Holidays on a Budget

Save Like Scrooge, Give Like Santa

I'm the first to admit I'm frugal. This year, I'll have to pinch pennies like the Grinch to make it through the holidays with my bank balance in the respectable zone (and my kid in his happy place). The must-get items on my son's wish list -- from the Kinect to Super Mario Galaxy 2 -- are severely cramping my style.

Time to get my Scrooge on. After scouring the Web, chatting up my most thrift-minded friends, and compiling all of Common Sense Media's recommended lists of free stuff, I think I've hit on a plan that will reduce my outlay on gifts and entertainment -- and still deck out our holidays with the latest media.

You too can have a low-cost, high-tech holiday, complete with games, movies, creative activities, and educational enrichment. Steals and deals that are both kid and wallet friendly, including free activities to do over the break.

Kid and Wallet-friendly Holiday Gifts and Activities

Watch now. Take advantage of the movie-rental wars. As Netflix, Blockbuster, Amazon Video on Demand, Fancast, Hulu Plus, and iTunes compete to offer the lowest prices on everything from movies on demand to DVD rentals, your family can have movie nights for less than the price of a packet of microwave popcorn. Some sites offer a pay-by-the-movie rental fee (often as low as $2.99) -- no monthly subscription. And many offer free trials. Gift subscriptions (as well as great DVD gifts for kids) can be found for less than $10.

Create your own gifts. Nothing's worse than buying gifts for your kids to give as gifts. Have them make their own digital creations. At sites like ElfYourself, DisneyCreate, Scrapcoloring, and MyPopStudio, kids can upload their own music and videos and send the link to friends and family as a holiday greeting.

Game it forward. It makes sense that there's a huge second-hand market for games. At stores like GameStop, not only can your kids trade in their old games for credits, they can find used titles for under $5. What's old to one gamer is a great gift for the kid who just got a sweet new gaming console.

Play for free. Kids love sites like Miniclip and CrazyMonkey for their endless supply of fun, free games. We've found lots more free games to conquer, including some that are pre-screened, educational, and creative.

Get appy. Somewhere between New Year's and the day the kids go back to school, everyone starts to get antsy. Bust out these free smartphone apps, and kiss Mr. and Miss Crankypants good-bye.

Become pod people. Podcasts may not be as popular among kids as songs or app downloads, but they should be. Fill up your kids' player with educational, highly entertaining -- and best of all -- free podcasts from SesameStreet, NPR, iTunes, and others.

Now, hear this! iTunes offers a free single every week. It's a great way to discover new artists without forking over any cash.

Get technical. You know those weird bar-code like symbols cropping up on everything from circular ads to signs? They're called QRs (for quick-response), and they can lead you to great online deals and special content. To use them, download a QR scanner to your smartphone and hold your phone up to the code. Your phone will then immediately launch the website that holds the special stuff. (Be aware, though, that these QR scanners do track your information for marketers to use -- so proceed with caution.)

Befriend your librarian. Libraries aren't just for books! Most public libraries have tons of DVDs, audio books, music CDs, and even video games to borrow -- all free. Over the holidays, lots of libraries also offer puppet shows, plays, and other activities.

What's your family's secret for saving money on tech and media?

Get more parenting advice from Common Sense Media on the issues that matter most to your family

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