4 places to slash holiday costs

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Holiday giving can quickly burn a hole in your budget. But gifts are hardly the only expense during this season.

Happy holiday extras quickly add up, whether they are gift supplies, seasonal decorations, food for parties or plane tickets to see loved ones.

But trimming these holiday expenses can help fatten your bottom line. Do it right, and your holiday will be just as festive as the spend-a-thons of previous years.

Here are some ways to avoid breaking the bank while celebrating the season.

1. Saving on supplies

Gift wrapping doesn’t have to scream “holiday.” Experts suggest ditching the Santas and snowmen and instead reaching for solid red, green, white, silver, gold or blue. Brad Stroh, co-CEO of Bills.com, also suggests butcher paper, newspaper and even old fabric for wrapping.

The wrapping style can also tie into the gift, Stroh says. Put kitchen utensils in a cookie jar or (clean) empty oatmeal container. Or, put beach-themed items into an inexpensive plastic pail.

For those set on traditional wrapping paper, buy it off-season, or buy it at a dollar store, discount paper store or outlet.

The cost of holiday cards (and stamps) also adds up. Consider e-cards instead. Free cards can be sent from many Web sites.

Or, you can up the ante by sending a video. One True Media offers free video e-greetings, blending family photos and video into montages with music and special effects.

2.Trimming the trimmings

With holiday decorating, “less is more,” says Barbara Kilikevicius, author of “A Mindful Christmas.”

“The Christmas tree and some appropriately placed poinsettias and greenery with berries go a long way,” Kilikevicius says.

Stroh advises trimming the fresh-tree budget altogether.

“Christmas trees can cost upward of $100,” he says. “If you are going away for the holidays and may be able to enjoy the tree for only a short period of time, you could reduce spending by stringing lights on a ficus tree, mantelpiece or other creative location.”

Before heading out to buy decorations, “consider using what you already have in creative ways,” says Kathy Peterson, a celebrity lifestyle/design expert and host of the weekly national TV series “Town & Country Crafts with Kathy Peterson.”

For example, Peterson suggests stuffing strands of twinkle lights into clear glass containers.

“Use your creativity and not your credit,” she adds.

Need a centerpiece? Colleen Sprunk and Lisa Carbanes, founders of the online home entertaining products and services store Social Couture, suggest using baskets, bowls, vases or artwork.

3. Penny-wise parties

Fun holiday gatherings can also be frugal. When Kilikevicius hosted the main-course portion of a neighborhood progressive dinner — under a limited budget — she organized a chili bar with three kinds of cheese, five different sauces, three kinds of corn chips and a bowl of sour cream.

“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.