10 Holiday Tips to Save Time and Money

Shopping, cooking, gift-wrapping, entertaining. The tasks and expenses that pile up each December can feel never-ending. Use these tried-and-true tips to take some stress out of the season.

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Devise a Black Friday Strategy


If you're braving the crowds, have a plan of attack and you'll get in and out of stores faster and find great buys, advises Packagedealx3, who follows a relative's lead. "After Thanksgiving dinner," she says, "my sister-in-law sifts through a stack of newspapers to find the best deals. When she leaves the house at 5 or 6 a.m. the next day, she has a written plan of what she wants and where to buy it. She even maps out the order of the stores."

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Cut Spending with Online Coupons


If you're not shopping the day after Thanksgiving but still looking to score deals, hit the computer before the mall and save big bucks, say Mel_dawn and JulieCleverCouponing. Sites like dealcatcher.com, couponcabin.com, and retailmenot.com offer free printable coupons to use in stores and discount codes for shopping online, where markdowns can run up to 80 percent off on items found in stores like Best Buy and American Eagle Outfitters. (You can search by store or specific item.) "Clue into good bargains by signing up for free e-mail alerts," adds Mel_dawn.




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Visit the Dollar Store


Don't be proud. Head to the dollar store to stock up on wrapping paper, ribbons, cards, and bows, suggests Jetjmom, so you'll have more of your hard-earned money to spend on the gifts themselves. You're almost guaranteed to find the best prices and get a big chunk of basic shopping done in one spot. And you may also stumble on staples like decorations, seasonal candy, and tins and boxes for homemade presents.

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Get Crafty


During these tough economic times, many Momster users are rolling up their sleeves and going D.I.Y. "People love homemade gifts and it's fun making them with your kids," says HoopieMom, pointing out that you can create a whole lot of items for a fraction of what you'd spend buying one new. Mel_dawn uses simple, inexpensive ingredients to make perfumes, body powders, ornaments, and treats for family, friends, and schoolteachers. (See her recipes for body powder and perfume below.) Go the extra distance with the wrapping to make the gift extra special.

Homemade Body Powder

1 cup cornstarch
1 tablespoon essential oil of your choice, such as vanilla or lavender

Here's how: Combine cornstarch and essential oil in a zip-top bag; shake well to distribute the oil. Package in a small, decorative box.

Homemade Perfume (do this without children or else heavily supervise them)

5-6 drops sandalwood oil
10 drops bergamot oil
3-4 tablespoons vodka
2-3 cups water

Here's how: Mix essential oils with vodka in a dark glass bottle, shake and set aside. After three weeks, mix the vodka mixture with water and let sit again for a week. Store the perfume in dark bottles to keep the scent fresher. (Alternative scent: instead of sandalwood and bergamot oils, use six drops lavender oil and 10 drops of chamomile oil.)

More Homemade Christmas Gifts

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Prep Food in Advance


Cook and freeze entrees, appetizers, cookies, and desserts before the holiday season kicks into high gear, or at least well before each event. With everything at-the-ready, you'll avoid being an MIA host. "By doing the majority of food prep ahead, I can enjoy the festivities and have a wonderful stress-free time instead of staying tied to the kitchen," says Sgtjohns2. You'll also be prepared to dazzle unexpected guests.

Make-Ahead-and-Freeze Cookie Recipes

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Pick a Theme and Run with It


Avoid shopping yourself into a frenzy by choosing gifts according to a single type of item, says Sgtjohns2, who picks a different category every year—pajamas for example, or table settings. You'll save money, too, by scoping out the best deals all year long and buying in bulk. "I sometimes save 80 to 90 percent by purchasing everything right away, right after the holidays," she explains.

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Give a Feel-Good Gift Card


Restaurant and mall certificates might be your last-minute go-to presents, but The Good Card might be more original. You can purchase these gift cards at networkforgood.org for as little as $10 apiece. Recipients go online to donate to the charity of their choice—from a database of more than 1.2 million charities. "Families have so much stuff these days," says MOMSLK. "And it's really hard to buy for people you only see once every year or two—and make it meaningful. These fill the bill."


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Go for the Fun


This year, take your Secret Santa to the next level with gift games. Jasper's family plays bingo to win fun, inexpensive items. (Each person brings two or three wrapped presents to create a big prize assortment that winners of each round can choose from.) Notmemom's family gives out beautifully wrapped, "recycled" knick-knacks purchased from garage sales or sneakily retrieved from the recipients' homes, like a singing fish plaque. "We end up laughing uncontrollably," she says. "Those times make for our best memories."

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Take Advantage of One-Stop Holiday Card Sites


Sometimes it's worth spending a little cash and taking the easy way out. Case in point: holiday cards. At cardstore.com, shutterfly.com, and hallmark.com, you can select a template, write a personal greeting and, on the latter two, upload family photos to create one-of-a-kind products. Then, for a nominal fee, you can submit names and addresses, and the sites will handle stamping and mailing. "Years ago, we used to shell out big money to get photos and cards printed separately, and then we'd put them together ourselves," says Lauriemeek, "I send over 200 holiday cards, so getting everything done at once is a huge time and money saver."




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Plan a Trip


Sharing an experience is a great alternative to acquiring more things, says CindiT. For the past 12 years, she and her family have exchanged only small gifts, and spent on a shared vacation instead. If a winter getaway isn't feasible, you can reap the same rewards close to home. Mrswalterjames schedules nights out with friends for drinks and family sledding or water park days in lieu of presents. "Planning events is an easy way to go green and focus on family and friends," she says. "And the bonus is it's much cheaper and less stressful."

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