Save Money During the Holidays - Here are Six Ways

By: Dewey Kearney

Did you know that the average American will spend approximately $791.10 this year on holiday gifts (including food and decorations), according to a recent survey by the National Retail Federation? Here are some ways to make the holidays less painful and a lot more fun.

What's more, consumers will also plan to spend on average $99.22 each on gifts for themselves.

If spending $890.32 isn't in your plans (and don't forget to add in credit card interest to the total), it's time to get smart before you get trapped. Here are some ways to save money during the upcoming holidays.

1.Try a non-traditional tree and save a lot of cash for presents
?If you live near a National Forest, contact your local Forestry Office to see if they sell Christmas Tree permits. My son lives in Northern California and his family does this every year. It's cheaper than buying from a lot, and you can make a family day of going out and picking your own Christmas tree! They have done it for years and have a ball!

?This is not an endorsement of Christmas Tree farmers who let you cut a tree for yourself. Those places are usually more expensive than just going to the local Wal-Mart shopping center and picking a pre-cut tree.

?Get a well-made artificial tree. All the major retail stores sell them and if you spend some time checking them out you can find some very realistic looking trees. I bought one last year - an 8-foot tree for about $100.00. That sounds like a lot but if you figured you would have spent $50 for a real one, this one is paid for in two years and could last for 10 - 15 years until you get tired of it and want another one.
2.Brave the post-Thanksgiving crowds!
?If you're not faint of heart, you can actually save money by shopping the Friday after Thanksgiving according to Ellie Kay, author of several money-saving books, including "The Debt Diet." Kay is a firm believer in bargain hunting and has done so for years. She says, "I often start at 5 a.m. and finish about 9 a.m. just in time for breakfast and a nice cup of coffee."
?Kay suggests that you shop strategically. "Plan your day in advance, and then read through the sales circulars on Thanksgiving so you're well prepared. Be sure you know the store opening times, which often are as early as 5 a.m., and watch for the fine print regarding popular items such as 'until stock runs out' or 'available to first 100 customers.'" If you have a bargain- minded buddy she also suggests you take them along. My wife had two of those that she loved to shop with. She said these friends could sniff out a bargain a mile away!
3.Use up store credits and gift cards
?I'll bet you've wondered why gift cards are so popular with merchants. It's not for your convenience but theirs - up to 70% of those are never used! Some of them expire after a certain date, which means the money is theirs to keep and you never actually purchased something. If you still have a gift card the holidays are a great time to use it before you forget about it again.
4.Don't shop for yourself
?I know it's tempting - the old Madison Avenue mentality, "you deserve it, you've been working hard." Remember that National Retail Federation report that the average shopper will spend $99 on themselves. Take yourself off the list and save some money.
5.Shop early online
?This is a great tip if you know you will have trouble controlling your spending. Avoid the mall and do targeted online shopping. No need to wait till Thanksgiving, this type of shopping you can do all year and put the items away till the proper time.
?Lots of online stores offer free or discounted shipping (plus most of the time you don't have to pay sales tax).
6.Keep a running list of things you want and shop for them throughout the year as they come up for sale
?Many times the perfect gift will be on sale after Labor Day for 50% off. Take advantage of that and pocket the difference. The same thing for After-Christmas sales - they are the same online as at the mall plus you avoid the temptation to over-spend. Look for opportunities to save and you will find them. Instead of paying full retail you can get them for practically wholesale and save money all year long.

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