smart spending

Money-saving tips for the holidays

Carol Schroeder, author of "Specialty Shop Retailing," suggests looking for "things like stationery, soap or (nonperishable) holiday foods or decorations. Those are things that anyone can use and give you flexibility to use them as hostess gifts or last-minute gifts."

If you prefer to make gifts instead of buying them, get crafty now. "Who's got time for that Dec. 15?" says Foreman. By starting early you can use evenings and odd moments to actually finish your projects.

4. Order early

Do you prefer shopping from home instead of maneuvering the malls? Take advantage of the catalogs that are starting to trickle in, says P. Allen Smith of P. Allen Smith Gardens.

"I've got my holiday bulbs ordered now, so when they arrive Nov. 1, I can just start potting them up," says Smith. "You can also get them started and give them as gifts."

It's a money-saver, too. In the fall, amaryllis bulbs go for $2.50, says Kolls. Buy them as blooming plants two months from now, "and you've already kicked (the price) up $30," she says.

Early mail-order and online shopping also allows you to save on shipping. Buy at the last minute and you pay a premium for shipping. Buy early and use the delivery method that is the most economical, says Foreman.

5. Pick your plastic

If you plan on charging your holiday purchases, choose the credit card you want to use. "Negotiate a low interest rate on it if you think you'll be carrying a balance," says Detweiler.

And if all of your credit cards are maxed out, take control of your debt now rather than during the holiday rush.

"If you're having trouble," says Detweiler. "Now is a good time to talk with a credit counseling agency."

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6. Check your credit report

Make sure the credit card you plan to use will be accepted. One out of four credit reports contains an error serious enough to trigger a refusal of credit, according to a 2004 U.S. Public Interest Research Group study. "The interest rate for holiday purchases is definitely affected by your credit report," says Detweiler. If you find a mistake, you'll have time to correct it before the holidays.

7. Preset the holiday table

"There are so many ways to set a delicious table without spending a lot of money," says Kolls. One of her favorites: Get the makings for a table cloth from the cloth store bargain bin or pick up an on-sale sheet with a cool design. Start ahead and you'll have plenty of time to find something you like.

Also buy special groceries gradually. "If you're the kind of family who likes baked goods, now's the time to stock up on ingredients that won't spoil," says Foreman.

And ask yourself what you can cook ahead of the holiday dinner and freeze, says Kolls. She uses this trick to help with Christmas sugar cookies, a tradition with her family.

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