6 Ways to survive the holidays on a budget

Mar 22, 2010 at 2:35 p.m. ET

The holidays are upon us, but for many what should be a joyous time is being dampened by financial worries. Staying within your budget can be challenging at the best of times, and becomes increasingly difficult during the holidays. With a little creativity and planning you can stay on track while remembering the true meaning behind the season.

If you need to keep your budget under control, these tips can help:

Holiday budget tip #1

Budget carefully.
Calculate a holiday budget before hitting the mall. Write a list of everything you will need, from gifts to food to cards and wrapping, and how much you can spend on each. Stick to the list. Don't forget to include the cash gifts traditionally given to service workers (like doormen and your hair stylist), and the extra gas costs associated with driving to shop and deliver your gifts.

Holiday budget tip #2

Draw names.
For a large group, like the adults in a family, consider drawing names so each person buys a gift for only one other. Set a price limit on giving.

Holiday budget tip #3

Let the kids get creative.
Instead of buying gifts from the kids to give to family members, your kids can put their artistic skills to use drawing pictures and publishing their own book of masterpieces that grandparents, aunts and uncles will love.

Holiday budget tip #4

Consider a gift of service.

Older grandparents may appreciate a year's worth of small landscaping services such as shoveling the walk in the winter and mowing the grass in the summer. Offer your sister with children a babysitting service once a month so she can enjoy date night with her husband.

Holiday budget tip #5

See what's free.
Visit free attractions instead of paying for the pricey ones. Zoo lights are fun, but bring the whole family and you'll easily lose $50 or more of your budget. Instead, visit a neighborhood that has a holiday decorating contest -- or better yet, start your own.

Holiday budget tip #6

Remmber to give back.
The best way to stop spending on gifts that will be forgotten in a month is to give of your time. Every community has a need. Serve up lunch at a local homeless shelter. Read stories to the kids at a local hospital. Walk the dogs at the Humane Society. Giving during the holidays was never about appeasing our materialistic nature -- it can, and should, be about making the world a better place. That is the best gift of all.

Get more holiday survival tips

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