas with sizable ethnic neighborhoods.

7. Sheet music.
Perfect for a music student or aficionado. Again, check thrift stores or estate sales.

A softer approach

8. Fabric wrap.
Cloth left over from a sewing or craft project can be folded around a gift, in an origami-like style called "furoshiki." Hit the after-Christmas sales this year for holiday-themed fabric at a discount.

9. Fabric gift bag.
Fold cloth in half, and stitch up two sides. Tie it shut with a piece of ribbon, or, if you're feeling crafty, stitch a drawstring in place.

10. Scarves.
Have some you haven't worn for years? Use them as gift wrap, and de-clutter your closet at the same time. Or check thrift stores and garage sales.

11. Towels or sheets.
Cut thrift-store or yard-sale sheets down to make furoshiki-styled wrapping, as noted above. Make towels part of the gift, e.g., a kitchen gadget in a tea towel or spa items in a soft bath towel.

12. Tote bags/reusable shopping bags.
These tend to accumulate, whether from community festivals or professional seminars. The shopping bags in particular are a nice touch, especially if they fold small enough to fit in purses or briefcases.

13. Santa's bag. Make a big drawstring bag for everyone in the family; add names with iron-on letters, or, if you're a big show-off, embroider them on. No wrapping is required at all -- just put presents into the bags. On Christmas morning, each person will feel that Santa left an entire sack of gifts just for him or her.

How do you save on gift wrap?

More on MSN Money:

Nov 28, 2012 12:55PM
I have used white freezer paper with spray painted "snowflakes" from paper doilies as stencils.  I have also used aluminum foil with glitter; and, yes, brown paper grocery bags for an old fashion country look with fresh greenery, twine or ribbon, or inexpensive picks and ornaments.  The possibilities are endless! 
Nov 8, 2012 9:36PM

Oh, for heaven's sake. Just by some large-sized tree tinsel (still on the cardboard card) just after the holiday.  I bought white and silver. Then, when people give you gifts in bags, keep the bags (try to snag any that other people do not want). I have a big collection, now.  I pop the gift in the bag, put the tinsel on top, and it is very festive looking.  I use the white tinsel on top of birthday bags (or whatever other celebration we are having).  When we open gifts, the tinsel goes into one storage bag and the gift bags into another--that's the cleanup.


We do buy wrapping after Christmas (we try to buy solid-color wrapping) for 75% off, and that's what we wrap presents for other people in, no matter what the occasion. We watch the grocery store/pharmacy for their 75% off ribbons (which were cheap to begin with). I also save ribbons from presents that I get and reuse them if they are pretty.  I've got a nice little stockpile.


Seriously--if you get to the point that you are using grocery bags, then you are being silly.  It takes more effort to make those look good enough so as not to be embarrassed than it is worth. I really don't mind spending 25 cents to 75 cents so that no one can tell the difference between my presents and the next person's gift. It is fine to be frugal oneself and to do without oneself, but when one is affecting others with one's little mania for not "wasting," then it gets excessive.


When people can't miss the fact that you are being "frugal," you are being too "frugal."  That's the point that it descends to "miserly" and "cheap."

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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.