smart spending

Find frugal -- but not cheap -- gifts

8. Handle 'hot toys' with care

Too often, the hot toy of today is the forgotten plaything of tomorrow. It's a waste to spend $350 on a Tickle Me Elmo that winds up at the bottom of the toy box in a few weeks, Hoxmeier says.

"Encourage your kids not to fall for the hype," Hoxmeier says.

Holiday giving
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If your children insist on getting the hot toy for the holidays, try a different approach.

"Tell your kids you will think about getting them the hot toy for their birthday," Hoxmeier says. "More often than not, they will have forgotten all about it by then."

9. Save on your spouse
Agreeing to a low spending limit for your honey can actually be a romantic gesture.

"Show your affection not by spending a lot but by being creative in picking the perfect gift within the spending limit," says Rob Bennett, author of the daily A Rich Life Blog at PassionSaving.com.

For example, find an out-of-print book by your spouse's favorite author in a used bookstore for $5.

10. Shop late

Dan de Grandpre, founder and CEO of dealnews.com, says Dec. 21 is the final day you can shop online at most stores and still have gifts shipped by Christmas. Last-minute discounts are expected. And as early as Dec. 21, online shoppers can expect to find after-Christmas sales.

One note of caution: This approach is not without a downside. Wait too long and your procrastination could force you to pay exorbitant shipping fees to get the gift to your loved one on time. So, as with the stock market, remember that the rewards of last-minute shopping sometimes come with increased risk.

11. Give of yourself

Daisy Reese, co-author of "True Self, True Wealth: A Pathway to Prosperity," recommends giving gifts that are emotionally rich. Themes and examples include:
  • Sentiment -- A personalized "ancestor album."
  • Wisdom -- A notebook of recipes from the recipient's childhood.
  • Connection -- Time for baby-sitting or help planting a garden.
  • Memories -- A holiday cookie-baking tradition.

12. Think ahead

Renee DeGross, a former retail business reporter and columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, collects holiday presents year-round as she finds deals. She has purchased French Laguiole spreading knives for $10 at Marshalls -- she says "they sell at Bloomies (Bloomingdale's) for three times this price" -- and $100 worth of gifts for under $10 in the Lands' End department at Sears.

Gold advises preparing a budget now for next holiday season. Take what you spent this year and inflate it by 2 percent or 3 percent; then, divide that number by 12 months, set up a separate account, and have that amount automatically deposited into that account.

"Come December 2010, you have your holiday money," Gold says.

There is another benefit to thinking ahead and taking the time to budget -- it makes it easier to enjoy the money you do spend, notes Mikelann Valterra, director of The Women's Earning Institute. Valterra advises everyone to use a five-step plan when planning a holiday budget.

Planning your budget:
  • List everyone you are planning on gifting.
  • Brainstorm gift ideas for each person and assign an amount of money you are thinking of spending on them.
  • Add up all potential gift amounts.
  • Brainstorm other holiday costs, from decorating and entertaining to travel and charitable giving.
  • Add the amount of your other holiday costs to your gift amount and then step back. If you are uncomfortable with this amount, go back over your list and trim it.

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