Save money with a holiday gift closet

gift box in hands
CC BY 2.0 Many Wonderful Hands

Start your holiday gift hunting now and your credit card bill will thank you in January.

Holiday spending is predicted to break records this year. The National Retail Federation says U.S. shoppers will drop more than $655.8 billion in 2017, and that holiday-specific spending will increase 3.6 percent. (Over the past decade it's gone up 2.5 percent on average annually.)

Much of this money will be spent on gifts. Gift-giving is a wonderful holiday tradition, something that brings joy to both giver and recipient, but it has the less appealing downside of incurring massive piles of debt. No matter how amazing a gift is, you shouldn't be struggling and stressing to pay it off for months after the Christmas spirit has passed.

It doesn't have to be like this!

One clever solution to combating the holiday gift mania, as suggested by The Simple Dollar, is to start a gift closet. This is a space in which you store gifts you find throughout the year at significantly reduced prices. Not only will it reduce the amount of money you spend because there are no last-minute, high-priced purchases, but you will save on time spent fighting your way through holiday crowds at the mall.

"Many other frugal folks... start their shopping at post-holiday clearance sales, watch the summer yard-sale and autumn rummage-sale seasons, take advantage of coupons and special promotions, cash in rewards points and keep an eye out for free stuff all year long."

"It's too late to do that," you might be thinking, but no, that's not true! It's only the end of October, which means you still have two months to make a bit of headway. And seeking deals at this time of year is still a lot better than waiting till December.

There are a few strategies to help make the gift closet work well.

1. Scout out a variety of sources. Buy used or new, depending on the person you're buying for and their interests. Thrift stores can have really great deals, even still-new items in original packaging. Yard sales and book sales are also treasure troves. Look at online swap sites, such as VarageSale, Buy Nothing Groups, Craigslist, and Kijiji. Organize a gift swap with friends who might have things kicking around they want to trade.

2. Buy in bulk. If you find a deal, stock up and keep it for a while. You might be able to use the same gift for multiple people (in different friend/family circles) or for a birthday party later in the year.

3. Do this for stocking stuffers. Stockings are such fun (I kind of love them more than regular gifts), but they're a money sink. Buying ahead of time allows you to give it more forethought.

4. Keep a list. Especially if you're buying second-hand items, you want to be sure you remember for whom you've purchased a particular item. Keep it handy for easy reference, and you'll always know what's on hand.

5. Store wisely. Keep your stash out of sight and away from kids' curious eyes. It doesn't have to be an actual closet. Cynthia Ewer writes for Organized Christmas, "A gift closet can live in any storage space, so long as it is secure and accessible."

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