smart spending

Money-saving tips for the holidays

8. Include the family

"It's a good time to sit down with kids and establish some guidelines," says Detweiler. Depending on their ages, you can touch on how much they can spend, what they can expect and what they can do to help others, she says. "And maybe even give them extra chores to earn money for holiday spending."

Don't forget about the rest of the family. Did last year's spending get out of control? Before the holiday music hits the airwaves, talk with relatives about this year's gift policies, says Foreman. Consider trading names, making charitable donations in honor of each other, simply sending cards or baked goods or organizing a gift-free potluck family dinner.

9. Plan a special moment

Want to enjoy dinner with your spouse at that superexclusive -- and costly -- restaurant during the holiday season? Or make a holiday weekend of it at that special bed and breakfast? If you make the reservations and start setting aside the money now, "you've planned for it, you're not just putting it on the credit card," Farrell says.

10. Book your holiday travel

If you're opting for a high-traffic destination, a cruise or an international jaunt, book those tickets and hotel rooms early, says Edward Hasbrouck, author of "The Practical Nomad." When it comes to international or popular options, "you save money by doing it now," he says.

11. Stock up on supplies

What's the one thing (other than cash) that you never have too much of at the holidays? Time. Buy candles, glass or crystal items, ribbon, faux greens, wreath forms, and other items now when you see a good price, says Smith. Then in a few months when it's time to deck the halls, decorating will be quick and easy.

The selection is better earlier. Plus, having time to search for those supplies also gives you the chance to stretch your imagination. Start looking at inexpensive store merchandise with an eye toward the holidays, says Smith. One example: Chinese lanterns or paper umbrellas look Christmasy in yuletide red.

"The bottom line is: Be creative," he says.

12. Give back to your community

While food banks typically get half their donations in November and December, in the fall, the Salvation Army is helping kids with back-to-school clothes and supplies. With their year-round schedule of serving people through youth programs, care for the sick and elderly, substance abuse counseling and providing shelter or education, the opportunities for donating throughout the year can still count as holiday gifts, says Melissa Temme, public relations director for the Salvation Army.

"If you're looking for a way to give back but can't afford to do it all at once, give monthly gifts of financial donations, volunteer or in-kind support in the name of a friend or family member and surprise them at Christmastime with the total support you've given to the community in their name during the year," Temme says. "Many charities have a way to help you package this kind of gift."

Your holiday-inspired generosity also might pay you back a bit in the form of a tax deduction for your donations. While the tax savings won't show up until you file your return next year, you can set aside the money then for next Christmas.

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