I refuse to spend a significant portion of our Christmas budget on wrapping supplies that will just end up in a landfill. Whether it's to save money, the environment, or both, here are some ideas for frugal gift wrap.
1. Children's art work. While we all think our little Picassos are geniuses, there's only so much refrigerator space. Choose a handful of pieces that you love from throughout the year, label them with your child's name and the creation date (or year, if you're doing it all at once :P), put those into the time capsule, then use the rest to wrap gifts. Grandparents especially will enjoy the hand-crafted wrappings, your children will have the pride of knowing they created it, and it won't cost you a dime.
2. Sunday comics. These are especially good for wrapping children's presents, but are also good for adult presents, especially if you see a particular strip that person will appreciate. Be sure to wrap so that the strip you like best is highlighted on the top of the present.
3. Craft, Mailing, or construction paper. If you like the idea of child-created gift wrap but don't have or want to give up your children's art, then have them create more. Wrap the gift in plain paper (I use construction paper for small gifts. Craft or butcher paper works well for larger ones. You can also use freezer paper). Then turn the kids loose with some markers, crayons, or stampers & ink pads. Gorgeous, one of a kind gift wrap for pennies!
4. Reusable shopping bags. I always sign up for the 'free' ones companies give out throughout the year, but I usually end up buying the larger ones for the holidays. They tend to be within $1 pricewise of a similar size paper gift bag, but they hold up better to travel (important for those of us who transport our presents hundreds of miles) and can be reused after the holidays. It's like giving two gifts in one :D
5. Recycle. I'm sure you know someone who collects the scraps of gift wrap to use again next year. I don't tend to do that (really, with three children, there's not much more than scraps left), but I DO save and reuse paper gift bags from Christmas and birthdays. I definitely follow the 'once is not enough' philosophy when it comes to gift bags--you should be able to use them at least a couple of times before they go to the landfill.
6. Collect containers throughout the year. I love to buy baskets, pretty boxes, and other unique containers at thrift stores and yard sales throughout the year and then use them for gift wrap--much like the reusable shopping bag, it's like adding an additional gift. You could also get your kids to decorate containers (such as oatmeal boxes or flower pots) and then use them for wrapping gifts. In my opinion, most gift wrap is going to be thrown in the trash, so if you can get it for free or make sure the giftwrap is reusable, you've not only saved yourself some money, but also kept something out of the landfills.