How to Spend Less on Holiday Gifts (Without Looking Cheap)

"While hunting for gems, tag items to your watch list to see if the price drops before you’re ready to buy."

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Nothing has the potential to bust your budget like the holidays. According to a recent Student Loan Hero survey, 31 percent of respondents expect to rack up enough holiday debt that it’ll take four to six months to pay it all off. So it’s no wonder 41 percent rated their holiday shopping stress level at least a 7 out of 10.

One way to avoid suffering a painful holiday debt hangover? Spend less on gifts. Here are seven ways to do that—without crossing anyone off your gift list.

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1. Pack this three-step savings punch.

First, find a killer sale—like on a shopping holiday—for the item you want to buy. Then Google the store name plus “coupon” to score free shipping or another discount, suggests Lindsay Sakraida of DealNews. If you’re a new customer, you can also sign up for the store’s newsletter; often, the intro email offers 10 to 15 percent off. Finally, use a credit card with generous incentives, like cash back, to maximize your savings.

2. Scout out a unique eBay find.

From dragon toilet paper holders for “Game of Thrones”-obsessed friends to sports memorabilia, if it’s on someone’s holiday list, you can probably find it on eBay—for a wide range of prices—making this a great place to nab cool stuff for cheap.

While hunting for gems, tag items to your watch list to see if the price drops before you’re ready to buy. And don’t be afraid to ask sellers if they’re willing to accept less.

3. Try bartering.

To get rid of home clutter and score a gift for someone on your list, consider bartering clothes on sites like SwapStyle and thredUP; you can do the same for games, electronics and other goods on Swap and SwapAce. Just pay close attention to condition. If in doubt, ask for photos so you can do a once-over and ensure the item is gift worthy.

4. Check out a sample sale.

If you live in a major city like New York or Los Angeles, take advantage of sample sales, where you can load up on brand-name fashion. Depending on the sale, you can reasonably expect 50 to 80 percent of the retail price of designer wares.

5. Empty your spare change jar.

Been throwing extra nickels and quarters into a jar for months or years? Take it to a nearby Coinstar. If you opt to redeem your coins for an e-gift card, Coinstar waives the standard 11.9 percent fee, says Chicago-based writer Annie Logue. One year, she exchanged $200 worth of change for an Amazon gift card, which she spent on books and stocking stuffers for her family.

6. Redeem credit card reward points.

Often, rewards cards will have promotional periods or specific categories that allow you to earn more points that can be redeemed for holiday gifts. For example, blogger Nicole Rule racks up 5x points for gas, groceries and dining out purchases on a Gap store card. This year, she plans to cash them in for sweaters, jeans and shoes for her kids.

Keep in mind: Store cards often come with high interest rates, so be sure to pay off your balance in full every month.

7. Regift.

This classic gift-giving tactic has a bad rap, but who’s to know that $50 Sephora gift card was collecting dust in your drawer for six months? (Psst, you can also sell unused cards on sites like Giftcard Zen or Cardpool for holiday spending cash, or simply use them to purchase gifts outright.)

You can also repurpose unused items in your personal inventory. Avigayil Brown, a 24-year-old assistant in N.Y., stocks up on bath sets, lotions and candles at some of her favorite retailers during semi-annual clearance sales, which she says are perfect for Secret Santa exchanges, holiday gift drives and some relatives.

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