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There are about two-and-a-half months left until Christmas. You may feel like you have all the time in the world to save and shop for the holidays, but those weeks can fly by in the blink of an eye.

Americans spend over $800 on holiday gifts, according to the American Research Group — and that money doesn’t grow on trees! It has to come from somewhere – and going into debt for holiday shopping isn’t the wisest money move. It can damage your credit scores and leave you struggling to keep up with your normal, fixed expenses. (You can see how your credit card spending affects your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)

Here are some easy steps to ensure you have all the money you need to shop ‘til you drop (and the tools to shop smart) this upcoming holiday season.

1. Get Listy.

Make a list – yes, a real list that is not only in your head! List the people you need to buy for and how much you plan to spend per person. Tally the costs to determine your shopping budget. Also, use this list to record gift ideas. (Here are some gift ideas for mom and a list of ideas for dad too.) Be sure to check off names once a gift is purchased. If you use a tool like Evernote or Excel, you can update it year to year to see how you’re doing. How efficient are you?

2. Sock It Away.

Calculate how much you need to save each week to reach your total gift list tally and, based on your household budget, figure out how much you can spare from your paycheck. Each pay cycle, move that money over to your savings account.

3. Tighten That Belt.

If what you take from your paycheck isn’t enough to cover your holiday fund, it’s time to make some sacrifices, at least through the holidays. Here are some easy (ish) ones:

      • Mani/Pedi. Just think — if you do your own nails through Christmas, you could probably save a couple hundred dollars!
      • Car Wash. Wash your own car for a change. Or better yet, have the kids do it and pay them a few bucks. It will be much less than what you pay the pros.
      • Selfish Shopping Moratorium. Stop buying for yourself. Yes, it hurts, but it’s for a good cause.
      • Sell It. And if you can’t bear to deny yourself anything, try selling stuff you don’t use on Amazon Marketplace, Craigslist, eBay or ThredUp.

4. Track Prices. 

As you build your gift list, start keeping an eye on prices to determine the best time to pounce. Sites like PriceZombie and CamelCamelCamel track the prices of lots of online retailers, including Amazon!

5. Revisit Layaway.

Ready to start buying but don’t want to pay all at once? You may think that layaway is a thing of the past, but it has had a resurgence in recent years. Stores like Walmart and Toys “R” Us offer free layaway with a small deposit. Kmart, Sears, Marshalls and T.J. Maxx offer layaway for a $5 fee.

More Money-Saving Reads:

Image: Artistan

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