Here are a few tips to get you started making your game plan. You don't have to follow them, but I find that they help the whole process along.
Tip #1: Have a really good hiding spot for your gift stash.
I mean, really good. You can do what I do, and get a $30 foot locker from Wal-mart, and a cheap lock and hide your goodies year-round, in plain site. I keep mine at the foot of my bed usually, draped with spare blankets. Everyone knows what is in there, no one can get into it (I have the only key). My surprises remain so the holidays. I store all my gifts there, for birthdays and such.
Tip #2: Start a list of who you absolutely have to get gifts for, and who is optional. Cull the list if your budget requires.
I know this makes me sound cheap, but do you really have to get a gift for your friend's friend who you met twice? You can also do things to shorten the list like suggest a gift swap at the office, instead of buying 30 individual gifts. My extended family does this among the adults, as well. It cuts down on the amount you have to spend, the amount of time you have to be in the stores during the holidays, and the amount you need to wrap.
Tip #3: Keep your list on hand, and stick to it.
The list should include person you are shopping for, and a few reasonable gift ideas or a short list of their interests/hobbies. This way you have a gift buying guide in your pocket, any time you are in the store.
Tip #4: Sign up for a prepaid debit/credit card, to use when you sign up for any offers that may require you pay shipping.
I do not usually sign up for anything that costs me money, but sometimes the shipping is so low, the cost of the freebie so high, that it would be insane not to. Using what I call a "dummy" card keeps you from running into charging issues, like the one I had with Stamps.com.
Tip #5: Have a 'junk' email account, to sign up for offers.
You can get one free via Google Gmail or Yahoo Mail. Trust me, this helps keep your every day inbox from becoming overwhelmed.
Now, the "good" part: How to Get Free Stuff!
Step 1: Like your favorite retailers on Facebook and twitter.
I have gotten free gift items from Bath & Body Works, Victoria's Secret, Dewar's, Marlboro and even the Sleep Number store! Some offer monthly "get you in the door" freebies. others, like Marlboro, offer incentives to members in limited quantities. I've gotten Zippo brand lighters and such. They are name brand freebies, and can be used in stockings, gift bags/baskets, you name it.
Step 2: Follow Bargain Sites that Give Freebies.
If you haven't checked out 1saleaday.com or Bizarkdeal.com, you should! They both have freebie programs. 1saleaday is random, a few times a year (this is where gathering gifts year round pays off) but Bizarkdeal.com has monthly freebies - you spin the wheel and try your luck, sometimes you get the item free or offered a deep discount. I've gotten quite a few little stocking stuffers for the kids, and a few items for gift baskets this way.
Step 3: Join Referral Programs
Refer friend programs are what got me the best gifts, I will admit. For every friend I have brought to NoMoreRack, I get 1 point, which translates into $1. I used this to get a new computer, a Kindle Fire, and several Amazon Gift Cards! A full list of referral for points or cash programs can be found here.
Step 4: Enter Giveaways and Contests
As the saying goes, "You have to be in it to win it". Enter as many online giveaways - for Amazon gift cards, Paypal cash, and even specific prizes - as you can. You never know when luck will come your way!