Easy Ways to Earn, Make, and Give Free or Cheap Gifts

With Christmas less than two weeks away, you may be feeling the crunch to get the perfect gift in time. Or perhaps, your gift budget is running low, yet you still have quite a few people on your list to give gifts to. Here are easy last minute solutions to earn free or cheap gifts for the season.

1. Swagbucks:

Many people have mentioned the fun and ease of Swagbucks. Have you signed up already? Are you participating every day to get bucks? Spending just a few minutes each day searching, doing the daily poll, and other small and fast tasks will add up quickly. You will easily receive more points for every person that signs up under you. Once you have someone sign up under you, every time they earn a Swagbuck, you earn one too. For easy earning, sign yourself up and then have your spouse or family member sign up under you. My husband and I spend minimal time on Swagbucks and earn at least a $5 Amazon gift card each month. I know you may be thinking, “What can $5 buy me on Amazon?” With no taxes (in most states) and a prime membership, $5 can choose from a lot of small and affordable gifts for kids and friends. Also, the Amazon gift card available on Swagbucks can be combined in your Amazon account to add up to a greater amount.

2. Coinstar:

While Coinstar does not exactly reward you with free cash, it can turn your huge coin collection into real hard gift cards. When you cash in your coins to Coinstar and redeem them for gift cards, including the Amazon e-gift certificate, you do not have to pay any extra fees that are usually associated with cashing in coins for cash. Coinstar recently added gift cards for Chili’s Grill & Bar, Maggiano’s Little Italy, Papa John’s, and Toys”R”Us. You may be surprised by how many coins you have. Even cashing in enough to earn a $5 gift card puts you $5 ahead in your spending budget.

3. Homemade:

Homemade gifts can be wonderful gifts. They are thoughtful and usually cost more time than money. So if you have the time, try making things from scratch. Here are some ideas for fun gifts to make under $5:

  • layered cocoa in jarsMake homemade caramel sauce and pair it with homemade hot chocolate mix. Place them in small glass jars with a cute note saying, “Have a sweet Christmas”.
  • Pair a small bag of gummy worms with a notebook full of quotes from books, a pen, and perhaps a book (check the local thrift store for great deals). Attach a note saying, “To my favorite book worm”.
  • A bag of popcorn with a handmade ticket that says, “Admission to One Free Movie Date with me” (Of course, this may cost more than $5 when they do wish to see the movie, depending on what time you go).
  • Cover a wooden letter (check your local craft store) with yarn for a home decor gift great for the whole family.
  • Fill a tea cup with several bags of tea and pair with a side of homemade scones or tea cakes.
  • Bake bread from scratch and pair with homemade or store bought jelly.
  • Homemade play dough for children.
  • A big tin of homemade cookies or brownies.

Just because your Christmas budget may be tight this year, there is no reason to stress out over gift giving. Most people are appreciated at the thought behind the gift. Always pair the gift with a special card or note to really show the gift receiver how much you appreciate and care for them.

photo credit: shimelle

Couponing Doesn’t Need to be Extreme

Every day, I hear people say that they don’t use coupons because they don’t have the time to go through the papers and mailers and clip the coupons. “It just takes too much time” they say. Those same people, will spend hours budgeting and finding ways to save themselves money, but they don’t see couponing as a viable use of their time and efforts. While coupons may not be as important to your financial health as a budget, they can be just as good as many of the other saving methods that you will employ.

With the popularity of extreme couponing, it’s no wonder that people feel that they need to spend hours each week pouring over newspaper inserts, clipping coupons, then sorting them all into categories and then making plans for where they’ll shop and what they’ll buy. In their mind, they see piles and piles of inserts, and closets full of extra supplies that they’ll need years to use up.

Box o' couponsCouponing doesn’t need to be extreme, though. If skipping your daily latte can be a good strategy for saving a few dollars a day, so can clipping a few coupons. Taking a few minutes each week to flip through the inserts in your paper and clipping the few coupons that you find for the things that you buy regularly can easily save you a few dollars a week. Signing up for manufacturer email newsletters can often result in an electronic coupon to print out once or twice a month. A few extra emails a month is a small price to pay to save a dollar or two.

