No matter what you call them — promotional items, tchotchkes, giveaways, swag —they have to prove their worth. So, before you even start researching ideas, think about what you want to accomplish, what your strategy is and how the giveaway will fit into the overall activation plan.

What is your goal? Is this a thank-you gift to speakers or are you trying to build brand awareness at a trade show by having your logo everywhere? If you determine a clear goal, it will help you select on the right item.

Here are seven ideas to help you save money on your swag budget.

1. Shop around

I love a great shopping discount as much as anyone, so don't be afraid to get quotes for different vendors. Not only will your price quotes be different, but you also might find a difference in inventory or quality of product that puts one vendor above the others.

I am an advocate of being honest with my vendors — letting them know there are other players involved.

2. Avoid flat-fee quotes

Flat-fee estimates offer little to no transparency in your order. Instead, ask vendors to break out all prices up front — including setup fees, art charges, rush fees (if applicable) and shipping charges. Be sure to ask when rush charges kick in so you can get the ordered placed beforehand.

3. Price breaks

As a general rule, buying in large volume means you pay a lower cost per item ordered. Step back and review your exhibit program — where else could you use these items? Can they be used at a different event or part of another marketing program?

Ask your vendor to provide pricing options based on different quantity levels. Find the price break that drops the per-item price to a more reasonable cost.

4. Order early

We are all too familiar with the surcharges that can happen when you order event serves too close to an event date. The same is true for your giveaways.

Not only do you run the risk of not having enough inventory for your needs, you almost certainly will pay expensive rush charges for production and shipping fees. In some cases, this can more than double your giveaway costs.

Do your research, and get price quotes early enough that you can pull the trigger on production about 6-8 weeks before you need the items. This gives you plenty of time to verify inventory, graphic proofing, production time and shipping.

5. Use your FedEx or UPS account

Take a look at setting up a FedEx or UPS shipping account, if you don't already have one. In my experience, using your own shipping account is cheaper than paying the vendor for the shipping service.

Just give the vendor your account number, and they can arrange for the shipment to be billed to your account.

6. Hidden costs

Do your research, and identify every expense associated with your giveaways. Line item them all to get to your bottom-line cost and your per-item cost.

Does the show decorator charge a material-handling fee to receive and deliver your packages to your booth? Will you need onsite/accessible storage at a trade show? Are you distributing your giveaway via a hotel room drop?

Be sure to factor in all the additional expenses into your bottom line and per-item costs so you have a true budget number to work from in the future.

7. Convenience costs

If you are in the habit of shipping everything to the show using the show shipping labels, you might be overpaying for your shipping fees. Show decorators charge a receiving fee when you ship to their warehouse. They also charge a drayage fee to deliver boxes to your booth. For larger pallets and packages, this may be unavoidable.

It is certainly convenient to walk into your booth and have your packages magically appear. But are you paying too much for this convenience? Consider shipping your giveaway boxes to your hotel and just carry them in with you. A decent collapsible luggage cart can be found for around $50-100.

Spend a little time researching different options — it is worth it.