Remember the scene in “Christmas with the Kranks” when Tim Allen’s character furiously totals how much he and his wife spent on Christmas the previous year? His final amount was over $6000, including gifts, their annual open house, donations, and more. While the American Research Group estimates Americans spend about $500 each, that’s for gifts alone. So obviously, there’s some room for savings. Here are five ways to have holiday fun with all the trimmings, while still trimming costs:

1. Donate. Instead of buying Uncle Bob another tie and Aunt Gertrude another salad spinner, why not give them gifts that help others, and that are tax-deductible for you? Donating to a non-profit in a loved one’s name keeps junk from the landfill, aids the less fortunate, and gives you a tax write-off. Many non-profits will even provide an email or card for your recipient, letting them know a donation was made in their name.

2. Do a Good Deed. Don’t know what to buy for the relative or friend who has everything? DO something for them instead! Provide services – car washes, home-baked goods, babysitting, editing, home organizing – instead of investing your hard-earned cash in a hit-or-miss gift. They’ll love the personal touch, and you’ll love the zero impact on your wallet. Plus, you have the added connection with someone. This sort of gift works especially well with elderly folks who may need something done around the house, or maybe a trip to the market. Not only does the chore get done, but perhaps you’ve given someone a bit of your company, too.

3. Holiday Events. Instead of hosting the annual 30-person family brunch at the country club or restaurant, have it at your house and make it a potluck. Or host a movie night where you all get together, eat pizza and popcorn, and watch “Miracle on 34th Street.” Instead of a girls’ night out at a fancy restaurant for the Holidays, turn it into a cookie swap at someone’s house. You can enjoy each other’s company without spending a fortune.

4. Send Postcards instead of Christmas Cards. According to Wikipedia, almost 2 billion cards were sent in 2005. At an estimated $1 per card and a $0.44 stamp, that’s some serious cash! While I don’t recommend entering the virtual arena and sending only e-cards or holiday email, you can cut back. Send photo postcards instead of cards with photos enclosed; not only will you save on photo printing, the postcards are only $0.28 to mail, almost half the cost of a card.

5. Gift Card Deals. Everyone from the Footlocker to the Cheesecake Factory to the corner gas station is getting into the act offering gift cards with bonuses. Giving gift cards can be cost-effective for a couple reasons; you don’t waste money on unwanted purchases, and many retail outlets offer bonuses at holiday time when you purchase gift cards. For instance, a local restaurant ran a promotion where you got a free $10 gift card when you bought cards totaling $100 or more. You can give the extra card as a gift, or keep it for yourself for a much-needed post-holiday pick-me-up. Either way, you’re saving money off the face value of the card.

Holidays don’t have to make you see red at the end of the year. Use these tips to keep onbudget so you can start the new year right – in the black!


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