Where to Find the Cheapest Holiday Gifts

If you think you can’t afford the holidays, you may not be thinking creatively.

Necklace, jewelry at a secondhand store or flea market
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"The families that receive these wagons many times have to choose between foods and utilities. Oftentimes, food dollars are the first to be cut," says Donn Ditzhazy, board president of Wagons Ho Ho Ho.

Dumpster shopping. It may sound like an act of desperation that only someone hitting rock bottom would try, but plenty of well-off, environmentally minded people do it. It's a form of holiday shopping that has something to offer those with few funds as well as those who simply want to try something different.

Jeff Ferrell never hesitates to do his holiday shopping in Dumpsters. Ferrell is a sociology professor at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas, and author of the book, "Empire of Scrounge: Inside the Urban Underground of Dumpster Diving, Trash Picking, and Street Scavenging."

He says the best items he has pulled from the trash over the years include a diamond bracelet, vintage watches, designer women's wear and expensive writing pens.

[See: 10 Ways to Cut Your Spending This Week.]

But actually searching through Dumpsters for things to give away as Christmas gifts? Yep, Ferrell says he does it all the time – and people return the favor. "Given that much of what is thrown away is new or like new – or classic and vintage – my finds and subsequent gifts over the past few years have included new coats, high-end jewelry, watches, cut glass, artwork and the like," Ferrell says.

True, rooting through trash may not be the most conventional way to shop or the safest way, so if you're intrigued, take common-sense precautions. It also may not exactly be a pleasure cruise for your five senses, particularly your nostrils. But, hey, you can't argue with the price.