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7 ways to save your green during the holidays
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Better yet: Double your dollars. Many credit card issuers will increase or double your points or dollars if you redeem them at special partner retailers. For example, Discover Card will turn $20 of cash-back dollars into a $40 gift card at Blockbuster, Banana Republic, Pier 1 Imports and dozens of other stores. This is a smart strategy if you were already planning to shop at one of those retailers.

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If you don't have a card that offers cash back or frequent-flier rewards, you can search for them using Bankrate's credit card search.

4. Use up store credits and gift cards. Still have a gift card you got on your last birthday? Store credit for some long-forgotten book returns? If you haven't used them yet, consider using this "free money" to reduce the amount you would otherwise spend on holiday gifts. Many gift cards lose value or expire over time, so it's wise to use them promptly. This is also a good way to use up gift certificates for stores at which you might not otherwise shop.

5. Create your own coupons. Israelsen is a big fan of putting together coupon books as gifts for kids (he and his wife have seven) that give them unexpected household privileges. Coupons for things such as "One Saturday afternoon activity of your choice with Dad," "Stay up one hour past your bedtime" or even "Get out of one punishment free" are traditionally a big hit, Israelsen says.

The coupon idea can also be extended for other family and friends. A night of free babysitting or even a morning to sleep in (given to your spouse) are gifts that are sure to please -- without squeezing your pocketbook in the process.

6. Don't shop for yourself. It can be tempting to pick up the latest electronic gadget or snowflake-print sweater while you're out Christmas shopping for everyone else. But remember that National Retail Federation report that the average shopper will spend a whopping $99 on self-gifts? Taking yourself off the shopping list is a quick way to save a few bucks.

7. Shop early online. If you know you'll have trouble controlling your spending, avoid the mall and do targeted shopping online instead. Why wait for Thanksgiving to start holiday shopping. Get your list together and surf the net to find the best buys. Many online stores offer free or discounted shipping, which may seem like an extra expense, but with the price of gas these days, do you really want to be driving from mall to mall seeking hard-to-find items? An added bonus: You can comparison-shop on prices without leaving your home office.

Another suggestion: Keep a running list of items you're yearning for, or clip pages out of catalogs, until the after-Christmas sales hit. If you still want the item when it's 50 percent off, it's time to shop. However, Kay points out the snowflake sweater might not have quite the same appeal when it's piled on a clearance table in January.

Bankrate editorial assistant Leslie Hunt contributed to this story.

Bankrate.com's corrections policy -- Updated: Nov. 13, 2006
 
 
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