Wrap It Up and Stick a Bow on It!

About fifteen years ago, in mid-February, I walked into a drug store and saw a surprisingly large display of Christmas wrapping paper. Everything was marked down to ten cents per package – regardless of how much wrap was included in the package. Some of the packages were multi-rolls of very nice wrapping paper. Others were single rolls or folded sheets. I bought just about all of it for less than ten dollars – and I still have at least ten years’ worth of Christmas wrap that I have not used yet.

Similarly, I used to work with a woman named Susan who had learned from her grandmother that gift wrap should never be wasted. Although Susan was an attorney, and she was married to an attorney as well, she gingerly opened every gift that she received and preserved all of the gift wrap for later use. She did this even though she certainly could afford to buy as much gift wrap as she ever might need.

By comparison, Susan and I had a boss who would think nothing of taking all of her holiday gifts to the “professional” gift wrap “artists” at the shopping mall, and would pay to have other people wrap her gifts, at a premium cost above the cost of the actual gift wrap itself.

Whether you are giving holiday gifts, birthday gifts, anniversary gifts, or almost any other gift in our Western culture, you are probably going to have to find a way to wrap it before you give it. Gift wrap can be hugely expensive, as I learned a few years ago when my son’s school asked the kids to sell gift wrap as a fundraiser. Indeed, I did buy one roll of gift wrap – for $9 – and it was beautiful, but it was only enough paper to wrap one gift, which had cost me $6 to purchase.

With the holidays coming, and our economy being as weak as it is, gift wrapping will be an added cost that we will have to find ways to incorporate into our budgets. Some of you may have stockpiled cheap gift wrap, as I have done. Others may have saved used gift wrap as my friend Susan used to do. I doubt very many of you will be using “paid” gift wrapping professionals to wrap your gifts (and if you are, you probably are missing the point of this website). But what other options are out there?

My wife sends gifts to her out-of-state niece and nephew every year. She never wants to absorb the cost of adding gift wrap to her on-line purchases because the cost of gift wrap and shipping would usually exceed the value of the gift. Accordingly, we have debated for several years whether it is appropriate to send gifts to her sister’s children and to ask her sister to wrap the presents. I do not feel that my wife should make such a request unless it is coupled with an offer to wrap the gifts that her sister sends to our kids. Of course, my wife never wants to get in to that kind of a discussion with her sister (who tends to argue against anything that is presented to her) so the conversation usually dies on the vine.

I have also known people who have wrapped presents in the Sunday comics. The comics are colorful but they are usually not all that festive. I have never really liked the look of gifts wrapped in old newspapers, even though I am a big fan of recycling. If the wrap does not match the holiday or event, it just never seems appropriate to me.

When I was very young, my parents managed to avoid wrapping Christmas presents by leaving in front of our fireplace all but one of the gifts that they gave to my brother and me. In my parents’ world, and thus my childhood view, Santa did not wrap presents.

However we wrap our presents, the cost of wrapping paper, ribbons, bows and tape can add up over a holiday season. How do you cut back on your packaging costs? Are there tricks to presenting attractively wrapped presents that do not cost a huge amount? Do you know of any stores that are offering free gift wrapping as a shopping incentive this season? Would you send an unwrapped gift and let someone in the recipient’s family do the wrapping for you?

How they wrap gifts in Japan:

This entry was posted in Frugal, Holidays, Personal Finance, Saving Money, Shopping and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Wrap It Up and Stick a Bow on It!

  1. Deb says:

    We wrap all birthday presents in our house with bath towels. Once the gifts are unwrapped, we fold the towels and put them back in the linen closet. I can’t tell you how much money that’s saved me over the years with four kids. We are now continuing the tradition with our granddaughter and we even have friends who know about it and now give us gifts wrapped in towels. (We return the towels.)

    As for Christmas wrapping, years ago I bought a huge roll of shiny white wrapping paper for a song, and I use that plus inexpensive colored ribbons. Towels under the tree would probably look a little tacky. I have one friend who made various sizes of drawstring gift bags out of Christmas fabric bought on sale. She’s used them for years.

    I HATE wasting paper on gift wrapping (and greeting cards too, but that’s another story).

  2. You’re right, it is quite expensive. Me and my siblings have been through various stages of wrapping, using newspaper, nothing at all and now we’re mutually not giving presents seeing as we’re all now grown-ups. That’s a great way to save on wrap 🙂

  3. David G. Mitchell says:

    Deb — I know what you mean about greeting cards, too. In case you missed it, you may enjoy my recent article entitled “Greeting Cards are for Suckers!”. Here is the link:


  4. Molly's mum says:

    We’re using fabric “gift bags” (actually, pillowcases that we picked up for next to nothing, and that my daughter is decorating). Anything too big for those is being wrapped in our homemade wrapping paper (newspaper that we’re been decorating with a variety of printmaking techniques).

    Deb’s right on about greeting cards. I gave them up about 12 years ago when I spent a fortune on cards and stamps, and days on the cards… I found them in my desk drawer, unmailed, in February! (Oops)…And I love the towel idea! Do you do all your wrapping the night before? I’d have to, or I’d have to drip dry after a shower 🙂

  5. Michelle says:

    I love gift bags and because my mom loves gift bags too, I haven’t had to buy gift bags in quite a few years because I just recycle the ones that have been given to my fiancee and I over the past few years.

    However, gift bags can also be costly if you’re just buying them – so kudos to one of my local grocery store chains who are selling their holiday-themed “green” bags for a buck. They are encouraging people to use those for wrapping gifts – then the recipents will use those bags to shop with and help the environment!

