Creative ways to spend less on the holidays

Raising a cup of Christmas cheer can cost you a pretty penny! According to the Family Research Group, the average American shopper spent $646 on Christmas gifts in 2011. For some families, that equaled a mortgage payment or a month of groceries. Tacking on $600 plus on a credit card is a good way to bring on the holiday blues. Simply fighting the Black Friday crowds isn't a good plan for cutting the holiday expenses. Implement some creative holiday savings strategies, and you could cut that bill in half.

Mute the commercials. Wonder how those pesky retailers are accessing your kids? Commercials! Initiate a game with the family when watching television; who can mute the TV the fastest? For smaller kids, you can let them take turns. Take advantage of those two-to-four minute snippets and engage the kids in holiday activities. Or at least some snuggling! Cut the advertisements, and you'll spend less.

Announce a "gently-used" Christmas. This idea really works, and you'd be surprised how many people are buying gently-used holiday gifts. Last year, I sent a holiday e-card with a small note that let everyone know we were buying "gently-used" gifts. Admittedly, the invitations to participate in gift exchanges shrank, but that's okay with me.

Make an early list and stick to it. Don't wait until the last minute to make a gift list. That's a recipe for disaster and overspending. Be specific about what you want and don't add to it.

Adopt a gift card strategy. I like this strategy and it works! Before the holidays (even November helps), buy a gift card from your favorite department store. Each week, add money to the gift card. When you get ready to go shopping, you'll have your shopping budget ready. Only spend what's on the gift card.

Round up the checkbook. All year long, I round up my checkbook entries. I balance my books once a month, rounding up the final dollar amounts. Any "extra" money that I have goes towards my holiday spending allowance.

Buy everything online. The convenience and size of the Internet makes it the perfect place for holiday shopping. Shop online! Just give yourself plenty of time for deliveries to arrive. Opt for sites that offer free shipping.