Get gift cards below face value
Using them instead of cash can save you as much as 30% on gifts and everyday purchases.
Looking for deeper price breaks on retail purchases, restaurant meals, entertainment and more? Pay with discounted gift cards.
Cards for hundreds of retailers are available on the secondary market at 3% to 30% less than face value.
Companies such as Cardpool, ABC Gift Cards, Swapagift.com and Plastic Jungle buy cards from people who'd rather have cash than plastic. An aggregator site called Gift Card Granny shows the best rates.
You can buy cards for just about kind of retailer imaginable: supermarkets, drugstores, home and garden centers, gas stations, clothing shops, pet supply stores, restaurants, hair salons, housewares, bookstores, bakeries and department stores.
Use them to send flowers, buy spa services, do some early holiday shopping, treat a friend to lunch, pay for wedding gifts, download music or routinely save 20% on movie tickets. (Or don't pay at all: See "Go to the movies for free" and "Want freebies? Drink some soda.")
Don't see the card you want? Yoy can set an alert at Gift Card Granny to be notified when the card you want becomes available. (Post continues after video.)
Most gift cards have no expiration dates, according to Gift Card Granny. The federal Credit Card Act requires gift cards to remain valid for at least five years from the date of issuance or, if money was added to a card later, five years from when funds were reloaded. The law also limits inactivity and service fees. (Read "It's in the cards," from the Federal Trade Commission.)
How to save even more
If the best deal is at Cardpool or Plastic Jungle, order your card through a cash-back shopping site. Currently the best rebates are at Extrabux.com, which pays up to 1.5%. (For details, read "Get paid to buy stuff.")
Incidentally, Gift Card Granny can also let you know who's paying the most. Selling your unused gift cards is a good way to make some extra cash.
As with any other gift card, it's important not to lose track of what you have. A gift card sitting in a bureau drawer isn't doing you any good.
Discounted gift cards aren't an excuse to go shopping, either. If you don't need it, it's no bargain -- even at 20% off.
More from MSN Money:
Copyright © 2013 Microsoft. All rights reserved.
Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.
WHAT IS FRUGAL NATION?
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.
ABOUT 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.
The popular online program lets you earn Amazon cards, PayPal cash and other rewards.
VIDEO ON MSN MONEY
Even those who don't like to shop are probably hitting the stores this month. Here's what to be on the lookout for and here's what to avoid.