Donna Freedman

Living With Less

Score big at post-holiday sales

With a little planning, you can save a bundle on year-round staples like paper goods, wedding gifts and kids' school clothes. Of course, it helps if you like red and green.

By Donna Freedman
MSN Money

Two excellent reasons to hit the after-Christmas sales:

  • You can find some screamin' deals.
  • You got gift cards or money for Christmas, so you can afford to shop!

Donna Butler plans to be out at the crack of dawn Dec. 26. "I say, treat it just like Black Friday," says the Louisiana mother of seven, who blogs at The Broke Wives Club.

She won't be looking for leftover gift tags or holiday-themed Snuggies, though. This savvy mom will search for deals on things like paper towels and PJs. "You can save literally hundreds of dollars on things you use the entire year," she says.

Smart Spending message board readers agree, citing hot buys on candles, clothes, dishes, bake ware, cosmetics and storage bins. Their strategies:

  • Think ahead about gifts and occasions in the year to come.
  • Be colorblind. Paper napkins are paper napkins, no matter the print.
  • Buy up, because preschoolers grow fast.

The pickings might be slimmer than usual, though. Retailers got stuck with a lot of holiday merchandise after the economy tanked in 2008, according to the National Retail Federation. This year, businesses ordered less, so seasonal items were all but gone by early December in some areas.

If the stores near you seemed picked over this week, try a different neighborhood. Of course, other shoppers will have the same idea, so there will be crowds. But if you can handle the bustle, you can work post-holiday clearances to your advantage in very specific ways. Here's how.

Think ahead

If you keep a gift closet -- and you should -- this is your chance to replenish it. "Evergreen" gifts such as picture frames, gloves, scarves, slippers, candles and spa sets are being remaindered.

Good deals can be found on specialty food baskets, too. I wouldn't hang on to them indefinitely, but a nice selection of teas or an assortment of spices would be a tasty gift for a February birthday. More-shelf-stable items, such as barbecue sauce or gourmet popping corn, could be held for later in the year.

Got a friend or relative born in January? A calendar makes a useful and ornamental gift, and there's something for every taste. Calendars will go for half price or less if you wait a couple of weeks.

South Jersey resident Meghan Pembleton bought a couple of $15 microwave ovens last year -- gifts for family members going off to college the following autumn. Small appliances also make good door prizes or fundraiser auction items, she says.

Know any pregnant women? A holiday-themed outfit plus a "baby's first Christmas" ornament could be a nice shower gift. Reader "Momma S.," who's on a tight budget, likes to give a selection of tree trimmers as wedding presents: "Even $10 can buy a lot of ornaments if it's all on sale."

Red and green for every occasion

Hershey's Kisses taste the same whether they're wrapped in silver or in red and green. Chocolates keep well in the freezer, to be added later to brown-bag lunches. Trust me, they're even better when they're 50% off.

In fact, a lot of holiday goods can serve as cheap year-round alternatives. Butler scores packages of holiday-themed paper napkins and paper towels for as little as a quarter at clearance sales. Does it matter what color a tablecloth or dish towel is, as long as it does the job?

"It doesn't matter to me if there are candy canes on them," she says.

If you use a lot of candles, stock up on clearance-sale votives or tapers. Mix red Christmas candles with blue and white Hanukkah candles for Independence Day, suggests reader "Livingwithoutmoney."

Red table linens and dishes can be used for Valentine's Day; green ones come in handy for St. Patrick's Day. Smart Spending reader "Startsmart" looks for silver or solid-color paper to wrap gifts for birthdays and other occasions. Tissue paper is useful year-round for crafts projects, says Pembleton, a mom of two.

Valentine's Day is only weeks away. Gift sets, watches or (if you must) teddy bears all could be presents Feb. 14, and that solid-red wrapping paper you picked up for a song will also come in handy.

Think outside the gift box, too. A reader posting as "Ruby-Slippers" bought small plastic cookie containers for painting projects. The little buckets are easier to carry than paint cans. Marked-down tree skirts and bead garlands are fun dress-up items for small children, Livingwithoutmoney says.

Continued: Buy up, because next winter is coming

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