Five out-of-the-box places to Christmas shop

If you were trying to avoid drowning in Christmas before you've put away your Halloween decorations (I know — us, too), I sincerely apologize for inundating you with two holiday-related columns in a row. But what kind of Bargain Advocate would I be if I didn't give you an advanced heads-up about saving on Christmas gifts so you can spend adequate time planning your savings strategy?
Not to mention that in this age of online shopping, time for shipping has to be accounted for.
In last week's column I wrote about Christmas gifts you can make for your loved ones. I recognize, however, that DIY gifts are not everyone's cup of tea; if that's your situation, please read on. (If it's not, read on anyway. You never know what you might learn.)
Rather than aimlessly wandering the aisles of Walmart in search of something (preferably not too large or expensive) that will jump out at you and beg to be wrapped up for that hard-to-shop-for aunt, nephew or — let's be honest — husband, I've got a few alternative solutions for you to consider.
Of course purchasing any item without a shiny new box and gift receipt requires a certain amount of caution and familiarity with the recipient's tastes. It's probably not a great idea for someone you don't know very well or only see once a year; but for a close friend familiar with your quirky, frugal ways or a family member whose hobbies, needs and preferences you're well acquainted with, it could be a unique and inexpensive way to solve the age-old dilemma, "So what do I get him for Christmas this year?"
Secondhand stores and flea markets.
Not all items in secondhand stores and flea markets are, indeed, "used." The local Goodwill had a collection of new table lamps — albeit without shades — on display for quite a while before I decided to pick one up; in the next aisle I found a lampshade to fit it. I took it home, painted jungle characters on the shade and gave it to a fellow thrifty friend for her baby shower. The total cost was probably about $7.
One of the nicest parts of buying an item secondhand is that you have very little to lose in altering it to suit your tastes. Remove a piece here; paint a part there; switch out the buttons; change the laces. Better than new.
Also, remember the DIY coffee mugs I wrote about last week? If you're going to make several, a secondhand store is a great place to start looking for plain mugs or tableware to decorate.
Ebay and Craigslist. Yes, my old standbys. Again, you must exercise caution here. Because unlike going to a secondhand store, if you order something from eBay, by the time it arrives on your doorstep a few weeks later, you're running a risk of missing the Christmas deadline if the item doesn't work out. (And a lot of times returns aren't an option.)
A friend of mine who is trying to be especially budget-conscious this holiday season has decided she's having a "Craigslist Christmas." She and her husband found a great deal on a Pottery Barn kitchen set for their toddler on Craigslist and drove to West Virginia (the near side, of course) to pick it up. She also found a $20 toy work bench for her 4-year-old son.
On Craigslist, inspect the items carefully to see if you see any problems; test them out if possible to make sure a good price is not, in fact, "too good to be true."
The dollar store. Not unlike secondhand stores, you have little to lose by putting your own signature, so to speak, on a dollar store find. Buy an inexpensive vase, plate or glass and paint or otherwise decorate it; personalize a kitchen towel, tote or apron; collect some art supplies for the teacher or crafty kid in your family and assemble them in a cute bin with the recipient's name on it (or go with another theme — candy, for example, or baking).
The grocery store. My sister-in-law is a frugal gal who also is a whiz in the kitchen. On her Christmas list this year, in addition to a few girly ideas, she included an entire list of spices she'd like to add to her collection and a few kitchen gadgets in varying price ranges she's also in need of. If there's a cook in your family, these can make inexpensive and practical gifts that will truly be appreciated. You can go with a "theme" (some deluxe pasta sauce and noodles; a spaghetti server, hot pad and your favorite family recipe) or pick up a variety of items that the chef can use.
Best of all, baking supplies are on sale all season long as people get ready for holiday entertaining. Look for coupons to boost your savings even more.
Church, school or community craft shows. Maybe you don't have a crafty gene but would still like to find something unique and homemade for someone in your family. Keep an eye on your local newspaper's events calendar for local craft shows, where you can browse the work of local artisans to find a diamond in the rough.
Even if you don't go with one of the options above, my hope is that it gets you thinking about different places you can search for treasures for your loved ones. Don't be afraid to stray from the norm — it might be where you find the best deals.
If you have any great ideas for out-of-the-box Christmas shopping, insight about a frugal living topic or an idea for a future column, please email me
I'd love to hear from you!
Happy saving, Abbey

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