"There's so much excitement, you can really go completely overboard" during the holidays, says "The Debt Diva" Clarky Davis, money-saving expert for CareOne Credit Counseling, who has appeared on MSNBC and Fox News. Pair that truth with a frosty economic climate, and many families are left facing a humbugged holiday season. But fear not. Here are five ideas that can make your year-end festivities less expensive yet perhaps even more meaningful.
The Gift of Time
If you're short on funds, try donating your time, says Reneé Rayles, author of The Super, Sexy Mom on a Budget. Offer a neighbor or fellow mom free babysitting, tennis lessons, even help with yard work. "You can [also] give back to the community," Rayles says. "Some residents at assisted living centers don't have families that can visit them. They'd love to see a baby." If your little one's a ham, he'll love the spotlight.
Start a New Tradition
In 2008, Jaime Greathouse, mom of three in Shelby Township, Michigan, took her family to an orchard, where they spent the day picking apples. During the following weekends, the kids -- even her toddler -- helped her make apple butter. "We gave a jar to all of our family and friends," she says. "They were so well received that we're doing it again this year."
Go Light on Lights
Deck the halls with LED lights, which use 99 percent less energy than traditional lights. It will help offset energy costs that increase during the winter months. If you must use the traditional variety, pair them with reflective surfaces like mirrors for a more energy-efficient sparkle. The Alliance to Save Energy (ase.org) also notes that icicle lights have more lights per linear foot than regular light strands and use more energy.
Load Up on Baby Gear
If your new arrival has you dreaming of a white, um, crib set, now may be the perfect time to score an awesome deal. "November and December are the slowest times of the year for baby stores," says Alan Fields, co-author of Baby Bargains.
Big Box, Small Price
Several big-box retailers are attracting consumers with cost-cutting holiday promotions. Walmart recently announced it's offering more than 100 toys at $10 through the end of the year. In its own effort to quell holiday budget concerns, Kmart has launched an online layaway program. On selected items, shoppers make an online down-payment of $15 or 10 percent of the total merchandise, followed by biweekly payments for up to eight weeks, and can pick up their purchase a local store.