Los Angeles Times 11/11/08 Los Angeles Times
Tips for sticking to a budget

Even with stock portfolios and the housing market in shambles, people are reluctant to give up giving gifts during the holidays. How can you keep up the holiday spirit while sticking to a budget? Some tips:

* Keep a small notebook with details about friends and family so you can pick out gifts for them whenever you pass a clearance aisle or a sale rack.

* Stores are packed this time of year with buy-one-get-one-free offers and seasonal sales. Take advantage of them to stock up on gifts. Create a gift closet filled with your loot.

* If your credit card has a rewards-points program, check how many you've earned. Sometimes you can redeem them for gift certificates or magazine subscriptions that you can give as gifts. If you have your own gift cards, try giftcardbuyback.com to exchange them for cash to buy presents.

* Give gifts as a group or for a group. Pitch in on a season pass to an amusement park to be split among all your friends, or join your siblings in sending your parents to a nice restaurant.

* Make a personal coupon book with certificates that can be redeemed for free baby-sitting, carwashes, a home-cooked meal or yardwork.

* A secondhand, "gently used" gift can be just as valuable as a new present. Give antiques or family heirlooms to younger generations, or visit garage sales for steep discounts on things such as books, DVDs and clothes.

* At consignment stores or thrift shops, or businesses such as Play It Again Sports, you can trade in items you no longer need for cash or store credit while picking up good deals.

* If you're really up against the wall, trawl websites such as Freecycle or Craigslist for items that people are giving away. Something might be a good fit for a buddy or relative.

* Looking for good deals online? Try sites like Slickdeals.net, MyBargainBuddy.com and FatWallet.com, which compile coupons, discounts and other bargains around the Internet.