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4 easy ways to buy gift cards for less

Browse gift card exchange sites

Another way to buy gift cards at a discount: online businesses that sell or trade gift cards.

Vet any sites carefully and confine yourself to ones where you are buying from the site, not individuals posting on the site, says Rea. Consumers "need to do their due diligence," she says.

If you're buying through third-party card exchange sites, you can often let the site know which retailer cards you're seeking and it will alert you when the cards become available, Kuadey says.

Many sites specialize, so it pays to stick with the sites that carry the types of gift cards and brands you want.

"If you want high-end brands, labels and designers, you need to be swapping with a site that gives you what you want," Hillary Mendelsohn, author of "thepurplebook" series of shopping guides and founder of thepurplebook.com.

Like anything else, "it's really important to read the fine print," she says. Familiarize yourself with the costs and the policies before you buy.

And keep an eye out for shopper-friendly policies and benefits, such as price-match guarantees and rewards points.

"Find a site that gives you exactly what you need," Mendelsohn says. "You have choices."

Look for freebies

What's better than discounted gift cards? Free gift cards.

That's an offer that's popping up frequently from retailers this year, says Kuadey. From restaurants to spas to home improvement stores, many retailers are offering free gift cards if you buy a certain number or amount of gift cards at full price.

"People should be on the lookout," he says.

Even if you don't like giving or receiving gift cards, you can still use them to save money. It requires a little planning and willingness to read some fine print.

Buy the gift cards at a discount, combine them with store coupons and use them to purchase your gifts, says Kuadey.

It requires a little advance planning, he says, because you have to know exactly where you're going to be shopping. However, if you do it right, Kuadey says, "you can double your savings."

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