13 ways to get free stocking stuffers
Little things mean a lot -- but they don't have to cost a lot. Stretch your gift-giving budget with these frugal tips.
These days some people put almost as much work (and money) into filling the socks as they do on the under-the-tree gifts. A couple of years back I saw an article about "stocking stuffers under $25."
Yikes! I don't spend $25 on stocking stuffers for all my friends and family put together.
There's no reason you should, either, when so many free and cheap sources of small gifts are out there.
If you're looking to simplify the holidays, simply ignore this fill-the-sock tradition altogether. A minimalist approach may feel more sane.
Me, I like giving gifts and I like filling stockings. I just don't like overpaying. Here is a baker's dozen of tips on getting treats for free. Get started now and you'll be stocked for stockings by the time Dec. 25 rolls around.
Be on the lookout
1. Keep your eyes open. Chances are you'll start seeing free items like java singles given away at coffee shops, or perfume and makeup samples at department stores. My hairdresser keeps a bowl of free shampoo and conditioner singles for her customers. Bath-and-body product stores sometimes offer free samples at the register.
2. Regifting rules! Did you receive a sudoku book, coffee gift card or frou-frou lotion set that you know you'll never use? Maybe somebody else will.
3. Conference calls. At many professional seminars or conferences the sponsoring companies offer promotional items. In the last couple of years I've gotten quite a few giftable treats: small notepads, a coffee gift card, lip balm, stress balls, hand cream, pretty pens, flash drives and "rattlesnake eggs" (pairs of small, oval magnets -- a big hit with my young nephews).
4. Leftover Halloween candy. Throw some of those chocolates in the freezer right now -- preferably the ones whose wrappers aren't overtly Halloween-themed.
Work (a little) for it
5. Take surveys. Sign up now and you might get enough to get one or gift cards (or some extra cash) by the holidays. In a post called "Top 5 survey sites: The best survey sites on the Web," About.com frugality writer Erin Huffstetler cites companies like Harris Polls, which she calls "the Cadillac of survey sites," and ZoomPanel, which has "a great collection of rewards." I've had good luck with Clear Voice Surveys and Valued Opinions, and have heard good things about Pinecone Research, Toluna, Synovate and SurveyHead.
6. Enter drawings. I've won quite a few items -- toys, dining gift certificates, fancy coffee, videos, an iPod Shuffle -- just by filling out a form or dropping my business card in a box. If you're lucky enough to win a prize that's too big for a stocking, put a picture of it in the sock.
7. Got rewards? Huffstetler suggests redeeming points from rewards programs like Swagbucks or MyPoints. Use the gift cards to buy treats, or just give the cards outright. I redeem free movie tickets from My Coke Rewards for my daughter and son-in-law.
Not a rewards site member? Join now and you can probably earn enough for at least one gift card by Christmas. (Swagbucks in particular is generous with the points, especially if you like to play games or take surveys.)
Be a fan
8. Social media giveaways. Companies give away snacks, beauty products, toiletries, gift cards and other goodies to get attention. Follow companies whose products you like and check in at least once a day. (Note: Start a separate e-mail account to keep freebie mail from cluttering up your inbox.) If you're really ambitious, check out…
9. Social media contests. Cameras, computers, airline tickets, electronics, jewelry, automobiles and cold, hard cash are given away regularly. (I've interviewed folks who win routinely.) The Facebook application "Wildfire" provides a list of current contests; use the "ending soon" filter so your prizes will arrive by Christmas.
11. Black Friday gift cards. Read the ads carefully, because some stores hand out gift cards (or small gift items) to the earliest shoppers. For example, last year Half Price Books gave the first 100 customers tote bags with $5 gift cards inside -- except that one bag held a $100 card.
12. Coupon/rebate deals. Drugstores aren't offering quite as many free-after-coupon or free-after-rebate deals as they once did, but it's still possible to score lotion, makeup, toothbrushes and toiletries. Last year several stores offered special free-after-rebate items on Black Friday; watch the ads and BF websites to see what's available this year.
13. Check the mail. Some department stores mail spectacular coupons, e.g., "$10 off a purchase of $10 or more." Spend as close to $10 as you can. Huffstetler received a $20-off-$20 coupon from The Limited, which meant "a completely free sweater" for someone on her list.
Five or six times a year I get a "free underpants" coupon from Victoria’s Secret, the results of which end up in my daughter's stocking. After all, it isn't really Christmas unless someone gives you socks or underwear.
Readers: Got any sources for free holiday treats?
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I get a lot of my stocking stuffers at the dollar store. Also, don't forget your usual coupon items that make good stocking stuffers. Tic Tacs, gum, chap stick... all usually have coupons that when combined with a sale make them very inexpensive stocking gifts.
I wrap everything in the stocking with lots of paper and extra tape. When my daughter wakes up, she is allowed to open her stocking before we get up in the morning. It buys me about an extra 1/2 hour of sleep.
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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.
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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.
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