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Easy Money: Give More, Spend Less

It (literally!) pays to start your holiday shopping now. You'll cut back on the stress and spending that come from rushing around buying last-minute gifts. Here's how to save the most:

Get Coupons
In addition to scouring the paper, find 'em fast online. The quickest way: Google a retailer's name, followed by the word "coupon," says Gregory Karp, author of Living Rich by Spending Smart. You can also visit coupon sites like Couponcabin.com, Couponmountain.com, and Flamingoworld.com, and search by retailer. Sign up for your favorite store's mailing list, suggests Kim Danger, family savings expert for Coupons.com. "Stores like The Children's Place and Victoria's Secret regularly mail out coupons," she says.

Think Beyond the Toy Store
Many drugstores, like CVS and Walgreens, carry children's toys and offer loyalty programs. Sign up for one and you can earn cash back on what you buy to apply toward your holiday purchases. "TJ Maxx, Marshalls, and Sam's Club also have toys at twenty to fifty percent off regular prices," says Danger.

Shop Online
"You're more likely to buy things you touch, so you may spend less by staying out of stores," says Karp. Instead of going straight to retail sites, visit rebate portals like FatWallet.com and Bing.com/cashback, which link to popular retailers and could save you up to 10 percent of their prices. "Stores give them a kickback for referring customers to them, and the sites share part of that kickback with you," says Karp.

You can also comparison-shop in a snap online. Enter the name of the gift you're looking for on a site like Shopzilla.com and it will generate the best prices on the web. At Amazon.com, search for Bestsellers (which may be offering the lowest prices), or visit Amazon .com/goldbox, where the best deals of the day are listed.

Minimize Shipping Costs
The less time you have to send a gift, the more you'll spend to get it there on time, so buy weeks before the holiday. Look for online retailers that offer flat-rate shipping, like Old Navy, Gap, and Overstock. Other sites, like Amazon.com and Diapers.com (which sells baby toys, too), offer free shipping on certain items.

Don't Overpay
Many companies, like the Apple Store, Best Buy, BabyCenter, and Target, offer price protection: After you've bought something from them, you're automatically entitled to a refund if the price of that item drops within a set period of time. Enter everything you buy on Priceprotectr .com, and they'll e-mail you when any of your purchases goes on sale; contact the store to score your refund.

Other Ways to Save

Ship directly to recipients. You may want to add the perfect wrapping paper and bow before your friends and family receive their presents, but shipping gifts to your home, then bringing them to the post office to mail out, wastes time and money.

Refrain from self-gifting. It's tempting to buy goodies for yourself while you're out shopping for others, but sticking to your intended purpose (to give, not receive) can keep costs down.

Limit your baby's presents. Your son won't remember if he got 4 gifts or 40. Take advantage! And toddlers may enjoy the unwrapping part more than the actual gifts, so forgo pricey purchases.

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