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Bargain-Hunting for the Holidays

Bargain-Hunting for the Holidays
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BY KITT WALSH

The holidays can a terrible strain on my wallet. But I still manage to provide great gifts for everyone on a skinflint budget. The trick to helping you check things off your list for less than a pretty penny? Buy things used.

Don’t be squeamish. I’m not advising you buy a pre-owned fruit cake, but some things are just as good as new (without the expensive packaging.) All they take is a bit of washing or spraying with Lysol prior to use and they are good to go:

Check on eBay, but don’t get too distracted by the auctions. Buyers on the site engage in two practices that are bound to cause you disappointment: “sniping” where buyers wait till the last possible second and swoop in to beat the last price to win the auction, and by use of special software that allows them to automate such sniping in the last millisecond. Both practices provide some heart-pounding action (it’s like going to the track) but you aren’t likely to win what you are bidding on.  Instead sort your search by “Buy It Now”. Know the price of a new product and, after factoring in shipping costs, it’s a bargain, buy it.

Craigslist can be a great spot for bargain-hunting. (Sellers pick random prices to set for their goods. Some are very low.) I only buy things with photos and clear descriptions and from people selling locally. That way, I can arrange to see the item before I buy. Bring cash so the deal can be done on the spot.

Thrift stores have provided an entire winter wardrobe for both my granddaughters and I didn’t buy rags. From hand-crocheted hats and blankets for the newborn (lovingly created by some more crafty grandmother) to Polo and Baby Gap clothes that cost a fortune new for the two-year-old, these places are real treasure troves (and your money goes to a good cause.) Other things to buy as gifts: frames, candlesticks, china and crystal, throws, linens and laces—all vintage gifts for only pennies. Check out the thrift stores several times over this shopping season as they get new items all the time.

Church and temple craft fairs used to be a great source for cheap gifts and some still are—find the ones where parishioners have handmade ornaments (they make great gifts) or knitted items and avoid the ones where professional vendors are involved. Get there early and bring cash. These sellers don’t have a lot of inventory and most accept local checks, but no credit cards.

Hit upscale consignment stores if you have a fashionista on your list. Designer duds, purses, belts and even shoes can be 75% off. Have the recipients full measurements and bring along a tape measure. Pull at seams, check that the size tag (they are often hung in the wrong size grouping), wiggle the shoe’s heel—then fill your cart. Leave time to get the clothes professional cleaned and shoes polished before gifting.

Shop online, but be savvy. Check out sites like DealNews.com where you can find outrageous deals on refurbished electronics. “Refurbished” means the item meets all manufacturer’s specs and has a warranty (go for a year warranty if possible.) You may get an iPad for half-price.

Also, if you know what brand of product you want, Google “Promo Code for _____” and see what manufacturer’s coupons are being offered before you buy.

Don’t just assume Amazon.com has the cheapest price for something you want. I bought a holiday dress on sale on Amazon for $15 cheaper by going to the manufacturer’s own website.

Do remember to add shipping into the cost of anything you buy (unless you are ordering from Amazon and are a Prime member. The membership costs $75 per year, but gets you free shipping for thousands of items.

For that teenager (or grown man) in your life, check out GameStop for pre-owned video games.

Look for library book sales to stock a reader’s shelf. You can gift a year’s worth of reading for mere dollars. Wrap the books in a beach towel with some sunscreen and you’ve covered someone’s beach reading for next summer.

In this age of recycle/reuse, buying used for the holidays is truly one way to keep the season green. Happy shopping.

 

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Kitt Walsh owns a web content company, Behind Blogs (http://www.behindblogs.com), is a regular contributor to CNN Money, a public speaker on Social Media, a book editor and ghostwriter, and freelances as a feature writer, editor and marketing consultant for magazines, newspapers and private clients around the world.