Tips to Score a Year’s Worth of Gifts at Rock-Bottom Prices

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Some of the hottest deals of the year will catch fire on Gray Thursday, Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Although not every advertised special is the year’s best deal, you’ll see some prices so low they look like misprints.

Savvy shoppers dream of a loss-leader Christmas. But really savvy shoppers know better than to limit their buying to gifts that go under a tree. If you want to save money all year long you’ll build yourself a gift closet: a clutch of “evergreen” presents to see you through just about any holiday or special occasion.

Most of these gifts can be bought either in person or online. One exception is the famous “doorbuster” deal, the extreme loss leaders that retailers use to reel you in. The hope is that you’ll stick around and buy other items, too. If you’re shopping on foot vs. online, don’t take the bait: Hop from store to store and deal to deal.

Just don’t limit yourself. Think outside the Christmas gift box.

For example, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day come every year. Maybe your mom would smack you if you gave her a small appliance – lots of those will go on sale – but plenty of other gift deals exist, from slippers to smartphones to Skilsaws. (Yes, some women like power tools. My daughter gave me a drill one year – I was delighted, and I still use it.)

Your dad might be the kind of guy who collects tools the way kids collect Pokemon cards, in which case you should shop the hardware aisles for him as well. But he might also be thrilled with books, clothing, tech gifts, cookware or other items available for a song starting Thanksgiving evening.

Speaking of hardware: Got friends who are about to buy their own homes? Once they’ve dropped a bundle on buying, they probably won’t have the cash for other things they’ll need. Show up at their housewarming with hand tools, a shop vac, ladder, portable work light or sawhorses. They’ll appreciate your gift for years to come as they tackle repairs or DIY remodeling.

Or find out their favorite colors and designs and buy something homey: throw pillows, scented candles, picture frames, fleece throws, a storage ottoman. Deals on both practical and luxurious home-related items.

New beginnings

Got a family member heading off to higher education next September? Think ahead with things like towels (available for as little as $2 this year) or extra-long sheets (dorm beds are weirdly elongated). Put these away until June.

Or maybe someone recently graduated from college and is working on a plan to move out on his own. Find out whether he has any household stuff; if not, maybe you and several other relatives can team up to provide discounted food-storage sets, pots and pans, dish towels and the like.

My personal grad-gift suggestion is a programmable slow cooker paired with a list of slow-cooking websites. You won’t believe the elaborate, delicious dishes that can be made in a humble Crock-Pot. And since many new graduates can’t believe how hard it is to make student loan payments on an entry-level salary, cheap eating is essential.

Relatives or friends getting married and/or having babies? You’ll be getting shower invitations. Lovely gifts for both babies and brides are being discounted fairly deeply. Note: Gift registries are merely a lifestyle option. You can give any gift you want.

Is anyone you know planning to retire in the coming year? Find out what this person plans to do next – travel the world? start a small business? lie around in a hammock and read every book Sir Walter Scott wrote? – then buy gifts to match. These can be grand (fancy luggage, new computer, Kindle) or relatively simple.

Gifts for young and old

And now a word about birthdays. If you’ve got kids, nieces and nephews, or official/unofficial godchildren you’re going to need some presents. Why pay regular retail?

“I stock up on the $3 and $5 board game deals and the $3 and $5 Barbie deals when they pop up. They come in handy for birthday parties, and donation items at Christmas,” says Sia Hills, who blogs at Thrifty Northwest Mom.

“My favorite use for them, though, is to open up my home to friends who are struggling financially, so they can come over and ‘shop’ my gift closet for their own kids’ birthdays when they are in need.”

Another frugal blogger, Brittany Ramos of The Prudent Patron, suggests watching for Black Friday deals on art kits. “They make perfect gifts [because] they are gender-neutral and they never go out of style,” she says.

Note that toy prices tend to improve in December – but who can argue with a $5 board game or a $4 DVD? Having several on hand helps parents who are blindsided on Friday evening with, “I’m invited to Destiny’s birthday party tomorrow.”

Some of us like to give natal-day presents to our adult friends, too. Look for loss-leader items like CDs, good books, tech accessories, video games, DVDs (some relatively recent releases will cost as little as $4), gloves, jewelry, perfume and blank journals.

Or why not give a gift to someone you’ll never meet? Shelters can use gifts of gloves, socks and hats. Ask the social worker at a neighborhood nursing home if there are any residents who never get gifts; find out what that person needs (e.g., good-quality lotion, a new robe, non-skid slippers) and provide it anonymously.

Getting those rock-bottom prices

Deal-finding sites/apps like BFAds.net, FatWallet, Retail Me Not and Savings.com let you sort by categories and by price. If you plan to shop online, access your stores of choice through a cash-back shopping site.

Consumer writer Andrea Woroch suggests you ask about price-matching: “Stores will likely be willing to match or even beat the competitor’s price. Brick-and-mortars may even match online prices.”

A few more tips:

Go halfsies

That loss-leader tablet computer is a much more affordable retirement gift if another co-worker chips in.

Focus, focus, focus

Filter those deal apps by price. You’d be surprised what pops up in the “$10 or less” category.

Go freebie!

Some retailers hand out gift cards, holiday ornaments or small gift items to the first shoppers through the doors, or offer free-after-rebate specials on Black Friday. Think “stocking stuffers,” or give the gifts outright. (See “Black Friday 2013 freebies” for a current list of rumored and confirmed deals.)

Make a list

Specifically, make a list of the deals appropriate to upcoming occasions and to your budget. Remember, retailers are very good at making you want to pick up stuff that you didn’t set out to buy. If you don’t pay attention you risk paying too much.

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