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Illustration by Jade Schulz

With every holiday comes great intentions. Of course you want to stay within your budget, and also find your loved ones gifts they'll actually love (and won't regift the next year).

The end of the year is actually an ideal time to score some deals. Companies are fighting for your business by offering sales and discounts. But as a devoted frugal shopper, I always want to go one step further: I want to save money and time.

That's why I always turn to the same place when I start shopping for holiday gifts: Costco. I'm already there to stock up on grocery essentials; grabbing a few presents is helpful in the holiday rush.

Costco offers a nice selection of gift ideas, but to save the most money, you should also know how to navigate the store for the best deals.

Here's how to find the best gifts at Costco during the holidays

1. Keep your eyes on the middle section of the store

Did you know the middle section of the warehouse is where most of the cheapest deals are located? Costco displays those deep discounts in the center, so they’re easily seen by customers from almost anywhere in the store. This is where you should scout first.

2. Stop by the trade shows

As any frequent Costco visitor knows, the store hosts mini trade shows where vendors display their product and provide live demonstrations in order for members to see the product in action before buying it.

Even if it's something that you might not need, don't simply pass by on your way to the freezer aisle. Perhaps there's a good gift idea hiding in plain sight. Road show vendors usually offer their product for a limited time at Costco (about 2-4 weeks) for a much lower price and often with bonus items included.

3. Look out for deals in Costco’s ad booklet

Costco mails out an ad booklet on a monthly basis to its members, so before heading to the warehouse, be sure to comb through the booklet and make a list of the items that catch your eye. Costco's Black Friday ad is already available.

Of course, I'm not advocating for buying something just because it's on sale — I am the Frugal Convert after all! — so be sure to take a list with you during your holiday shopping. Knowing exactly who you're buying for (and what you want to buy) will help you focus on the items you need, so you can stay on budget.

4. Try to make a quick decision.

A few years ago, browsing through Costco, I found a throw/shawl I thought would be the perfect gift for my mom. I scooped it up for about $20, and years later, she says it’s one of her favorite winter pieces. It’s thick and warm, but also soft and elegant to wear out. I might have been able to find a similar item elsewhere, but the combination of quality and price made me feel good about the value I was getting.

I knew this shawl wasn't going to be in the store forever. If you see something you like, it's time to pounce. Costco is notorious for running out of stock quickly, sometimes only a day or two after products hit the sales floor. This isn't the kind of place to debate your purchase for a few weeks and come back later.

Here are 5 areas to shop at Costco to save money and stay on budget for the holidays

1. Books, Books, and More Books

Costco has a sizeable selection of books for all ages and all interests, from cookbooks and children’s books, to novels and multiple-book series. Many of their popular children's book series are offered for less than $25 for a set of six or more books, which is a great deal and makes a nice present.

Quick tip! The book series tend to be valued better than single books, so keep that in mind when shopping.

2. Small Appliances and Kitchenware

Costco has a select variety of small appliances and kitchenware sets all year round. But, during the holidays, you can purchase them for much less. These make ideal holiday gifts for anyone who likes to experiment or is just getting started in the kitchen.

For example, Costco is currently selling the KitchenAid Professional Series 6 Quart Bowl Lift Stand Mixer w/ Flex Edge for $329, with an additional limited-time manufacturer's savings of $80, bringing the total price to $249.99.

Compare that to Bed Bath & Beyond and Target, which are each selling a similar model for $499. That’s a $250 discount — and it’s not even Black Friday yet.

I especially like browsing the aisles of the pots & pans sets. I find that the best time to purchase them is during the holidays when they are the most discounted.

3. Apparel

Clothing and ensemble sets are a classic holiday gift idea and Costco offers a lot of value for the price. Costco carries name brands like Calvin Klein, Jessica Simpson, Adidas, Puma, among others.

You can find high-quality pieces for women, men, and kids as well. I recently bought my husband Puma brand joggers for $9.95 and they’ve quickly become his favorite lounge pants. They’re soft, comfortable, and best of all, they don’t pill after washing them.

I find that kids’ sets are often inexpensive as well. From holiday pant/shirt outfits to pajamas to holiday dresses for the girls, if you want to buy clothing gifts for your loved ones, you’ll find a good selection at Costco. And you’ll notice that many of the pieces range between $10-$25, making it easier to stay within your budget.

4. Gift Cards

Gift cards make a welcome gift for teachers, coworkers, even impossible-to-shop-for family and friends. Most of Costco's $100 restaurant gift cards are sold for $80, so you’re saving $20 right on the spot.

Even if you don’t have someone in mind for the gift card, you could also purchase them for your own use. You’ll be able to take the family out to dinner while saving 20% off the bill. Costco also offers gift cards for spas, fitness centers, theme parks, and more.

5. Fragrances and Beauty Gifts

Since Costco is a bulk warehouse store, beauty connoisseurs will find that they get much more product for less. You can find skincare products, makeup, and even hair styling tools all at a much lower price than places like Ulta or Sephora.

My daughter’s favorite hand lotion is Hempz brand, which I recently found at Costco for $11.99. It came in a set of two: a 21-ounce bottle and a small 6-ounce bottle. A 17-ounce bottle is currently offered at Ulta for $23.

The Bottom Line

Costco is very selective with their merchandise, so you can often get good quality items for a price less than at a department or specialty store. They also provide “Holiday Savings books” for their members during Black Friday — yet another way to take advantage of rock-bottom prices.

Of course, wherever you choose to shop, be sure to first check online and local ads to find the best prices and shop early to snag the best deals.

I promise that with a little advance planning, you can stick to your budget while still being known as a great gift-giver.