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Embrace your holiday spirit without draining your bank account.

According to a recent survey conducted by BMO Harris and research firm Pollara1, nearly all respondents (96 percent) expect to be spending this holiday season, and will spend on average more than $1,000. Gifts are the most popular spending item, with 91 percent saying they will purchase gifts and will spend an average of $605.

holiday-shopping-spending-and-debt-comparison
Holiday-budgeting-and-consumer-spending-habitsWhen you’re pressed for time, out of ideas or just caught up in the holiday spirit, seasonal gift lists can sometimes quickly spiral out of control. If you’re looking to spend a little bit less this season, the following 7 tips can help you save some cash — and still pick up presents for everyone on your list:

  1. Pick a number: According to the same BMO Harris survey, only one-fifth of respondents said they have a strict holiday shopping budget and stick to it. To ensure you don’t blow your budget, first figure out how much you can afford to spend on gifts altogether. Then, determine how much to spend on each person on your list. This guide from Parenting.com can help you estimate what to spend on non-family members, such as teachers, babysitters and play group parents. Then, keep track of your expenses as you shop — you can take advantage of free budget templates, like this one from Microsoft.
  2. Get organized with an app: Downloading an app can help you stay organized while you’re on the go. iVillage has listed their top 10 holiday shopping apps, including:
    • Gift Plan ($0.99), which categorizes gift recipients’ tastes, sizes and other information.
    • Gifts HD 2 (free), which lets you create a budget for each recipient.
    • Better Christmas List ($1.99), an app that organizes acquaintances by group and lets you sort lists based on the date you plan to give gifts.
  3. Think twice about gift cards: Gift cards are a popular choice — by 2015, they’ll comprise 18 percent of all holiday spending, according to CEB. However, CEB’s research also found that 10 percent of gift cards weren’t used in recent years. If you decide to go the gift card route, be a savvy shopper and look for discounts. For example:
    • Costco offers an array of restaurant gift cards at 20 percent off (two $50 gift cards cost $79.99) and Sam’s Club offers a variety of discounted cards for restaurants, iTunes and more.
    • You can also check out sites like Gift Card Granny for discounts.
    • Lastly, keep an eye out for offers from your favorite stores, which may encourage the purchase of gift cards by offering an incentive (buy a $25 gift card for $20).
  4. Shop on deal sites: You may be able to save by buying goods and service-based gifts online. There are a lot of deal tracking sites to pick from, such as PriceGrabber.comTechBargains.com and Groupon. For tips on getting the best bargain, check out Reader’s Digest’s 13 Things Deal Sites Won’t Tell You.
  5. It really is the thought that counts: You don’t need to spend a ton to show someone you care. Looking for thrifty gift ideas? Marie ClaireOprah.com and Good Housekeeping all offer savings-minded suggestions — some for as low as $3.
  6. Try a DIY present: It’s the thought that counts when giving gifts to those you love, and a homemade gift can really show someone how much you care. From homemade fudge to handmade jewelry, there are many ways you can roll up your sleeves and get creative. For inspiration, check out Pinterest.
  7. Re-gift: As long as the gift is something the recipient would like and is unused, you may be able to recycle a present someone else gave you — but check first to make sure there isn’t any engraving or other personalization.

Once you’re done shopping and are ready to start packaging up your presents, save on wrapping by recycling items you have around the house, such as newspaper, string or fabric. Wrapping this way is not only unique, but will help you get rid of potential clutter and cut costs.

1 The survey referenced herein was conducted by Pollara Strategic Insights (“Pollara”), an independent research firm, at the request of BMO Harris Bank. Pollara is not affiliated with BMO Harris Bank, either by common ownership, management, control or otherwise. Results cited above are from an online survey conducted between October 17 and October 21, 2014, by Pollara. Interviews were conducted with 1,300 individuals age 18 and older, selected at random from an online research panel. A probability sample of this size would yield results accurate to ± 2.7 percent, 19 times out of 20. Data has been weighted by state, based on Census information, to ensure regional proportions match those of the actual US population.

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