While most of us have put Christmas away for the year, Erin Huffstetler is just getting warmed up. For 2014.
For years, the Tennessee-based "frugal living" writer has made it a mission to spend less than $100 on Christmas -- for a family of four, plus gifts for teachers, parents and extended relatives. That amount also includes a fair amount spent on holiday foods and decorations.
Last month, she tallied up everything she'd spent on Christmas 2013. Total: $99.70.
How does she do it? With a mixture of year-round bargain hunting, couponing and frugal shortcuts, enough so that she can buy brand-names and new electronics at deep discounts.
To find out how this "frugalista" accomplishes a $100 Christmas, the Sacramento Bee spoke with her earlier this month by phone. Here's what she shared:
Start in January: Among her family's favorite shopping venues are yard sales and thrift shops, especially in January.
"This is really the best time of year to hit thrift stores," which are "overwhelmed with year-end inventory," she said. "Everyone makes their end-of-year donations to get that tax write-off, so they show up on Dec. 31 with tons of stuff."
Post-holiday sales aren't just for Christmas wrap and stocking stuffers. At this year's 75-percent-off holiday clearance sale at Target, for instance, she stocked up on 22 packages of peppermint Oreos for 89 cents a bag. In the next few months, they'll go into school lunches as a special treat.
Make it a habit to check the clearance racks, sales bins or "endcaps" (the end-of-the-aisle discount spots) in stores you regularly visit. "It's hit or miss. You may not find something every time, but when you do, stick it in a closet, and it's there when you need it. It's such a simple thing but saves a huge amount on our budget."
DVDs, electronics for less: This year, her girls wanted the new DreamWorks' animated movie, "The Croods," which was selling for $17.99 at Target. What she paid: $2.48. Here's how: On Amazon.com, she spotted a "flash sale," a brief, minutes-only sale designed to attract quick-buying customers, that offered the movie for $7.48. She printed out the Amazon page and took it to her local Target, which matched the price and let her use a $5-off coupon she'd picked up online. Bottom line: She got the DVD for roughly 86 percent off the original price.
Best bargains? On her MyFrugalHome.com blog, Huffstetler posted photos of her family's 2013 holiday gifts. Among them: a blue-striped tank top from a J.C. Penney clearance rack for $1.97; a $3 art portfolio case, found at a yard sale; a Transformer action figure ($59 new) for her nephew, scooped up at a garage sale for $1.99.
Groceries, too: All the major holidays -- Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas -- are prime time to stock up on discounts for traditional foods, whether it's hams and turkeys or baking ingredients, like chocolate chips, flour and canned pumpkin. Using a coupon matchup site tied to her local grocery store (Kroger), Huffstetler buys on-sale items, paired with coupons from her Sunday newspaper.