This year, my cousin used our adopt-a-family donations (about $150 total) to give gifts to twelve people. She was able to give so generously because she planned ahead at the end of the last year and bought most of the items for 75-90% off. Then she simply looked for people who wanted those clothing items and toys on the church donation tree. You can do the same thing to save money on charitable donations as well as gifts for friends and family members throughout the year.

Holiday and Seasonal Close-Outs
If you know someone who collects Christmas items, visit the mall on December 26 to snap up adorable gifts for more than half off. Then just put them in the closet until next year. You can actually repeat this at the end of every season, when retailers need to unload items like sporting goods, travel apparel, or anything other related to a specific season. Keep a list of your friends’ and loved ones’ hobbies so you can snap up deals when you see them.

Toy Sales
If you’re a parent, then those birthday parties your children attend can really add up. Again, a little forward planning can save you a ton of money on gifts. Just shop the post-holiday toy sales for always popular gifts, or items that will still be popular for the next year. I doubt Hannah Montana or Harry Potter will be losing popularity before the end of 2009. Again, stash them in the closet for later in the year. You can also use this method to stock up on gifts for your own children. Just make sure you hide them well. Not only will this save you money, but you won’t have to rush out to buy a gift when you receive a last-minute invitation.

Discount Candles and Collectibles
I’ve made this recommendation before, but it’s always a good idea to shop the post-holiday sales for candles and other small gift items that are perfect for hostesses. Keep them wrapped in the closet so you can grab them before you head out the door.

Of course, this does require setting aside some storage space in the garage or closet, but saving at least 50% on your annual gift budget is worth the effort. Once you get into the habit of shopping ahead, you’ll never pay full-price for gifts and charitable donations again. Lest you worry about being cheap, no one will know you got a deal, and charities don’t care how much you paid for a donation item as long as it’s in good condition.

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