Holiday Central

8 tips to stick to your holiday budget

Keep holiday spending under control

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'Tis the season of giving, but that doesn't mean you should break the bank buying presents for family and friends. U.S. consumers on average plan to spend about $700 on holiday gifts this season, slightly less than last year, according to a recent Gallup poll.

But while upper- and middle-income consumers said they'll trim holiday spending, lower income households—those making less than $30,000 a year—plan to spend more than last year on gifts. Don't let overspending on presents wipe out all of the progress you've made saving, paying off debts and living within limits throughout the year.

Here are eight tips to help make sure you keep your holiday spending under control.

—By CNBC's Sharon Epperson. Follow her on twitter @sharon_epperson.
Posted on 27 Nov. 2013

Give yourself a financial checkup

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Put yourself—and your finances—at the top of your holiday gift list. Before you start shopping, give your finances a quick review on the MyMoneyCheckUp tool, a free online self-assessment tool from the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

By answering questions about your budget, savings, home expenses and retirement, you'll have a better understanding of where you stand. Honest answers to this quiz may make you think twice about how much you spend on gifts this year.

Talk to your spouse (and friends and family) first

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Make sure you have "the talk." Not only do many couples experience anxiety over the holidays, many partners also lie to each other about how much they've spent or plan to spend.

More than half of married couples reported paying with cash to cover up a large purchase, and more than one in 10 has taken out a credit card in their own name to conceal spending, according to a new survey by McGraw-Hill Federal Credit Union, one of the nation's leading credit unions.

Discuss your budget. If you're not married but give big gifts to family members and close friends, you may need to have a talk with them, too. Figure out how much can you spend while paying all of your living expenses and contributing to savings accounts. Don't rack up credit card debt to pay for gifts.

Check your overdraft protection and credit card balances

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Make sure you have enough funds in your checking, savings or money market account so you don't overdraft and incur unnecessary fees. These can really add up.

Linking your debit card and savings account as overdraft protection can avoid costly fees in case of an overage. If you're trying to pay down debt, try to avoid using credit cards altogether or limit yourself to one card.

Look on for zero percent offers available on new purchases. Most will allow you to keep that rate for 12 to 18 months. Don't exceed 30 percent of your credit limit on any card—it will hurt your credit score. If you want to boost your score, use less than 10 percent of your available limit.

Become a digital coupon clipper

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Before you leave the house or check out your online shopping cart, visit sites like and for the latest promotional codes for extra savings.

Shopping online can be the best way to make certain you don't miss these deals and to comparison shop at the same time. But if you like to see it before you spend it, download the PriceCheck app, which allows you to scan items in the store and compare prices before driving all over town. Saves on time, frustration—and gas.

Save on fuel—and get rewarded for what you spend

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Although gas prices on average are lower than last year, driving from store to store or taking a long road trip to grandma's house for the holidays can get expensive. Find the cheapest prices for gasoline where you live and where you plan to travel by logging onto

Also, download the mobile app Fuelzee, which will find gas stations, check prices, and offer cash rewards and gift cards. You'll earn $1 for every 1,000 points you receive using the Fuelzee app, which you can redeem for cash and sometimes gift cards.

Don't pay for shipping

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Free shipping isn't just for the holidays anymore. According to, the online arm of the National Retail Federation, about 35 percent of retailers offer free shipping year-round. Of those that do not, 16 percent said they would offer it as a holiday promotion.

Look for free shipping offers at and If you're buying gift cards from major retailers, you can avoid shipping fees by using the gift card search tool at, which identifies retailers offering free shipping and digital gift cards that can be sent directly to the recipient's inbox.

Use rewards points

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Depending on the rewards program, prices of some items may be reduced during the holidays. You can use rewards points from debit and credit cards, as well as from loyalty programs, such as frequent flier and frequent traveler incentives.

If you have trouble keeping track of all of your airline, hotel, and financial services rewards programs, and will consolidate the information in one place. You can then redeem rewards points or miles for gift or gifts cards at top retailers such as Macy's, Best Buy, , Sears, Walmart and, without spending a dime. also lets you exchange points and miles between various loyalty accounts, trade miles or points with other users, or even gift them to family and friends.

Big gifts don't have to have a big price tag

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Big gifts can completely bust your budget—but you don't necessarily have to spend big bucks to give a memorable gift. Start by thinking about the sentiment and experience that you want to share.

It does not have to be an expensive item. The gift of your time can be the most precious gift you can give your family and friends.

For your kids, come up with some events or activities you can do together. Put tickets to a movie, or pamphlets from a museum, or pictures of an entertainment event in a fancy box under the tree.

Cook a meal for a family member or good friend, or send a box of your special holiday cookies or a beautiful calendar of photos of the family. If you want to give a gift that is truly meaningful, don't just give them something they could easily get from a store.