Spend

10 simple ways to spend smarter over the holidays, from the author of 'Rich Habits'

The holidays are upon us and, while we may enjoy them, our pleasure often comes at a cost.

We spend more money than usual at this time of year on holiday-related costs like gifts, dining, electricity for outdoor decorations and so on, and some of us rack up massive debt. But you're not doomed to end up in the red.

Here are 10 simple 'rich habits' you can adopt that will allow you to savor the holiday season and still make the most efficient use of your money:

Make a gift budget and stick to it

Set a maximum amount you will spend on gifts this holiday season. Even better, make a list of everyone who will be getting a gift and then budget how much you will spend for each person. This ensures you do not go over your budget.

As a rule of thumb you should limit your holiday gift spending to 1.5 percent of your income. To find unique gift ideas within your budget, visit sites like Gifts.com, which give you great, affordable gift ideas.

Use credit card reward dollars

Many credit cards come with Rewards Programs. Typically, these Rewards Programs generate Reward Dollars that you can use at participating vendors.

The American Express Reward Program gives you about .88 percent back on every dollar you spend using an AmEx. One of the participating vendors is Barnes and Nobles. 50,000 American Express Rewards Dollars translates into $500 in Barnes and Noble gift cards. You can buy 20 $25 Barnes and Noble gift cards and give them out as gifts during the holiday season and it will cost you nothing.

Send e-cards

Want to save on the cost of buying holiday cards and postage? Send out a holiday e-card this year. There are numerous websites that offer free cards such as BlueMountain.com. These sites offer templates and also allow you to customize your cards.

Unplug holiday lights after 10 p.m.

Most everyone is asleep or in bed by 10 p.m. so it makes no sense to keep your holiday lights on after this hour. This cuts down on the electricity costs for the holidays.

Use interest-free financing

Sears, Home Depot, Best Buy, Lowe's and certain Amazon partners offer up to 24 months of interest-free financing. But you must ensure that you pay off the interest free purchase within the free interest period, and you must make your monthly payments on time. If you don't, you risk being back charged for all the interest you were saving on the purchase.

Dine at BYOB restaurants

Have your holiday celebrations at places where you bring your own booze, and you and your family can save hundreds of dollars. You not only save up to 50 percent on the lower cost of the liquor but you also save on sales taxes and the gratuity. It's a triple savings.

Rethink your holiday party

Transform this year's holiday party into a culinary surprise holiday party. Ask each one of your guests to bring a special dish for the evening. You can even give out awards such as a $25 Barnes and Noble gift card for the best dish. This will save you money on your party and add an element of fun and excitement.

Shopping online? Shop around

Now you can comparison shop without ever having to leave your home or office computer. Sites like PriceGrabber.com and PriceBlink.com will scour the Internet online retail sites for the lowest price for your gifts.

Check out coupon sites

There are many old and new coupon websites that offer coupons you can use to purchase gifts or for dinning. Some offer as much as 60 percent off the retail price you would otherwise pay.

Re-gift

I know it sounds tacky but just because you didn't much care for a gift you received last year doesn't mean someone else won't like it. After all, it's the thought that counts. Re-gifting is an obvious money savings strategy.

If you feel embarrassed about re-gifting, don't, but know that 68 percent of people engage in re-gifting. So, you're not alone. For all you know the gift you are re-gifting may have been a re-gift of its own!

Tom Corley is an accountant and financial planner and the author of books, including "Rich Kids: How to Raise Our Children to Be Happy and Successful in Life."

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