Now, the thing to remember here is that you aren’t going to retire off of the money you’ll save. And, you certainly won’t be sending your kids to college with it either. But, saving money is saving money. A few dollars here, and a few dollars there all adds up in the grand scheme of things. Heck, maybe you clip coupons so that you can treat yourself once a week to that latte that you’re currently skipping.

Anything that can be done, has been done to an extreme. But, just because the extreme version of something is popular, doesn’t mean that it has to be the only way. Just like there are people who run extreme marathons of 100 miles or more, doesn’t mean that you can’t be a runner. Just because there are hyper-milers who squeeze every extra bit of MPG out of their cars, doesn’t mean that you can’t employ a few of the same methods to save a bit on gas. And, just because there are people who spend hours each week clipping, sorting, and analyzing coupons, doesn’t mean that you can’t spend a few minutes each Sunday to save a few bucks.

photo credit: sdc2027

Flossing with Chest Hair

Being a frugaler means making some sacrifices.  We sacrifice in order to save a few bucks.  Sometimes, it becomes a bit of an addiction.  We get a small high off of the act of saving.  While you can certainly have worse addictions, even an addiction to saving can be a bad thing at times.

Taking Frugal to Extremes.

Before you get any funny ideas, I really should let you off the hook.  This post isn’t really about flossing with chest hair.  (It’s a catchy title though, isn’t it?)  I don’t actually know of anyone ever having flossed with chest hair, nor would I suggest it.  But, it serves as a good example of a way that people could take saving to an extreme.  There’s a growing movement to do things in a sustainable manner, and using things that are renewable (like chest hair) is a big part of that.  But, there are extremes.  For instance, I’ve read about people who use a special kind of stick that is very fibrous, and they chew on it instead of brushing or flossing.  Some things, I’d just rather pay for.  Being frugal is good.  Being so frugal that you chew on sticks?  I’m not going to judge, but it seems a bit too extreme for me.

Finding a Happy Frugal Medium.

There is seldom a cure to any addiction.  Overcoming one usually entails years of counseling, and hard work on the part of the addicted.  Part of the treatment is usually to completely forgo whatever it is that you’re addicted to.  If you’re an alcoholic, drinking any alcohol at all is forbidden.  But, I can’t, and won’t, condone abstaining from frugality.  Overcoming an addiction to being frugal is just a matter of finding a happy medium where you can still save money, while still living in a way that doesn’t have to include extreme cutbacks.


The Cure to Extreme Frugality.

Without thinking about it too hard, come up with something that you spend money on that you can’t do without.  Again, I’m not going to judge.  For some, it will be their car.  For others, it will be their morning coffee.  Now, come up with something that you currently spend money on that you can do without.  For some reason, for most people, it’s harder to come up with something we can do without than it is something we can’t do without.  Why is that?  The answer is that it’s psychological.  As frugal people, we’ve thought long and hard on ways to save money and to pay off our debt.  In our minds, we’ve analyzed everything that we spend money on.  We then justified everything that we spend.  In some of those cases, we’ve created justification for ourselves so that we don’t have to get rid of something that we would rather not.  So, it’s harder to find something that we know we can do without because, in our minds, we’ve created a justification that makes it something we need.  The cure to finding a happy medium and avoiding the extreme frugal addiction is to take a close look at the things we’ve justified and find those things that we’ve created justifications for that really aren’t all that justified.  In short, stop lying to yourself.  Once you do, you’ll have found several things that you can cut back on, or remove entirely, that will save you money without going to extremes.

It’s just as hard to overcome the addiction of lying to yourself as any other addiction.  There should (and maybe is) be a 12-step program for it.  Until then, try and be truly honest wit yourself.  Understand that you’ll probably slip up once or twice.  That’s forgivable.  Just recognize that you’ve slipped, and get back on track.

photo credit: Just Add Light