Ever since I was little, my family had a gift closet — a place where you could keep potential gifts throughout the year. I use one even today.

If you're like me and you shop for holiday gifts all year long, you can save this space to store those gifts in addition to any other presents you might want to give for birthdays, holidays, and everything in between.

I love buying gifts for my friends and family, but I normally have a tiny budget. This is where purchasing things ahead of time comes in handy. There’s nothing better than getting friends gifts that they love while knowing you spent only $5 on them instead of $35!

A gift doesn’t have to be expensive to be meaningful. If you spend a lot of time thinking about a person, you will be able to find something they will really love. We can feel pressured to buy certain things or spend lots of money on gifts. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

A thoughtful gift — even something you make yourself — can mean so much to a real friend, even if you don’t spend much actual money.

Here are 10 holiday shopping tips to help you be a smart gift buyer:

1. Check Clearance Sections

Always check the clearance section of your favorite stores — and don’t rule out any clearance section.

One of my favorite finds was in the clearance section at Office Max. It's not really the first place you think of when buying a present for your best friend, right? But it was offering a huge selection of Smash books that were all at least 60 percent off.

I know most of my friends enjoy keeping a journal or scrapbook, so I bought several of them along with other decorations. I got so much cute stuff! This was a few years ago, and I'm still giving them to friends.

2. Go to Thrift Shops

10 Smart Shopping Tips for Every Holiday. Holiday gifts don't have to break the bank. Check out these smart holiday shopping tips to knock gift-buying season out of the park. #holiday #budget #savingtipsI’m the first to understand that buying your friend a second-hand present isn't ideal, but keep an open mind and don’t miss out on any awesome savings you could get during your next visit to a thrift shop. Often, the clothes are brand new and still have the tags on them.

If you spot something that you know one of your friends or family members would appreciate and it's a new item, go ahead and add it to your gift closet.

No one ever has to know — unless you want to brag about paying 35 cents for the awesome new shirt you got your BFF for her birthday. Garage sales are also a great place to look for brand new things!

3. Find Affordable Home Decor

If, like me, you and your friends are still renting, you probably don’t have the time, inclination, or funds to decorate your temporary abodes. While taste may factor into it, consider niche stuff that your friends are into.

Does your best friend love Star Wars? You can find some amazing cheap artwork on Tumblr, Etsy, or Instagram that your friend will go gaga over. Buy it, slap it in a frame, and you’ve just given the most thoughtful, personalized gift. And you’re supporting artists, so it’s a win-win.

4. Make a Scrapbook

It costs a couple of bucks from the local arts and crafts store, and maybe a few dollars in printing, but there’s nothing more meaningful — or cost-effective — than scrapbooking.

Grab that ticket stub from the first movie you saw together that you hung onto for some reason, add references to their favorite TV shows and films, plus some candid photos of you together, and boom! A gift that you can prepare months in advance of the holiday season.

5. Bake!

Imagine your loved one slaving over a hot stove to give you homemade loveliness in the form of bread, cupcakes, pies — you name it.

You might have some of the ingredients at home already, and following a recipe to create something from scratch is the most wholesome feeling.

Not to mention, you'll get to enjoy delicious treats together once it’s done!

6. Build Randomized Baskets

Hit up stores like Flying Tiger or Target and build a basket of random crap as your gift. Stationery, novelty egg holders, kitschy homeware, all snuggled together in a wicker basket of joy that anyone will surely love.

And it’ll cost you very little. Who doesn’t love knickknacks?

7. Make Mix CDs or Playlists

You’ll have to know your audience very well for this one. Picking songs that you enjoy, but that your gift recipient will like, too, is a challenge — that’s why there’s so much meaning to it. And if the recipient doesn’t have a CD player, make up a playlist on Spotify. It’s the thought that counts, right? Especially if each song title spells out a message!

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8. Get Some Board Games

You can get cheap old games at your local thrift store or on clearance, but it’s not about the price. Board games bring people together, and giving a game like this with the promise to spend time and play it with the recipient is worth more than the 75 cents you may have spent on it. They don’t have to know.

9. Show the Pets Some Love

Listen, we all know that your friends and family prefer their pets to you anyway, so why not put together a doggy or kitty or snake treat gift box for their furry (or scaly) children? It’ll win you some serious brownie points for pampering their precious pets.

10. Spruce Up the Presentation

Remember: It’s less about what you buy than it is about the thought behind it, and more importantly, how you present it. Dressing up even the simplest or cheapest things can make all the difference.

Want to get your dad socks and underwear? Put it in a fancy box with his favorite beers or candy and some nice wrapping paper. Hand make your mom some jewelry and dress up that tiny cardboard box with ribbon! The possibilities are endless.

Bonus Holiday Shopping Tips

  • Make sure you’re getting a really good deal — at least 50 percent off the retail price.
  • Don’t buy an item if you don’t know anyone who would like it. (This is super important.)
  • Always remember to check your gift closet before you go out and purchase a gift.
  • Be on the lookout for good deals on wrapping paper and such. We get the cutest gift bags at the dollar store!

It is a great feeling to give gifts. It’s an even better feeling to give ones that you got for a fabulous price.

Additional reporting by Kelly Meehan Brown.