  6. Annie Jones says:

    We use a lot of gift bags, saving them to use over and over again. I also do like you do and stockpile a few rolls of deeply discounted wrapping paper.

  7. Monkey Mama says:

    We reuse gift bags and buy gift wrap at the dollar store.

    BUT, mostly we use newspaper to wrap gifts. I don’t see the point of wasting all that paper. More of a conserving kind of thing than a financial one, for us.

  8. Joan.of.the.Arch says:

    I have given a gift of garden seeds plus a book on gardening wrapped in pages from a seed catalog and some burlap string.

    Cut out photos of flowers from the mail order catalog and glue to paper to wrap a gift of that very flower’s bulbs. Give tulips = wrap in tulip decorated paper.

    Large orders from a well known seed and plant vendor come with the merchandise lightly padded with large sheets of misprint (mostly a color missing or ink too light) gift wrap. I saved it for future use. Free!

    When I was about twelve years old I was given a very large amount of chewing gum, each piece of which was wrapped in silver foil. I gingerly separated each piece of foil from its paper backing. They were waxed together. Each piece could then be burnished onto a large sheet of paper. I just used school loose leaf paper. After a while the whole sheet was covered with overlapping silvers squares. I used it to wrap a little box with two bangle bracelets for my grandmother. I thought it looked really special, but who knows?

    I have put away a few washed mylar potato chip bags. I’m considering using them, silver side out, to warp the right present for the right person. Fortunately I have many friends who would approve.

    Also in the line of mylar–how about those mylar birthday balloons? What ever happens to them? I understand some communities are considering banning them for ecological reasons. But if you have one wilting away, perhaps it could be discreetly punctured and slit open somehow to make the kind of wrap that is gathered at the top with a bow around a bottle, jar, or small basket for a birthday.

    There is, of course the idea of painting your own paper, should you come across some that is large enough. We did that sort of thing when we were kids. We would even given new, brighter life to newspaper by painting bold designs on it.

    In magazines in the last few years I have seen a lot of very nice packages done in brown paper bags. The bows or other attachments were what really gave it dazzle. A small twig of fir or cedar from your tree, garland or wreath looks great tied to a brown package.

    I have had a lot of tiny Christmas ornaments for years. I started attaching little ones to wrapped gifts and they add a lot of charm to ho-hum or not Christmassy paper. That might be just the thing to add to my inside-out potato chip bag wrapping. 🙂 Similarly I have attached the applesauce & cinnamon dough gingerbread men I made with my kid some 15 years ago. They are easy to attach because we had made them to hang on a tree, so they have little holes in their hands or heads. I just string a than ribbon to it and can add it to that ho-hum make-do paper, dangling out of a bow, preferably.

    Once as a kid, I decorated a plain department store shirt box with button, and scraps of fabric to look like a men’s shirt. Inside, was the shirt my sibs and I were giving to Dad.

    I love to wrap presents, whether I have classy, expensive material or not!

  9. Ann says:

    I’ve used brown paper bags to wrap presents, cut out “stencils” from cheap sponges, dipped them in poster paint and stencilled on a Christmas tree forest, different colored ornaments, angels, etc. A bit of ribbon and you’re all set! This could be modified for birthday balloons or hearts or whatever the occasion calls for.

    I also remember one Christmas when I was a teenager. At the last minute, I purchased 3 large chocolate bars for my brother. I didn’t have any gift wrap so I used white drawing paper and painted a tree with the 12 days of Christmas on it. A VERY time consuming project for a very minor gift! LOL

    I also re-use gift bags… even accidently gave one back to the persn who gave it to me in the first place once!

  10. I do a fair amount of wrapping at Christmas, and just spend about $5 on paper, bows, ribbon, tags and tape – it’s all .75 to $1 per item (dollar store, pharmacy chains, etc) even before Christmas.

    I also use small candy canes and dollar store decorations (like mini ornaments 20/$1) to make a package more fancy and festive (will be blogging about this sort of thing shortly, as soon as I take some pics).

    My sisters live in the same city about 1700 miles away, so when we mail-order something for one of them, we just have it delivered to the other and she’s in charge of wrapping it. We don’t consider that “being cheap” – it’s simply not being stupid with our money.

  11. Jules says:

    My family has uses the same festive gift bags every year for holidays and birthdays. Even the same name tags, hehe. Many of these are a couple decades old!

    For really big gifts (too huge for a bag), though, we did go the comics route ; ). Sorry, David!

    Good article. But I especially love the video on fabric wrapping. That is awesome! It is a very classy, elegant way to go green and reduce wrapping costs, especially if you are able to use fabric you already have.

  12. Cassie says:

    I wrapped our Christmas gifts this year in the Financial Times newspaper. It’s a pretty preach-ish color and I added holiday colored ribbon. I’ve received great compliments. On the package I mailed my niece, my children also added some Christmas stickers to the FT wrapping paper and it looks very cute!

  13. Persephone says:

    I love the look of a wrapped present. I make sure, though, to buy wrap when it is on sale. Yesterday, I bought lots of wrap and ribbons at 75% off. Post holiday sales are terrific and I often find wrap generic enough to use year round. I also like to adorn my wrapped gifts with little gifts such as key chains for children and candies. Again, sales are key to keeping this practice afordable. I check the clearance section every time I’m in a store. I never know what goodies I might find. After all, it truly is the small things that make life enjoyable.

  14. Carl says:

    Call be wastefull, but I like gift wrap. I buy it after the holidays when it is deeply discounted. I think it makes for a better presentation. I do realize that it can often times be wasteful and it would be better to recycle, but, I would not personally like getting a wrapped in a towel or pillowcase.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *