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10 ideas to help you save money on the holidays

holiday savings tips
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Tracie Fobes Penny Pinchin' Mom |
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The holiday season can be a busy time. With all you have to do, it can be tempting to whip out the credit card and just go crazy racking up debt. The thing is though, come January, you will be kicking yourself when the bills arrive in the mail.

Honestly, that really seems like the simplest way to get through it all. However, there are practical ways to get done what you need and still save money. Alone these may not make a difference. But, if you work them all together you will not only save money, but quite possibly your sanity.

1. Determine your budget.

It can be easy to just go crazy and buy something for every one you know. But, is that really practical? By planning ahead, you will save money. You need to be completely honest with yourself about what you can afford to spend. This is often less than what you would like to spend.

Create your gift giving list after you know how much you need to spend. It may mean you have to trim it down or not give the big ticket item you want.

Use the free holiday planning tools to help you create your list, budget and get through the holidays with your sanity in check.

2. Use cash.

I know that using plastic is more convenient. However, it is not necessarily the best. When you set your budget, make sure you have the cash to go along with it. By using cash, you will be forced to stick to the amount you have set aside for each gift and/or person on your list.

As you walk through the stores doing our shopping, you may be tempted by the sales and bargains calling your name. When you have limited funds, you will have to stick to the task at hand and proudly turn down the so called amazing deal!

RELATED: Are you carrying enough cash? Here’s what Clark recommends

3. Make your gifts.

Some of my favorite gifts are the ones that don’t come from a store. Handcrafted gifts are much less expensive, plus, you are giving a piece of yourself to make them. Just because something does not come from a high end retailer does not make it any less valuable.

A gift from the heart doesn’t always means something that requires a glue gun to create. During the holidays, there are deals waiting for you. One of my favorite sites is Photobarn. They sell amazing wooden items which have your photos embedded onto them. Best of all, they seem to always have some sort of a sale happening, which means you never pay full price.

Get creative and think outside of the box to create something that doesn’t cost you an arm and a leg. Chances are that those will be the most loved gifts of all.

4. Take advantage of “Black Week.”

The deals use to all take place only on Black Friday. That seems to be a thing of the past. While some offers are not available until the day after Thanksgiving, many start occurring the Sunday before. If you are quick with the mouse, you can even score these deals without having to step foot out of your house.

Finding the deals can be difficult – unless you have help. Use a free searchable Black Friday database to find out which items are on sale and to find the current Black Friday ads. If you plan to get out and shop on Black Friday, our Black Friday secrets will share the best ways to get the deals you want.

RELATED: Check out the full Black Friday ad scans

5. Give of yourself.

Skip the gift giving completely and give your time. When I was younger, our family always did Love Gifts. These were small gifts we gave to each person in our family that could not be purchased in a store. They were gifts of ourselves. It became a favorite family tradition and we all looked forward to finding out what someone was going to do for us the next year.

You can even do this for your neighbors. Have the kids help shovel the sidewalk for the elderly couple next door. Offer to watch a friend’s kids so that she can get out and do her shopping.

6. Get your priorities straight.

All too often, we get sucked into the chaos of the holidays and lose focus. This is the time of the year to focus on your family and friends. The people who mean the most to you.

One thing our family loves to do each year is plan our 12 Days of Christmas. This gives us a chance to do the family things we want. It serves as a bucket list of sorts. Everything on the list is free to do. It is about experiences. My kids look forward to this every year as they know they get Mom and Dad all to themselves without any distractions.

Plan events with your kids and friends. Go Christmas caroling together and then finish the evening with hot cocoa. Plan a board game night with the kids and then string popcorn for the tree. Take time to read your favorite Christmas stories together. Focus on what matters most.

7. Scale back on the decorations.

Every year I have these great plans to make my house appear as those it fell out of the pages of Martha Stewart living. I have yet to see that happen.

We have fun decorating the tree and setting out a few things. However, the kids don’t even want lots of decor around the house. They would rather have a tree …. and the fun animated toys that sing carols. This actually ends up saving me money.

My kids will often color Christmas pages which we use to decorate the refrigerator. They will draw on our windows with washable markers. We find inexpensive ways to decorate, which stay true to the personality of our family.

I also decorate with our kids’ Santa photos. I display the kids’ picture with Santa every year. It means a lot of frames around the room, but it adds a very personal touch to the decor. The kids also get a kick out of seeing themselves when they were younger.

Wait until after the holiday to shop. Starting on December 26th, items will be marked down 50% off. As we approach the new year, the discount drops further to 75% off. Always shop these sales and set items back for next year. As an added bonus, it will be like Christmas when you open your boxes to decorate next year.

8. Focus on others.

Every year, our family adopts a family. We save money all year long and then use that to purchase gifts, food and household items for a family in need. Our children always select an angel from the tree at our church. They shop (with their own money) and get a gift for a child who is their own age.

While it might seem painful to use our money on people other than our family, the opposite is true. When we give to others, it makes our hearts warm. We can focus on what we have in our life and be more appreciative. Giving to someone less fortunate makes you feel good.

The more you give, the better you feel. I tell my kids that it gives me the “warm fuzzies” to do this for others. My oldest even now asks us to do even more. She knows there are so many who have less than she does and wants to give anything she can to help them too.

The amazing thing is that kindness is contagious. When you do for others, you get it back tenfold. You feel it in heart and see it in the faces of the people whom you help.

RELATED: 8 ways to be generous without giving money

9. Shop wisely.

Before you make a purchase, decide if there is a way you can save even more money. Use RetailMeNot or CouponSherpa to see if there is a coupon code you can use to lower the price.

Purchase discounted gift cards to use toward your purchase. You will purchase a gift card for lower than than the face value, but still have the same amount to spend. For example, you might find a $100 gift card priced at just $80. You pay $80 – but still have $100 you get to spend. That is like $20 of free money in your pocket!

Use social media to follow your favorite retailers as they will often share upcoming discounts with their followers. They will also often send the alerts through their email newsletter, so make sure you are signed up for that as well.

10. Save on food.

The food for parties, Christmas dinner, baking and whatnot can add up very quickly. Shop at discount stores (such as Aldi) for your baking staples. They are the same as the name brand, but at a much lower cost.

You might also skip the ham and opt for a different type of meat for your Christmas dinner. Compliment the main course with your favorite side dishes and desserts. You might even go for a pot luck meal and provide only the meat. Your guests can all bring side dishes to serve along with it.

There are many other ways you can save on your holiday dinner, you just have to plan ahead and be smart about it.

RELATED: 15 ways to save on groceries without digging for coupons

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