4 Ways to Buy Gifts for Less Than $20

Karen Cordaway

Giving gifts that are affordable but still valued by the recipient is a challenge that follows us all year long. From birthday parties to special events, it can feel like we're always shopping for that perfect gift, while still staying within our budgets. Here are four suggestions that will keep you well stocked in the gift department:

1. Send out a search party.

No matter how much time and effort you put into purchasing and wrapping a gift, everything gets torn open so quickly. If you'd like the actual act of gift giving to last a little longer, make the experience a little more memorable with a scavenger hunt. It also makes for a fresh and fun experience.

Get an envelope, colored index cards and thoughtful gifts. Write clues on each card to discover where the presents are hiding. Make sure the clues follow a sequence. Keep in mind that each clue given has to lead to the next clue. So once you write a clue and stash a present there. Make sure the recipient can find the next clue that explains where the next gift is hiding. If you wanted to do one for Valentine's Day for your sweetheart or your sweet family members, maybe you can put a bunch of nicely-wrapped chocolates treats together as gifts and write the clues on heart-shaped paper. You can also write clues on red and pink paper to stick with the Valentine theme.

2. Give clutter-free gifts.

If one of your goals this year is to kick clutter to the curb, consider giving loved ones in an experience. Attend a movie on a discounted night. A family of four can spend as little as $20 if you go on $5 Tuesday. You can also opt to purchase a gift card to a favorite salon or barber. Maybe they can pick up professional products they've been meaning to try. Is your recipient a book worm? Get a digital copy of a book they've been meaning to buy. My kids once picked out a $10 tray from CVS just to corral my husband's keys, wallet and other necessary items. It was a very practical yet well-liked gift.

Also consider edible gifts to keep clutter at bay. If the recipient likes to cook, pick special ingredients from specialty shops in your area. Turn grocery shopping into a gift-giving errand. You can pick up items for your family while shopping for the person on your list.

When in doubt, you can always purchase a gift card to the recipient's favorite coffee shop. I've never heard a complaint about that. You can accompany it with special candies like dark chocolate peanut butter cups or chocolate covered almonds from stores like Trader Joe's or other unique finds from Whole Foods.

3. Pick a central focus.

Make someone's hobby the theme of your gift-giving efforts. If you have crafty people on your list, knitters may appreciate extra yarn, tools or a special basket for their supplies. Get paint and paintbrushes for those who like to unleash their inner Picasso on canvas. Major craft stores house an array of supplies. You may even find something unexpected that your recipient will love.

4. Coupon without the guilt.

While we have all of the best intentions of getting the perfect gift in advance, sometimes the ever mounting demands of our regular to do list coupled with other commitments derail our plans, forcing us to shop in panic mode for last minute gifts. If you fear showing up to a birthday party or other event without a present in hand, don't worry. You don't have to dump your whole wallet on the cashier's counter because you're short on time.

Luckily, getting gifts at a discount by using coupons no longer has a stigma attached to the idea. Needing a ton of time is no longer required either. Coupons.com's savings expert Jeanette Pavini explains that coupons allow shoppers to fill their carts on a tight budget. If you're clipping away or digitally stocking up on coupons on-the-go for the family and heading out to the mall, then you're not the only one -- most shoppers use coupons and there is no reason to be embarrassed about doing so.

No matter what you decide to give as a gift, gift giving can be more enjoyable when the recipient has to search for their gifts by way of a scavenger hunt. Also consider clutter free gifts for those who want less physical products in their homes. Don't be ashamed to shop with coupons even for last-minute gifts. You can keep your wallet and recipient happy for less even if you've waited until the umpteenth hour and feel like you're running out of options.

Karen Cordaway is a teacher and writer who currently shares money saving tips on her website, MoneySavingEnthusiast.com.