smart spending

Money-saving tips for the holidays

If you take a little taste of the holidays now, you could be way ahead of the game come Dec. 1.

"The less time you have at the holidays, the more likely you are to spend more, just to get things out of the way," says Gerri Detweiler, author of "The Ultimate Credit Handbook."

1. Make your budget and gift list now

Since your holiday budget is likely to be similar to what you've spent in years past, Chris Farrell, author of "Right on the Money" says. "You can pretty much come up with your budget."

As for gifts, advance planning removes the deadline pressure, but it does require some added consideration. "You really have to be more thoughtful about the gifts you're buying," says Farrell. "And you have to think, 'Will they like this come December?'"

2. Set aside some money

"Remember that anything you put on credit cards and finance at those convenient monthly (rates) costs more," says Gary Foreman, publisher of The Dollar Stretcher. "Now is the time when, if you're in the habit of going out for lunch every day at work, maybe you bring leftovers once a week and sock away that $6 to $8." Before you know it, those lunch savings will add up to a tidy sum you can spend on the holidays.

Want to make it almost painless? Set up an automatic deposit to a savings account or Christmas club fund.

3. Start shopping now

Sock away money for presents and you still have to do your shopping later. But salt away actual gifts and you've saved time and money.

If you're the type of person who shops estate sales or garage sales you'll have time to find that perfect present, says Foreman.

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Shopping months ahead means you can make the most of sales and seasonal pricing trends. Spreading out your spending "is a good way to avoid using credit cards," says Farrell. "The reason people use credit cards at Christmas is they are going out and buying a lot of things all at once."

Early shopping also gives you the chance to pick up nonspecific gifts at bargain prices. Good late-summer buys include outdoor entertainment-related items, such as hand-blown imported lanterns, says Rebecca Kolls of Seasons by Rebecca. Stores, she says, "are practically giving that stuff away now."

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