'Tis the season for shopping and great deals – unless, of course, you don't have a lot of money. In that case, the holiday displays, brightly colored wrapping paper and catalogues arriving in the mail can be unpleasant reminders of how broke you are.
But even if you're experiencing a cash crunch, you can still complete your gift list. Here are some places to find affordable gifts off the beaten shopping path – and some way off the path.
Flea markets. Flea markets are known for housing a cornucopia of treasures, from antiques to new products, and from expensive to cheap. There's probably one near you: According to the National Flea Market Association, there are more than 1,100 flea markets throughout the country. And, of course, don't discount the flea market's close cousin: the garage sale.
Libraries. Nobody's suggesting you check out a book and give it to a family member or friend with the warning that it must be returned in two weeks. Some libraries, however, have seasonal book sales to drum up income, and others have stores that sell books year-round.
"My local library has a store that sells books for a dollar apiece to raise money for the library. Most of them are in very good shape, and there are books of all kinds," says Tracy Bagatelle-Black, a public relations executive in Los Angeles.
Barter. If you have something to barter – a skill, for instance – you might be able to find gifts that way. There are numerous bartering organizations (including u-exchange.com, tradeaway.com and barterquest.com) that you can generally join for free, although there are usually bartering fees and shipping costs involved. So your mileage may vary as to whether you find this route practical or not.
Dollar stores. If you don't have much money, these stores are famous for offering inexpensive household items and gifts. Five Below is a chain of stores in which everything is $5 or less. The company's spokesperson suggests checking its collection of "Hottest teen gifts for $5 or less" on the website Pinterest.
Consignment shops and thrift stores. Each features inexpensive merchandise, but there is a difference between the two. "A consignment shop implies higher-end, quality clothing that has been carefully selected for sale, rather than a thrift store where you'll find a wide range of donated merchandise," says Farrell Klein, a spokesperson for thredup.com, which is more or less a consignment store, but technically a fashion resale site because it pays sellers upfront for their clothing.
In any case, consignment shops, thrift stores and fashion resale stores can all yield inexpensive, appealing gifts.
Your local church, temple or mosque. Reaching out for help may not be the easiest thing to do, but if you belong to a church, temple, mosque or have some other religious affiliation and are broke, and especially if you have children, this is the time to contact the office and ask if it has any programs or charities collecting holiday gifts for the needy – and then get yourself on the list.
A charity. Other organizations to consider approaching include Toys for Tots (toysfortots.org), which has a nationwide network of programs through which it gives wrapped, new gifts to children up to age 12, although sometimes up to 16. The Salvation Army (salvationarmyusa.org/usn/christmas-assistance) recommends making contact as early as October, so begin looking into its gift-giving program as quickly as possible.
Also check with your local food bank and see if it can connect you with other charities, or the food bank may have its own. For instance, in Central Ohio, a charity called Wagons Ho Ho Ho (wagonshohoho.org) supports the Mid-Ohio Food Bank and donates 400 wagons filled with food to needy families. Receiving free food might allow you a little extra money for gifts – and, if nothing else, ensure that nobody's hungry over the holidays.