More Than Just Wrapping Paper: How Post-Holiday Clearances Can Slash Your Budget All Year Long

Today is that special time of the holiday season: the beginning of deep discounts on all the stuff that’s red, green, or gift-oriented. Everything must go! (If only to make room for Valentine’s Day items.)

Every year a lot of holiday stuff goes unsold, and the stores don’t want to hold on to it. Turn the retailers’ loss into your gain by stocking up not just on cards and wrapping paper, but also on other things you’ll use for the next 365 days.

Think it’s all dented dolls and tired tinsel? Some of it might be. But if you pick your spots, you can stretch your giving and household budgets further than you ever dreamed.

The following tactics can help. Although the stores will be crowded, the savings can be worth it.

Buy some clothes.

Clearance prices will be available on both holiday-oriented and everyday winter fashions. (I know a woman who paid less than $4 for a dress in order to get its belt, since a new belt would have cost much more.)

If you have kids, buy clothes at least one size up, for next year. The longer you wait, the steeper the price drop – and the younger the child, the less the motif matters. Your five-year-old might think it’s awesome to wear a Jack Skellington sweatshirt in early March.

Buy next year’s holiday gifts.

Some people do the whole next year’s worth* of shopping on Dec. 26. That’s dedicated frugality.

And if that’s you, congratulations. Personally, I suggest looking for a few presents, as opposed to stressing out about it: I can’t go home yet – I still have people to buy for! Do what you can, rather than setting yourself up to fail.

But if you’re in the zone, then stay there and buy as much as is practical – of 2018 gifts and/or one or more of the categories below.

*During conversations about holiday preparations, you may encounter someone who did all her buying at the after-Christmas clearance the previous year. It took only a couple of hours and she paid an average of 47 cents per gift. Or so she says, somewhat loudly and smugly. Don’t be that person. She’s really annoying.

Get birthday gifts.

If you’ve got kids, assume they’ll be invited to parties in the year to come. Have games, stuffed animals, books, art kits, and such on hand, and you won’t have to make extra trips. Bonus: You paid rock-bottom prices.

Got nieces, nephews, or godchildren (official or honorary)? Buy toys for their natal day celebrations, too. If they were born in January, hit the calendar kiosk for a useful and potentially beautiful gift.

(Well, beautiful if they like horses or puppies. Those with odd senses of humor or nerdy tastes might be happier with Emily The Strange or “Star Trek” calendars.)

Stock an evergreen gift closet.

As noted above, parents who have toys on hand are ready for the inevitable birthday party invites. But grownups have birthdays, too, so look for items like hat-and-scarf sets, picture frames, books, and accessories.

Treat yourself.

High-end skin care kits and gift sets are deeply discounted after the holidays, according to Helene Massicotte of

“It’s a low-risk way to try new products and save significant money per ounce,” she says. “And just a few kits can last you for months.”

Foodie baskets and spa packages are all over the stores until Dec. 25 – after which retailers can’t get rid of them fast enough. At half-price or less, treat yourself to something tasty or luxurious. Or you could…

Treat someone else.

Food and spa packages make nice gifts for others, too. Your first-time-mom sister might love to plan a long, hot soak with frou-frou scents and fancy lotions to follow. If you live nearby, offer to sit with the baby while she locks herself into the bathroom for her first alone-time since parturition.

Remember, too that Valentine’s Day is right around the corner. That basket of barbecue items or set of sybaritic potions might be perfect for Feb. 14.

Bonus: These things are experiences, not stuff, and will eventually get used up vs. becoming clutter.

Stock your household.

Sheets, blankets and throws. Candles. Bakeware. Dishes. Table linens. Towels for kitchen and bath.

Paper plates and cups can become part of your emergency kit. Or use them at your next party or barbecue. Teresa Mears of Living on the Cheap says great January deals on red and green products work fine for informal parties the rest of the year, as long as you don’t use them together.

Storage containers, sometimes marketed as “ornament storage bins,” are deeply discounted after Christmas. Doesn’t matter if they’re red or green, or printed with wreaths – they’ll be stuck in the attic or the crawlspace where nobody sees them.

Stock your pantry.

Holiday-printed paper towels, napkins, and storage bags and containers will be available at half-price or less.

Ditto certain baking supplies and food items, so check supermarket clearance bins for things like fancy coffee and tea, chopped dates and pecans, holiday cereal (yep, that’s a thing), eggnog-flavored pudding mix (not making this up), canned pumpkin, cranberry sauce, and black-eyed peas.

Even everyday products like coffee may be deeply discounted if it’s in holiday-themed packaging. And guess what, “Christmas blend” coffee tastes just fine in January.

(Pro tip: Add another layer of savings by using manufacturer coupons from sites like Coupon Mom and Coupon Sherpa.)

Don’t forget the drugstore.

Head for the “seasonal merchandise” aisles, advises Stephanie Nelson of Coupon Mom. You’ll see discounts of at least 50% the first few days, quickly followed by price cuts of 75% to as much as 90%.

Toys, gadgets, clothing items, and even small appliances will be remaindered. One year Nelson picked up a $40 blender for 75% off – and then sent in a $10 mail-in rebate attached to the box. “So my blender was actually free,” she says.

(Don’t need a free blender, or a free whatever? You could give it as a gift, sell it on Craigslist or donate it to charity.)

Linsey Knerl, who blogs at 1099 Mom, has five sons who use Old Spice body wash, deodorant, and other products. Last year she saved 75% on more than a dozen Old Spice gift sets. “I’m happy to go back again this year to stock up,” says Knerl, whose family owns a small farm in Nebraska.

Stockpile holiday supplies.

Wrapping paper, gift bags, and ribbon. Ornaments, strings of lights, wreaths, and trees. Holiday cards. If you have a place to store even a few such items, pick them up at a discount and next year’s celebration will be noticeably cheaper.

Stockpile holiday craft supplies.

Do you make your own décor or gifts? Buy the raw materials now, when everything’s being remaindered. Those snowman candy molds will cost lots more next November.

Look for open boxes.

Starting today, people will clog the stores to return gifts that didn’t work out. This, too, can work in your favor.

According to Erin Huffstetler, frugal expert for The Balance, some “open-box” electronics and other returned items can no longer be sold at full retail.

“One man’s Christmas return could become your next big bargain,” she says.

More tips from the pros:

  • Do a major inventory of what you have, and write down what you need. Pay attention to that list.
  • Well, most of the time: If a deal is just too good to pass up, get it. That $10-but-actually-free blender is a good example.
  • Get there early, because the good stuff might go quickly. But if you can, revisit the stores in early January. Those 90%-off sales should start kicking in by then.
  • If you’re apt to overbuy, bring only as much cash as you can afford to spend, and leave the plastic at home.
  • Know what things usually cost. If something was marked way up in anticipation of the holiday, then half-off still isn’t that great a deal.
  • As always, if you don’t need or can’t use it, then it’s not a good deal.

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Veteran personal finance writer Donna Freedman is the author of “Your Playbook for Tough Times: Living Large on Small Change, for the Short Term or the Long Haul” and “Your Playbook for Tough Times, Vol. 2: Needs AND Wants Edition.”

Donna Freedman
Contributor for The Simple Dollar

Award-winning journalist and veteran personal finance writer Donna Freedman is the author of "Your Playbook for Tough Times: Living Large on Small Change, for the Short Term or the Long Haul" and "Your Playbook for Tough Times, Vol. 2: Needs AND Wants Edition." A former full-time reporter for the Chicago Tribune and Anchorage Daily News and longtime columnist for MSN Money, Freedman has also written for Get Rich Slowly, Money Talks News, and other publications

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