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Ready or not, the holidays are coming.  According to the National Retail Federation, shoppers are planning to spend an average of $997.79 this holiday season.  While that’s fine and dandy for some folks, not everyone can afford to dish out that kind of cash.  Here’s how you can survive the holidays without going broke.

Create a holiday spending plan

Don’t just run to the store and hope for the best, you need to come up with a plan.  Go through your finances and determine how much money you can afford to spend during the holidays.  Once you have a figure in mind, create a list of everything you’ll need.  Whether it’s gifts, greeting cards or even stamps, everything needs to be accounted for.  Every time you purchase an item off your list, be sure to deduct it from your budget.  By keeping a running tally of your expenses, you’ll be less likely to go overboard.

Give out homemade gifts

Short on cash?  Don’t worry, we have a DIY gift idea that won’t break the bank.  Body scrubs are easy to make and you probably already have most of the ingredients in your pantry.  A basic recipe includes:

  • 1 cup exfoliant (i.e. salt, sugar, coffee grounds, oatmeal or baking soda)
  • ½ cup carrier oil (i.e. coconut, sweet almond, olive or apricot)
  • A few drops of your favorite essential oil (i.e. eucalyptus, peppermint, lavender or sandalwood)

Once you decide which ingredients you want to use, mix them in a bowl until they’re well combined.  We recommend packing the scrub into mason jars (a 12 pack costs under $10) and putting a nice label on them.  You don’t even have to be a design expert, there are plenty of websites that offer free label templates.

Redeem your reward points

If your credit card allows you to earn reward points during the year, the holidays are the perfect time to trade them in.  Generally, reward points can be redeemed for gift cards, statement credits or used to pay for purchases.  No matter which option you choose, you’ll get great gifts for your loved ones at little or no cost to you.  Redeem your points early, you don’t want to risk your coveted item being backordered or out of stock.

Shop online

Big crowds, long lines and the endless pursuit of a decent parking spot are all things you can avoid by shopping online.  Aside from keeping your sanity intact, you can also save a lot of money.  Just download a price comparison tool like InvisibleHand and begin shopping as usual.  If they find the item you want at a lower price, they’ll give you a direct link to the cheaper product.  On average, their users save about $7.55 at checkout.  Before entering your credit card information, search for discount codes on coupon sites like RetailMeNot.com.  With thousands of available deals, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to save even more money.

Get paid to shop

Coupons aren’t the only way to save money when you shop online.  Cash back sites like Rakuten and BeFrugal will pay you for shopping at one of their participating retailers.  All you have to do is start your shopping trip through them and you’ll earn a percentage of your purchase.  They’ll even notify you of daily deals, double cash back offers and available coupons for increased savings.  Your earnings will vary based on the store but anything is better than nothing.

Give an experience

Tired of buying the typical sweater or fragrance set?  Take a walk on the wild side and give your loved ones an experience they’ll never forget.  Groupon and Living Social both offer great deals on getaways, concerts and other exciting events at deeply discounted prices.  Depending on the listing, you can save up to 70 or 80 percent off.

Start saving for next year

The holidays don’t just sneak up on you, it’s the same time every year.  Instead of scrambling for cash at the last minute, start saving early.  Open a separate account for holiday spending and make a contribution every time you get paid.  By the time the holidays roll around next year, you’ll have more than enough saved to shop without worries.