According to a new BMO Holiday Spending Outlook survey, the average Canadian this year, plans to spend $678 on gifts this holiday season. Which is obviously largely dependant on the number of people you’re buying for, which in turn, should be entirely dependant on what you can actually afford. But I know it can be easy to get carried away.

I know we’ve gotten pretty close to that in past years. But in the past few, even with more people to buy for, we’ve actually managed to tread more lightly, through online shopping and finding new ways to really minimize our Christmas spending. And we still managed to get amazing gifts for everyone on our list.

One thing we’ve done this year more than others is to try and take advantage of the free money.

But money doesn’t grow on free. Well maybe not, but there are ways you can get money for next to nothing.

Enter loyalty rewards

Loyalty reward programs like Airmiles, Shoppers Optimum, Aeroplan and a host of others, offer you rewards on everyday purchases you make, in exchange for peddling all your information to advertisers. Actually it’s not as bad as it sounds. In the end, they really have no more information on you (in fact, a lot less), than say, a credit card company, and yet many use those every day.

All credit card companies now offer their own type loyalty rewards programs as well and they’ve grown leaps and bounds in popularity. Yet most people don’t redeem their points. According to Consumer Reports, 78% of credit card airline miles are never redeemed.  I logged into Aeroplan this year, only to find, that ALL my points had expired. People would be outraged if a bank said, “if you don’t use your bank account within one year, all your money would expire.” But that’s exactly what the swindlers at Aeroplan did.

So, if you’re not using them and not planning to use them for anything else anytime soon, now might be a good time to see if there are any potential gifts for anyone on your gift list. Make this the year of redemption! Talk about money for nothing.

Now, of course, not every rewards program offers merchandise. But it’s a good idea to look at all your rewards program at the end of the year and see if you could make good use of them. We often use our grocery points at the end of the year, for example, to pay for hosting a Christmas get-together with family and/or friends.

But many grocery chains here now offer a lot more than just groceries. From electronics and small appliances right down to children’s toys and clothing.

Other loyalty programs like Swagbucks and GiftHulk allow you earn credit for gift cards by taking part in online surveys, watching ad-filled videos and games.

Which brings to me to my next point…

Queue up the gift cards

I don’t really like giving out gift cards as gifts because although they hold monetary value, there isn’t much sentimental value. And a couple of years where I ended up doing that with my brothers, we just ended up trading cards. But I sure don’t mind receiving them, as long as they’re not prepaid credit cards (fees, expiry dates).

In fact, I’m sure many of you may have unused gift cards lying around from Christmas or birthday’s past, that you either haven’t gotten around to using or not a place you normally shop at.

When you combine the two, it even works out better. I just recently shopped for two of my nephews, one whose birthday just past, and another as a Christmas gift. My wife came across these great finds, but for over $70 each (I’m going to avoid saying what it was, just incase they’re reading this). I figured they’re on opposite sides of the family, so I could get the same thing and get away with it. Gifting two birds with one coin. So I did a little searching and found it at Amazon.ca for $39.99.

This worked out well, because I just happened to have a $50 gift card for Amazon that I had won in a Twitter chat a wee while back. Thanks Personal Bankruptcy Canada! No promo codes this time that I could find, but still a good buy. So I bought it. Two days later I got the email that my order was being shipped and I checked the prices again and they dropped another $10 each. Dang it! So I did a search and everyone was saying Amazon doesn’t do any price adjustments anymore. So my first instinct was to… not believe them. Ha! So I went to their customer support page to find out myself. I initiated a chat and explained that it had been shipped already, but we hadn’t received it yet and was hoping to get a price adjustment or at the very least, Amazon account credit. And within 5 minutes, lo and behold – I was reimbursed the difference.

It’s always worth asking for a price adjustment. So, in the end, I ended up with two $40 gifts for under $18 total, taxes in. And because I was logged into my Airmiles account, I received extra bonus rewards on top of it. I was so giddy I had to tell a fellow colleague in the office and she laughed and said something to the effect of “you should write about that and start ‘Anthony’s savings blog’ or something.” “Ha! I totally should!” I responded – I just couldn’t break it to her :).

By the way, my nephew was very excited about his gift. And I’m sure my other one will be even more thrilled.

Bring on the homemade gifts

During Christmas time, we usually focus most of our gift giving on the kids. And for the parents, we usually think about a small experience for the whole family: mini-golf, bowling, zoo passes, etc.

But some enjoy the thoughtfulness of a homemade gift, and my crafty wife has, on many occasions, whipped up something unique and special for her group of friends. Cookies and other baked goods, homemade vanilla extracts, spice combinations, coupled with ornaments and other kind gestures. And it’s a great thing to with your kids. While not exactly free, you can usually create something pretty memorable on a lot less.

So, rock your holiday gift giving this season and look for free and practically free ways to cross off your Christmas gift list.

Image courtesy of anankkml / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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