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My frugal hack Christmas

On a tight budget? You can probably still give. I am, and I did.

By Donna_Freedman Dec 24, 2009 5:12PM
A whole bunch of this year's holiday presents were frugal hacks. Almost all of the gifts I gave cost more to mail than they did to buy. The mailing supplies were free, though, and I think I should get extra credit for re-gifting some gift cards. Is there a word for that?

Lest you think I'm handing out dessicated bath sets from last year's post-holiday sales, I'll list some of the presents that I gave. Would you have been upset if you got:
  • A $25 Visa gift card? This one was free from a credit cards reward program. (And no, there's no annual fee for the card.)
  • A selection of homemade jams? These were made from fruit I got for free and on-sale sugar (as cheaply as 29 cents for four pounds with coupons). It was put up in jars that I got from the thrift store. I did have to buy new jar centers, but I consider these free because I got a $30 bonus when I purchased a $300 grocery store gift card. 
  • A "Blast-Off Bingo" game from Little Einsteins? My great-nephew's gift cost about $2 from a clearance rack late last January.
  • A $25 Wal-Mart card? I got this one for free from a rewards site.
  • A magazine subscription? I got two of these free from another rewards site.
  • Excellent fiction? I got several books for less than a dollar from 90%-off tables and the university's lost-and-found sale.
  • A $50 Wal-Mart card, a $50 Safeway card or a $25 California Pizza Kitchen card? All were given to me; I regifted them.
Then there were the stocking stuffers: small toys that I got from yard sales, a few of them from the "free" box; kids' toothbrushes and toothpaste, a couple of fancy lip balms and several bottles of body wash, all free after rebate; and stickers, scrapbook supplies and novelty Band-Aids that cost between 19 and 50 cents thanks to deals with cents-off coupons.

I gave a gift certificate for five hours of my time to a family for whom I babysit. Normally I give jam, but a third child was born a couple of weeks ago so I specified that the certificate is good either for child care or for light housekeeping. I'm thinking they might choose the latter. (I certainly would.)
Using store credit that I got for turning in spent ink cartridges at an office supply store, I "bought" a couple of LED keychain flashlights, a 24-pack of AA batteries and some new ink cartridges for my daughter and son-in-law. Bonus: The $12.99 price of the batteries gets added to my next store credit.

Previous store credit had paid for a large roll of bubble wrap that kept those homemade jams protected during transit. Sending this year's gifts in flat-rate boxes was almost always cheaper than regular rate -- I checked at the usps.gov site -- and I also saved 50 cents per box by printing out postage from home. (More to the point, I didn't have to wait in as many lines.) The free USPS boxes were secured with mailing tape that I got free after rebate at Rite-Aid.

My point: You don't have to go broke during the holidays if you keep your eyes open the rest of the time.

Your budget will thank you if you click on a few rewards-site e-mails every couple of days, check clearance bins, devote part of a Saturday to yard-saling, use rebate programs, dip into the thrift store every so often. Build your stash, re-gift creatively and this time next year maybe you'll feel as happy (and solvent) as I do.

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