It's so hard to be patient. Like any consumer, I've watched the after-Christmas ads--but experience tells me that the very best retail markdowns won't come until late January.
I'll do most of my 2006 Christmas shopping in January and February. That's when department stores like Dillard's slash their prices to between 75 and 90% off.
Last year I bought big crystal bowls of Aromatique potpourri for $2.50 (reg. $25), fine cotton weave blankets from $40 down to $5, and tins of California grilling spices for $3 (reg. $30). My in-laws sometimes send me a Dillard's gift card, which is why I've studied the pricing there.
What do you do if your nearest department store is already picked clean?
Find the one in your area that is the least shopped; in Nashville, that's usually the Hickory Hollow location. I had hunted all over for Dillard's blown glass trout ornaments for my husband, with no luck; we just happened to be at that mall when I found several boxes still unopened at 75% off.
Likewise, my aunt, who buys entire seasons' of clothes from the Gap, waits until the final round of markdowns...and then drives out to Hickory Hollow, where she can still find pieces of every collection on the racks.
If you have but one store to shop, you can also check the store's web site. F0r instance, Dillards.com has 75% off seasonal merchandise, with very reasonable shipping. I once ordered deluxe gourmet food baskets online; slashed from $50 to $12.50, the baskets, though dubbed seasonal, had no holiday decorations at all--and I was able to have them sent directly to recipients without having to wrap.
Happy hunting! And do share your own tips for after-Christmas treasures below!