smart spending

4 places to slash holiday costs

"We served about 30 people for less than $2.50 each, including wine," she says. 

How can you reap similar savings? One key is to budget carefully well in advance of your party. By writing everything down, you can better decide where to skimp and where to splurge, say Sprunk and Carbanes.

Expert party planner Angela Gala agrees about the importance of defining your priorities.

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"Focus your funds," says Gala, co-owner of Charlotte, N.C.-based Rogers and Gala Creative Partners, a party, wedding and event planning firm.

"Decide what's most important to you and your guests. Spend your money there and cut everywhere else."

For instance, a crowd of foodies will appreciate cheeses, truffles and great wine. If your guests are more inclined to dance the night away, consider directing your dollars toward hiring a DJ or a few musicians.

Remember: The bigger the group, the greater the cost. "It's elementary, but not something a lot of people think about," Gala says.

Printing your own invitations can also help trim costs. Just be sure to use attractive paper. Or, send an invitation online. One fun advantage of online invitations is that they allow respondents to post replies that build anticipation. 

When shopping for party food, starting early and searching for sales can bolster a tight budget.

"Traditional newspaper coupons are good, but remember to go online for printable coupons that often have higher discounts," says Kim Danger, the Coupons.com family savings expert.

Remember, too, that not everything must come from one store, says bargain shopping expert Karen Hoxmeier, founder of MyBargainBuddy.com.

If guests offer to make or bring an item, take them up on the offer. You'll save money and have the joy of trying a new dish.

4. Tightening on travel

Many people have to travel hundreds of miles to be with family during the holidays. When staying home isn't practical, there are ways to save on travel costs, even during this busy season.Booking airfare at least a month in advance -- to help ensure availability as well as provide the chance to bargain hunt -- is a good start. You may also score a better deal if you can be flexible with dates and departure or destination cities. Some online travel sites can even e-mail you updates to provide current fares and, if requested, fares on nearby dates.

Although not all the money-saving tips may apply to every budget, using at least one of them could save you a bundle of green that will lead to a much cheerier holiday for you and yours.

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