Where to find inexpensive gifts this holiday season

Not all gifts have to be lavish and expensive. You can give something meaningful without going broke.

Dori Zinn Contributing Writer
Dori Zinn loves helping people learn and understand money. She's been covering personal finance for a decade and her writing has appeared in Wirecutter, Credit Karma, Huffington Post and more.
Dori Zinn
4 min read
inexpensive gifts
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Black Friday, Cyber Monday and basically an entire month of sales makes overspending easy this holiday season. The National Retail Federation estimates that the average American will spend more than $650 on gifts this year. 

It's easy to rush through holiday shopping without giving your selections a second thought. But consider giving gifts that your loved ones will enjoy, rather than the first thing that comes up in your search results. Here are a few ways to find inexpensive yet meaningful gifts this holiday season.

Read more: How to budget for holiday shopping -- and stick to it

1. Hunt through thrift stores

One person's trash is another person's treasure, and there's no better place to find treasure than thrift stores.

From artwork to appliances, books to records, kitchenware and even furniture -- you have free rein at thrift stores. You can find amazing products for a small percentage of what it would cost you new. A few years ago I scored a record player for $20. (A brand new record player would've cost me more than $100 at the time.)

Depending on the wants and needs of your family and friends, you might not find everything at one thrift store. But you might find many things for many people if you have a general idea of who likes what. It's OK to take your time and visit more than one. The less you rush, the more clear-headed you'll be with your selections.

You can also try consignment shops as an alternative, but those products might cost more compared to thrift stores. Garage sales, yard sales and other types of home sales are also a good place to find treasures. But you may find yourself doing more digging than you have time for this holiday season.

If gifting anything gently used makes you uncomfortable, consider choosing items that are vintage or otherwise hard to find. Your friends and family will appreciate you going out of your way to find a special and unique gift.

2. Browse your own home

If you've ever gotten a gift you didn't like or need, there's a chance it's sitting in the back of your closet or garage, waiting for its forever home.

Candles you don't like, slippers that weren't your style, or board games you know you'll never play are good to pass along to others. Some see "regifting" as taboo, but if done in a respectful manner, it's not a bad thing to do.

Be careful not to regift things you've used or washed. It's good to give things that still have tags or wrapping on them. Even if you've had it on a shelf for years, it should still look relatively new when passing it along to someone else.

Read more: How to sell or swap gift cards

3. Host a white elephant party

A great way to unload your unwanted gifts is to pass them along to others. A white elephant party is when every participant brings in at least one unwanted, wrapped gift.

How you play the game might be different among different families, friends or offices. Players will draw a number to see which order they will select their gift. After the first person chooses and opens their gift, those who follow can either select another gift from the pile or "steal" from those that came before them. If your gift was "stolen," you can either steal someone else's or take another gift from the pile and open it.

Some groups will limit how many "steals" you or a particular gift can get. For instance, if one gift is popular and keeps getting stolen, you can cap the steals at, say, three. In the end, though, the premise is the same: You get to offload your unwanted gifts and pick up something you like instead -- all without buying gifts and spending extra money.

4. Browse sales, not ads

If you have a particular present in mind, it's a good idea to compare many different Black Friday ads to see which stores will offer you the best possible deal. But if you don't have a specific product in mind, wander over to the sale aisles instead.

Sales on regular items that aren't a hot commodity this holiday season may pique your interest more than other gadgets, gizmos and other seasonal sales. If you're shopping online, look at warehouse deals, daily deals or clearance sections.

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5. Give food instead

Small tokens of appreciation are nice and you don't need to spend a lot on them. Dry goods with a recipe card, candy and specialty chocolate are kind ways to give to others without going broke. You can also consider hosting a potluck, where food is exchanged, not presents.

Not all gifts have to be extravagant or expensive. Instead of going through all the people you have to buy and the big presents to buy them, limit yourself. Pare down your list to only the people you care about and set a budget on how much you can spend this year. Meaningful gifts, though inexpensive, are much more thoughtful than something you bought just to check a name off a list.

Read more: 15 tips for healthy holiday eating