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5 Holiday Savings Tips

Retailers know the year has been tough on your wallet, so they’re doing everything they can to get back into your good graces. Over the past few weeks, you’ve probably seen dozens of ads announcing: Black Friday deals extended! One store has layaway! Another free shipping!

It can be exhausting trying to track dozens of online deals and store policies just to save a little money. This is why I have compiled my five favorite holiday savings tips. Free shipping is great, but if you only use five savings strategies this holiday season, give these a try first -- they might even save you from stress, too.

Create a budget and stick to it. I normally suggest spending no more than 1.5% of your annual take-home pay on holiday purchases. If you’re using credit cards to pay for everything, this is an amount that can be easily paid off by February – preferably before. This also means that if you allot yourself $100 dollars per recipient but spend $150 on Mom’s cashmere sweater, your dad or brother might have to get that $50 DVD set instead of that $100 golf club. Over-spending on each person is the easiest way to break a budget.

Team up. Talk to your siblings or cousins about doing a group gift for someone. An iPad 2 may be outside your price range, but divided amongst your seven cousins, it suddenly becomes reasonable -- and Grandpa will be thrilled. Ebay Group Gifts (http://groupgifts.ebay.com/) makes it even easier to do this: it digitizes the process so you’re not running around collecting money from everyone.

Decide how you’ll pay. If you know you’ll pay for the purchases in full within a month (two at the most) and you have great credit, there are some cards that will save you serious money this holiday season. The Chase Freedom card gives you $200 back after you spend $500; the Citi Dividend World MasterCard remains interest-free for 15 months and offers an initial $100 bonus and 5% cash back on department, clothing, electronics and toy store purchases until the end of the year.  But don’t let these offers tempt you into using more credit than you can handle.  If you’re the sort that’s still dealing with your holiday bills come May day, figure out how much you can afford to spend in cash, use a debit card and limit your expenditures to that.

Layer. One of the best things you can do to save money is combine money-saving measures. This means taking those awesome credit card rewards and combining them with coupons and other promotions. So if an in-store promotion puts a 42-inch LCD TV at $400 and you use that Chase card to pay for it, you’ve saved yourself $500 -- or more!

Give an experience. For the people in your life that seem to have everything, purchasing yet another vase or kitchen gadget can feel like a waste of money. Why not give the gift of wine tasting, cooking lessons or a deep-tissue massage?  Groupon, LivingSocial and excitations.com all offer great deals on unique experiences.  Another popular experience gift is simple, but something any harried parent will appreciate: free babysitting. Write up your offer using nice stationery -- say, 7 free nights, expiration date never -- and tuck it into a holiday card. No one will mind that you didn’t even use wrapping paper.
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SavvyMoney.com’s debt payoff solution helps members build a personalized "debt-loss" plan and stick to it.  All you do is enter your information and SavvyMoney will tell you what, when, and how much to pay down every month.  It’s that easy.

Described as "Weight-Watchers for debt," SavvyMoney.com  has helped thousands of people pay off over $1Bn in debt.

SavvyMoney’s founder Scott Crawford holds an MBA from Stanford's Graduate School of Business and a BA in economics from UCLA. He has been a featured expert for top media outlets including US News, Readers' Digest, Yahoo Finance and Bankrate.com.

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