20-Plus Tips to Make the Most of Post-Holiday Clearance Sales

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The day after Christmas is a great time to shop, and not just for half-price wrapping paper. Savvy shoppers will be picking up items to use all year long: paper products, candles, non-holiday décor, storage containers, even sheets. This is also a good opportunity to score great deals for your evergreen gift closet.

Many of these items are holiday-themed, but so what? Ziploc bags with a snowflake pattern work just as well as the plain ones, and they’ll be cheaper; add a manufacturer’s coupon, and you get to feel insufferably smug. Besides, some “holiday” items can be repurposed in clever ways (more on that below).

There will be crowds, because 1) some people are returning gifts, and 2) a lot of others are looking for the same deals you are. But if you can handle the hubbub, you’ll score some great prices. The discounts get deeper as we approach the new year, but the best selection will be in the first couple of days after Christmas.

Before you look at a single clearance ad, though, take a minute to determine:

  • What you want. Something for you? Items for the gift closet? Stuff for upcoming special occasions? Don’t just fill a cart because everything looks so cheap.
  • What you actually need. I’m still using up discounted gift wrap and tags that I bought several years ago. No matter how cheap paper gets on Dec. 26, I’m not buying any. Inventory your own supplies of paper, décor, candles or whatever and shop accordingly.
  • What you can spend. Once again, it’s not a bargain if you can’t afford it. If you think you might get carried away, leave the plastic at home and pay cash. On the other hand, any gift cards you got for Christmas will go considerably further when everything’s marked down by 50 percent to 75 percent.

Stocking up on presents

If you don’t have a gift closet, this is a swell time to start one. Retailers stock up on gift-y items for the holidays, so you’ll find plenty of candles, slippers, scarves, gloves, journals and picture frames.

Small appliances are heavily promoted during the holidays and swiftly discounted afterward. A woman I know bought several small microwave ovens for $15 each as graduation gifts for young relatives. Rice cookers, toasters, blenders and the like also make good wedding or housewarming gifts. (Remember: A gift registry is just a suggestion.)

Specialty food baskets will be up for grabs, too. While I wouldn’t use these for Christmas 2015, a gourmet food collection is a nice gift for a January birthday or, maybe, for Valentine’s Day.

Or maybe keep some of those things for yourself. If you’re a foodie, those barbecue rubs, fancy spices and gourmet chocolate could find a place in your own kitchen.

About those January birthdays: A calendar is useful but also quite ornamental, and given the huge variety of subjects, you’re pretty much guaranteed to find something to the recipient’s taste. You’ll get them at half price, and maybe up to 75 percent off if you wait a week or so.

As for Valentine’s Day, maybe your sweetheart would love a silver frame with a nice photo of the two of you. If you’re a teddy-bear-and-candy kind of gifter, buy a half-off stuffed animal and several bags of half-price Hershey’s Kisses. Pick out enough red-foil candies to fill a pretty jar, or bake a batch of those peanut butter cookies with chocolates on top.

Incidentally, chocolate freezes quite well. Buy a bunch of it at half price and use it for more baking and/or bag lunches.

Toys, clothes and organization

Department stores will be bristling with unsold toys and games. If you’re a parent, buy a few for upcoming birthdays and maybe even next Christmas. Get some for your gift closet and make the coming year’s birthday-party invites that much cheaper.

Watch for low prices on children’s clothes, whether holiday-themed or ordinary winter fashions that the store wants to dump to make room for spring stuff. Buy “up,” i.e., a size or so larger, and you’ll have clothes for months and Christmas jammies for next year.

Or look for work or play clothes for yourself. If you find something that’s comfortable, buy more than one.

Organize and protect your finds in some of the storage bins that go on sale at this time of year – specifically, the red or green ones marketed for storing Christmas decorations. Who cares what color they are if they’re in the attic or crawl space?

Everyday savings

Similarly: Paper towels with snowmen on them are just as absorbent as the plain ones. Potholders with a Christmas tree print protect your hands just as well as solid-color ones. Your kids might enjoy holiday-themed cookie or cake mixes well after Dec. 25.

Or stock up on discounted Christmas linens: towels, tablecloths, even sheets. I once lost out on flannel sheets at 50 percent off because I was waiting for the discount to go deeper. They had a white-on-white snowflake print, very subtle – not that such things matter to me, because the sheets are covered with a comforter anyway.

Do you use a lot of candles? Both votives and tapers are likely to be on sale. Red ones are good for Valentine’s Day, and a mix of red, white and blue (Hanukkah) candles can be used on the Fourth of July.

Wrapping paper in solid colors, especially silver or gold, can be used for any occasion. (Of course, so can the Sunday funnies.) Tissue paper is useful all year long, both for crafts projects and for covering the tops of gift bags.

More tips from the pros

Many of the sale items noted above can stretch your giving dollars. For example, those hat-gloves-scarf sets would be welcomed at homeless shelters. A pair of warm slippers or some good-quality lotions could be dropped off at a nursing home for patients in need.

If board games are half off, you can buy twice as many as you normally do for next year’s toy drive. Small appliances can be donated to school auctions. Some police departments collect stuffed animals to give to children who’ve been the victims of crime.

Here are a few more ways to make clearance sales work for you:

  • Know what things cost. Prices could well have been raised for the holiday, so half-off may not actually be a good deal.
  • Shop online. Virtual clearance sales take place, too. Access your favorite retailers through a cash-back shopping site for an additional layer of savings.
  • Have a shopping buddy. It’s fun to have a friend along, especially when it comes to making snarky comments about the greedy hordes rampaging through the gift-wrap aisle. (You know, the ones who aren’t you.) Sometimes your pal can be your conscience, e.g., “Didn’t you tell me you already have enough gift wrap for the next five years? I don’t care if it’s only 99 cents a roll. Put it back!”
  • Check the return policy. Clearance sales could be final, so be sure you really do want the item.

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