PLAY YOUR CARDS RIGHT
As holiday decorations go up and Christmas songs begin playing on a loop, folks are opening their address books to send holiday cards to friends and family. From traditional cards mailed at the post office to digital greetings delivered at the last minute, here's how to send holiday cards without spending a bundle.
As expected, e-cards are the cheapest holiday cards around. Inexpensive designs with personal messages are free on sites such as JustWink. More than 400 free holiday cards can be found at Paperless Post, including templates for uploading photos or an original design. Options such as an electronic envelope and coordinating liner cost extra, and premium designs are priced anywhere from 30 to 80 cents apiece. Ironically, e-cards from Hallmark and American Greetings bear less resemblance to paper cards. They feature music, animation, and an interesting twist on pricing: unlimited e-cards for a flat fee. A monthly membership is cheaper at American Greetings ($4 vs. $5) and Hallmark has the lower price for a full year ($18 vs. $20).
Those who would rather send traditional holiday cards may luck out and find unique, affordable options at a local stationary store. Alternatively, opt for boxes of festive greeting cards and envelopes from a big-box retailer. Costco and Sam's Club have stocked some of the cheapest cards in years past. Even better, check the dollar store for boxes of cheap holiday cards. Creative types can take the opportunity to make cards from scratch. This is a frugal and fun way to pass along a cheery greeting with a personal touch. The cards may not look professional, especially if children help out, but that's kind of the point, isn't it?
ONLINE PRINTING SERVICES
Photo greeting cards are surprisingly affordable and easy to create by choosing a template, uploading images, and personalizing the design. At Shutterfly, for example, most holiday cards start at $1.19 each, but a 30 to 40 percent discount and free shipping may apply, depending on the options you choose. At Simply to Impress, the average price for individual cards starts at 68 cents. In a side-by-side comparison by Top Ten Reviews, Simply to Impress offered more cards for the money than all but one other printer and came in second overall. (The first-place winner, Shutterfly-owned Tiny Prints, is a bit pricier. Photo cards cost between 99 cents and $4.47.) Generally the larger the order, the lower the price per card, so expect to pay up if you're buying only a few cards for close friends and family. Extras such as envelopes with return addresses or printed lining inside the envelope also add to the bottom line.
Another path to follow is to find someone through a site such as Etsy who can custom design a holiday card, with or without photos. This option starts at about $8 for a PDF or image file. The next step is to print the design. At Walgreens, for example, prices start at 12 cents per copy. That comes to $24 for 200 holiday cards, plus the cost of the design and standard envelopes (nothing fancy required).
Special discounts and coupons for 20 to 50 percent off are prevalent this time of year. Shutterfly is offering free shipping on orders of $39 or more with the code SHIP39. The offer expires Nov. 8, but if you miss out, not to worry -- more deals will pop up shortly. Search for the name of an online printing service plus the word "coupons" (e.g., "Simply to Impress coupons") before making a purchase. Signing up for email offers is another way to get discounts, such as 20 percent off your first order and free shipping from Tiny Prints.