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23 ways to spend nothing on gift wrap

You can spend very little for gift bags, wrapping paper, boxes, and bows this holiday season. Or you can spend nothing at all. Here's how.

By Stacy Johnson Dec 8, 2011 11:47AM
This post comes from Karla Bowsher at partner site Money Talks News.

I grew up helping my mother wrap gifts -- in anything but wrapping paper. We used outdated maps, the Sunday funnies, pages torn from National Geographic, and even leftover pieces of wallpaper.

With rare exception, Mom refused to spend money on gift wrap. "It goes right in the trash," she always said.

And she's right. When a gift is opened, the decorative material called "wrapping paper" is instantaneously redefined as "trash." Paying for gift wrap is like using dollar bills as wrapping paper.

So if you wouldn't cloak gifts in banknotes, why are you still paying for gift wrap? I haven't spent a dime on anything but tape in years. In fact, thanks to the tricks I learned from my mother, I estimate I've saved a few hundred dollars over the years. Here's how you can too.


Spend very little
  • Don't forget about the dollar store. It may not be the first store that comes to mind when you head out for gift wrap, but every single dollar store I've set foot in has had a decent, if not downright impressive, gift wrap section.
  • Buy in bulk. Before I was born, my mom splurged on three 500-yard rolls of ribbon: red, green and white. A few decades later, those same three rolls are still in her gift wrap cabinet and will probably last a lifetime. To add color to Christmas gifts wrapped in free paper, she uses red or green. If the gift or recipient is extra special, she uses two or three of the colors together. The rest of the year, she picks the color that best fits the free wrapping paper and the occasion.
  • Take advantage of post-holiday prices. Just as stores mark down leftover bags of Halloween candy every Nov. 1, they move winter holiday-themed gift wrap supplies to the clearance section by Jan. 2. 
  • Think like a minimalist. Sure, wrapping paper with plump penguins ice-skating in festive scarves and mittens elicits "awwww" every December. But is building a collection of specialized gift wrap for every major holiday really worth the money and storage space? If you insist on paying for store-bought gift wrap, try a versatile color scheme.
Spend nothing

Free wrapping paper:

  • Maps. Outdated maps make novel wrapping paper, as do the map inserts that often come in National Geographic magazines.
  • Magazines. Colorful magazine pages make unique wrapping paper for small boxed gifts. If you don't subscribe to any magazines, ask friends or family for their old issues, or inquire at your local recycling center. Just don't steal from your neighbor's curbside recycling bin. You may have seen extreme couponers do it on TV, but scavenging is illegal in some locations. 
  • Comics. The funnies section of the Sunday newspaper makes great wrapping paper for kids' gifts. Again, ask friends or family for their old newspapers or visit a recycling center.
  • Newsprint. Other sections of the newspaper work too. Special weekend sections of national newspapers often feature fancy images and designs. (I often use my father's weekend Wall Street Journal.)
  • Wallpaper. If you happen to have leftover wallpaper in the garage, it makes unique wrapping paper.
  • Old book pages. Do you own books that collect dust in a corner because you never read or need them anymore but never got around to donating or selling them? Remove the binding (paperbacks cooperate better than hard covers), and use the pages as wrapping paper.
  • Brown bags. Grocery bags makes sturdy if plain wrapping paper.
  • Shopping bags. The inside of paper shopping bags (often used by mall-based stores) and the outside of colorful ones also work.
  • Used wrapping paper. Sometimes wrapping paper is torn to pieces when a gift is opened, but it's often left intact and unwrinkled enough to reuse.
  • Homemade wrapping paper. Certain types of free wrapping paper materials make drab gift wrap. But you can jazz it up with paint, crayons, stickers, stamps, or whatever arts and crafts supplies you have on hand. Your plain wrap will become a personalized conversation starter. This is also a great way to involve the kids, especially if they aren't yet coordinated enough to help you wrap gifts. Post continues below.

Free gift bags:

  • Used gift bags. Most gift bags can be reused several times before they show any wear or tear, so save every bag you receive in decent condition.
  • Shopping bags. Some paper shopping bags, especially holiday-themed ones, are nice enough to save and reuse as gift bags.
  • Used tissue paper. Tissue paper naturally wrinkles when stuffed in gift bags. So unless it's torn, save and reuse the tissue paper that comes in gift bags you receive. No one will be the wiser, and it stores easily if you fold it up or gently stuff it into a rigid container like a shoebox.
  • Tissue paper alternatives. Use one of the free wrapping paper options as tissue paper.

Free boxes:

  • Used boxes. Every time I receive a box in the mail or purchase something that comes in a box, I stop and think before tossing it. Would this box be useful for a gift (or for mailing anything, for that matter)? If the answer is yes, I stash it in a spare dresser that now houses a few dozen boxes ranging from small jewelry boxes to large shoe boxes.
  • Warehouse boxes. Wholesale warehouses like Costco and Sam's Club give boxes away. So, instead of picking boxes that fit your groceries, take boxes that would work best for gifts.
  • Household boxes. Check your closets or kitchen cupboards if you need a box in a pinch. Many people stick empty electronics boxes on the top shelf of a closet, and even a cracker or cereal box would work.

Free trimmings:

  • Used bows. When you receive a gift that has a bow in decent condition, save and reuse it. If it has lost its stickiness, use a piece of double-stick tape.
  • Homemade bows. Make your own bows with a no-cost material. How About Orange, the blog of an Illinois-based designer, has the best step-by-step tutorial I've seen for making bows from magazine pages.
  • Used ribbon. Ribbons are often cut when a gift is unwrapped, but if you open gifts carefully, you can sometimes salvage a long enough piece to reuse.
  • Ribbon alternatives. Save longer scraps of string or yarn that you happen across. Even spare shoelaces make a sturdy, if funky, ribbon.
  • Used greeting cards as accents. Save the nicest holiday cards you receive every year. Ones with colorful images or creative designs on the front can be cut in half so you can tape (use double-stick) the front half to gifts wrapped in drab materials like brown paper bags or black-and-white newspaper.
  • Used greeting cards as tags.  The front half of fancy cards can also serve as gift tags. Write the "To:" and "From:" on the blank side, punch a hole in one corner, and attach it with a ribbon.

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