You start out the holiday season with the best of budget intentions: You'll buy modest gifts (or even hand-make them!), keep the entertaining low-key, and stick to decorating with whatever you pull out from the basement. Once the festive spirit kicks in, though, it's tough to stick to that budget.
But listen up: This year can be different. You don't have to spend a lot to have a meaningful celebration. We asked REDBOOK readers like you for their best money-saving tips for all things holiday - from gifts and family activities to decorating and entertaining - and here are the all-stars.
1. "We sometimes host recipe parties. We provide the home, the atmosphere, the main dish, and beverages, and then each person brings a side dish or dessert with a handful of copies of their recipe. We keep a master cookbook with photos of the parties we've had through the years."
-Diane Graham, 44, Allentown, PA
Related: Simple Tried-and-True Tips for Saving Money
2. "We skimp on outdoor lights to keep our electric bill down. Instead, we replace some of our inside lightbulbs with colored ones, which adds a festive touch without hiking up our electric bill. Also, gifts in my family are for kids only. Each gal in my circle has a signature baked yummy, and we exchange those. My sister-in-law makes zucchini bread, I make fudge, and my best friend makes pecan pies. We all end up with lots of goodies!" -Jen Horton, 33, DeLand, FL
Related: The Most Outrageous Holiday Light Displays
3. "Board games make great family gifts: one gift for four people! I once gave Scrabble to a family, and they loved it because they began spending a lot more time together. Monopoly is another classic."
-La'Tonya Hocker, 34, Bowling Green, KY
4. "Last year I made a great calendar for my mom on snapfish.com that cost less than $25. I included pictures of the whole family and added wonderful quotes to accompany each photo. Everyone got a picture on their birthday too! It was an awesome gift!"
-Laura Weaver, 44, Columbus, OH
Related: 16 Great Homemade Gift Ideas
5. "My family always does a potluck-style party, and each relative takes a turn hosting the event. That way we get to see everyone's holiday decorations as well, which is always fun!"
-Val Willis, 27, Dubuque, IA
6. "I use all natural decorations inside and outside. I collect pinecones throughout my neighborhood in order to make wreaths, and I trim branches off holly and evergreen trees to decorate my home. Because my husband and I are from different religious backgrounds, we compromise by planting a Christmas tree outside - it's really nice to watch the spruce grow all year, and I like that we don't have to toss a perfectly good tree after the holiday.
Related: Make Your Own Holiday Table Decorations
7. "I shop sales all year round for the best prices - and then save my bargains for holiday gifts. For instance, I know Victoria's Secret has a big sale in the summer, so I'll buy holiday gifts for my sister and sister-in law then."
-Vanessa Weestrand, 30, Cornwall, NY
8. For gifts we have a family exchange with a $25 limit. The adults each bring just one gift and put it in a pile, and then we play Yankee Swap: Each person picks a gift, then the person to the right of her can either steal that present or choose another, and so on."
-Mary Talalay, 43, Baltimore
Related: The Best Family Gift Ideas
9. "Our extended family used to do a big holiday gift swap, but my husband and I would end up having to buy presents for relatives we'd met once - or never at all! Eventually, we decided to stick with getting gifts just for the immediate family; with the other relatives, we get together each summer for a family barbecue instead. It's so much nicer to catch up, enjoy each other, and strengthen our relationships in person each year rather than giving a random gift to someone we don't see."
-Victoria Pottschmidt, 30, Richmond, VA
10. "I look for new ways to reuse old decorations. I had an old artificial Christmas tree that I dismantled and made the branches into pine swags for my outside windows.
-Kathy Jo Pollack, 47, Natrona Heights, PA
Related: All-Etsy Handmade Gift Guide
11. "I used to hit the mall on Black Friday, but now I find that stores are having Black Friday specials online. So I sit at my computer in my pj's to shop, I have all the presents delivered to my office, and then it's done and I never even had to leave my house!"
-Dawn Palaia, 45, Folcroft, PA
12. "I buy sets of things and break them up. Last year on QVC, Valerie Parr Hill was selling sets of holiday candles that came with gift bags, tissue, and tags. I bought a set of five and broke them up into five individual gifts."
-Denise Gaylord, 55, New Bern, NC
Related: Festive DIY Gift Wrapping Ideas
13. "My best technique for saving money for the holidays happens in April when I get my tax refund: I immediately set that money aside into a holiday club account for Hanukkah spending. Then I set a specific budget for each person, and I stick to it."
-Sheryl Hausman, 38, Kew Gardens, NY
Related: Gift Ideas for the Hard-to-Shop-For Husband
How are you planning to keep your budget in-check this holiday season?
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Reprinted with permission of Hearst Communications, Inc.