Stretching your holiday dollar in today's economy

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by Laura Sussely-Pope

Stretching holiday dollarsWe'd all love to heap gifts around those we love.

These last years, gift-giving has been touch and go for many of us. How can you find the money to celebrate this holiday season?

You may not have a job. An unexpected expense piled on at the last minute. Your expected holiday bonus may not have come through or money just doesn't seem to go as far.

We know that with the economy, everyone's trying to stretch their holiday dollar a bit more so we've put together some last minute tips to help you out.

Stretch your holiday dollars

Budget for the small stuff

Special wrapping paper, ribbons and bows make the gift even sweeter but they add up. So does shipping. According to the National Retail Federation, a third of our total holiday spending goes to non-gift items like cards, decorations and food.

If your family lives across the globe, you may find shipping taking a big bite out of your holiday dollar -- it may cost you as much as the gift itself or more! You can stretch your budget by shopping for lightweight gifts, watching for free shipping or sending a gift card. Factor the cost into your budget, even if it means buying a less expensive gift.

Procrastination can be a good thing

You don't want to be disorganized, but you may want to stall a bit. Often holiday items come on sale a few days before the holiday. If you know you'll need paper plates, napkins and place settings for a dozen, you could save plenty with procrastination.

Swap, don't shop

Swap rather than shop. If you have friends and family with near same age kids, consider swapping gently used toys, stuffed animals and even clothing to fulfill some of the items on the kids' wish lists. Compare your wish lists. You can even swap coupons to help each other get the best price.

Purge and sell

Purge before Christmas and make room for the new things coming in. Can you sell the clothes and toys on eBay or Craigslist? The cash in your PayPal account may flush out your holiday budget or you might choose to donate your proceeds. Either way, it will mean a happier holiday for someone.

Start a new tradition

Stocking night: Instead of a family-wide gift exchange, have a stocking night on Christmas Eve. Have everyone bring a little something to stuff in each other's stockings. They gifts can be handmade or baked goods, but nothing expensive or extravagant. Wind up the evening with food and party games. You may find it's more fun than Christmas Day itself.

Give a family night basket
Give each family on your list a basket of gifts. Your theme might be homemade goodies with crafts supplies and treats or movie night with popcorn tubs, a movie and candies. You've created a night of fun for each family and racked up a savings as well.

Secret Santa
All the planning in the world won't fix your budget if your list has too many people. A tradition like Secret Santa allows families to buy just one gift and adds an element of surprise and fun. "My kids get so excited trying to find the perfect gift. It really brings home the idea that giving is better than receiving," Shannon shares.

Start next year's holiday planning now

Stock up on seasonal items after the holidays. The holiday season comes at the same time every year, so why wait until it's here to start shopping. You can find great deals year round, so why not take advantage of them -- especially those clearance sales.

Stock up on gloves, scarves, hats and coats when they go on sale in the spring. The toys in Easter baskets make great stocking stuffers. After Halloween, you can get great deals on kids' dress up clothes.

Even though you're stashing things throughout the year, sock away funds each week. Just $20 a week adds up to $1040 in December. That can be a lot of holiday!

Are you cutting corners this holiday season? How do you make your holiday money last?

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.