ways to save your green during the holidays|
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.
If you don't have a card that offers
cash back or frequent-flier rewards, you can search for them using
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
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
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.