Don't Buy This: 12 Ways to Save Money on Wrapping Paper

Upcycle newspaper, brown paper bags, and even old maps for the coolest looking presents under the tree.

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Dec 3 2018, 1:45pm

Photos by Stocksy

The holidays have officially arrived and for many people it’s a joyous time of year. The not so joyous part is when you have to spend hundreds of dollars on gifts for the family—where is Santa when you need him? To add insult to injury, buying gift wrap alone could put a hole in your pockets. Americans spend about $3.2 billion annually on gift wrap, according to research by Hallmark. That’s right, you’ve been buying expensive pieces of paper to wrap your even more expensive items. But nothing spreads holiday cheer like gift wrap with snowmen on them, right? No.

If you shop at speciality retailers like Papyrus, you’ll spend $10 for a single roll of wrapping paper or as much as $6 for a single, 20-inch by 27-inch sheet. Even bargain stores like Target charge $15 for a set of three rolls of gift wrap. At first glance the prices seem reasonable but when you have lots of friends and family or large gifts to wrap, you’re going to have to buy multiple rolls and the costs starts adding up.

Wrapping paper at a Papyrus store.
A single sheet of wrapping paper at a Papyrus store in Manhattan costs $5.95 each.

A good idea is to always save gift wrap from the previous year. Chances are you didn’t use all of it, and I’m pretty sure last year’s snowmen haven’t gone out of style. But there are lots of other creative ways to wrap a gift without resorting to used wrapping paper or skipping gift wrap altogether.

Here are 12 of our favorites:

Freeload, unapologetically

Bed Bath & Beyond Gift-Wrap station.
A customer helps herself to some gift wrap and ribbons at the self-serve gift wrap station at a Bed Bath & Beyond store in Manhattan.

Tons of stores offer free gift boxes and wrapping paper, including Barnes & Noble, Bed Bath & Beyond, Crate & Barrel, Mac Cosmetics, Nordstrom, Pottery Barn, Ralph Lauren, and Williams Sonoma. Some of these stores will even wrap an item for you, while other lie Bed Bath & Beyond have self-service counters you can grab extra ribbons, paper and boxes from—even for items you didn’t buy there.

Take out the tissue paper

Tissue paper is usually less expensive than regular wrapping paper and you can have fun with it by using multiple layers and different colors to create a beautiful effect. Tie it with some ribbon and it will look extra fancy. Just be careful with the tissue as it is more fragile than regular wrapping paper and will tear if you pull it too tightly across an edge.

Give old newspapers a new life

Do you have old newspapers hanging around? Blow the dust off of them and turn the pages into wrapping paper. You can jazz it up using a fabric ribbon or even a red shoe lace. You can also use bay leaves as a topper. The green against the black and white newspaper will give it a festive look.

Find a new direction for old maps

Before google maps and mapquest came into existence, people used hard-copy maps to get where they were going. If you no longer use them (and I’m hoping you don’t) turn them into wrapping paper. Because maps are pretty elaborate looking, a simple white bow or maybe pinecone topper will do.

Use a brown paper bag as a canvas

Put your brown lunch bags or grocery store bags to good use by turning them into gift bags. Get some colored markers, draw a Santa or maybe some snowflakes, and if you have extra brown lunch bags, you can cut them up to make three-dimensional flowers, or even a ribbon.

Save your chip bag

Gift wrap made out of empty potato chip bags? Yes it’s a thing and you’ll wonder why you didn’t think of it before. Cut the sides of the potato chip bags so they become flat and have the inside of the bag facing outward so it becomes metallic gift wrap. You can cut out white polka dots from construction paper to decorate the exterior.

Find some fabric

Fabric wrapping-pape
You can use any kind of fabric, even a cloth napkin, as an alternative to regular wrapping paper. Photo by Stocksy

Whether it's a rough-woven piece of burlap, a sparkly piece of an old Halloween costume, or even a section of an old curtain or skirt, you can use a portion of fabric to wrap a small gift. Using the Japanese art of Furoshiki, you can simply tie the fabric ends together and make a bow. If you choose a scarf as your fabric, your "gift wrap" is part of the present too.

Upcycle your toilet paper tube or paper towel roll

Toilet paper and paper towel rolls by MOunique
This video from MOunique shows you how to turn toilet paper and paper towel rolls into cutely-shaped gift boxes.

If you’re trying to wrap a smaller or odd shaped item, using a toilet paper tube or a paper towel roll might be the way to go. All you need to do is fold the creases of the roll, tape both ends and rip out pages from a magazine to wrap around the roll for some added decor. You can also use a empty Pringles container for this.

Toilet paper wrapping by MOunique.
Looks cute, right? Video still from MOunique.

Get crafty with an old jar or plastic container

Nowadays, mason jars have such a wide variety of uses that it’s no surprise it can be used as a vessel for a gift. But did you know you can also use an empty mayonnaise or peanut butter jar? All you have to do is make sure you clean them thoroughly (no one wants that funky mayonnaise smell), get a piece of fabric to wrap around the jar and using a bow, tie the top.

Foil isn’t just for wrapping sandwiches

Aluminum foil wrapping paper
This video from Expert Village shows you how to wrap a present in aluminum foil

If you use aluminum foil to wrap yesterday’s lunch, why not use it to wrap your gift? You’d use it the same way you’d use wrapping paper, just double it up so it doesn’t rip as easily. You can also save the same aluminum so you can reuse it later.

Give an old cookie tin a new life

Have an old cookie tin sitting around? Go ahead and put your gift in there, preferably lined with some pretty paper or colorful magazine pages.

Finishing touches

If gift wrapping isn’t your forte, there are lots of tips and tricks you can use this season to make your friends and family believe your a professional—fake it till you make it. If you’re the type of person who never cuts their wrapping paper big enough to wrap the entire gift, there’s no need to fret. You can do what is called the diagonal wrapping method, where you place the gift wrap diagonally on a flat surface, place the gift in the middle and pull up each corner so it covers the entire gift.

Another small but effective tip is to use double-sided tape so the tape isn’t exposed when your wrapping your gifts. To add a final touch, make a ribbon from any excess gift wrap. It’s easy and the person receiving the gift, will no doubt be wildly impressed.

Top a gift with twine and a leaf or branch
Get creative with your gift topper by using twine instead of ribbon and a leaf or twig instead of a bow. Photo by Stocksy

Most people like adding bows or toppers to their gifts to jazz it up. But it’s extra money you’ll have to spend. Instead of purchasing bows or fancy decor, you can use things like twine, shoelaces, or even string used for knitting. Most of these things are already in your house so might as well put them to good use. You can even use things like leaves, candied fruit or pinecones to add something a little different to your gift.

The holidays will put more than just a dent in your bank account. If you want to lessen the blow, just look around the house; you’d be surprised by what you can turn into this year’s holiday decor.