Financing the Holidays

Denise Trowbridge

It's November, and the holiday marathon that moms must run in order to joyfully and flawlessly usher their families from Thanksgiving to New Year has begun.

The average Thanksgiving meal costs $50, and the prices just go up from there. According to the National Retail Federation, holiday gifts cost families an average of $749.51 last year. Before the turkey goes in the oven, use these basic retail strategies to develop your frugal holiday game plan.

Make a plan. I have a master list of who I'm buying for, what I'm buying and how much it costs. I keep it with me and refer to it often so I can spot a good deal when I'm doing my everyday shopping. Don't assume you have to give cheap gifts to stay on budget - look for the absolute best price on something nice. Sometimes you can clearance, coupon and rebate your way to luxury gifts on a pauper budget.

Price match. Many retailers - Toys"R"Us, Target, Walmart - price match the rock-bottom sale prices of competitors. Just bring the ad or a printout of the web price with you. Walmart will even price-match groceries like Thanksgiving turkey. It might save you a few stops or snag you the low online price without the cost of shipping.

Skip Black Friday. Don't clear the Thanksgiving plates early to get in line. The deals sound great. In reality, it's all hype. You can score similar or better deals throughout the season. Toys"R"Us has quietly been offering holiday sale pricing since September, rolling out discounts that are as good or better than Black Friday sales, according to

Layaway. Retailers have revived free layaway programs, so you can pay in installments over time for gifts. It seems old-fashioned, but it's a good thing if you have or are at risk of accruing credit-card debt. Pay as you have the money, rather than charging it and racking up interest.

Coinstar it. It sounds so "I'm broke and 19," but my piggy bank collects loose change all year. At Christmas, Piggy takes a trip to Coinstar. Here's why: I can convert change into gift certificates for retailers such as Amazon, iTunes, Starbucks, JCPenney and Toys"R"Us for free, with no coin-counting fee. I use it to buy gifts from my list. It's "free" money that's been sitting unused in Piggy all year, and it can add $80 or more to the budget.

Use points. Never underestimate the power of credit-card points and rewards. Use points to buy gift cards or merchandise for which you would have otherwise paid cold hard cash.

Club it. It's too late for this year, but Christmas clubs - a savings account for holiday gifts - are worth revisiting. Stashing money away all year long helps ease the crush of gift, food and party expenses. It's as easy as setting up a sub-account in your online savings account. Even $5 a week all year means $260 more dollars when you need it.

Be sentimental. What people want most each holiday season is to share love with those who are special to them. Baking a batch of cookies for an elderly neighbor or making a home-cooked meal for a busy mom friend might mean much more than something from the store.

-Denise Trowbridge is a self-professed money geek who writes about personal finance, banking and insurance for The Columbus Dispatch, and