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Avoid the red this Christmas
Thirteen ways to save money during the season
"Among parents with children under the age of 18, this pressure is even greater, with 53 percent feeling pressured to over-spend," a SunTrust news release stated. "The survey also found that nearly a quarter (24 percent) of Americans will be more financially stressed than last year, and 49 percent will be at least as stressed as they were last year."

A recent survey by SunTrust Banks found nearly 40 percent of consumers feel pressured to spend more than they can afford this holiday season.

“Among parents with children under the age of 18, this pressure is even greater, with 53 percent feeling pressured to over-spend,” a SunTrust news release stated. “The survey also found that nearly a quarter (24 percent) of Americans will be more financially stressed than last year, and 49 percent will be at least as stressed as they were last year.”

Here are 13 tips on saving money to ease the stress this holiday season:

1. Shop early

Frantically buying gifts at the last minute when stores are picked over and time is limited will lead to overspending. Buyers in a time crunch may choose an expensive gift to compensate for not spending weeks planning out a thoughtful gift. Shop early, perhaps even before the official holiday shopping season begins.

2. Have a gift buying plan

“Write down everyone you plan to buy a gift for, no matter how small the gift may be. Include ideas of what to give each person, along with the maximum amount you’re willing to spend. Don’t forget to list the people who will receive holiday tips, such as your doorman, babysitter and mail carrier,” recommended Real Simple. And before entering a store with money in hand, know exactly what to buy and where to find the best price.

3. Set a personal price level and pay in cash

“‘People are turned off by the word budget because they envision spreadsheets, but it can be simple,’ says Mary Hunt, personal finance expert and author of “Debt-Proof Your Christmas.” She suggests taking a look at your finances, setting an absolute number for what you can spend, and then sealing the credit cards away in an envelope, so that you won’t be tempted to use them,” Forbes reported.

4. Secret Santa

For big families or grown children, the best way to save money is to have a Secret Santa tradition.

“We often employ the Secret Santa method for the adults in our extended family, because with all the siblings and parents things can add up pretty quickly! Rather than try to spend $50 on everyone in each family -- which would total $500 -- we each pick one name to buy for, with a set price range of $100 to $150 per person. This cuts our costs pretty much in half. Plus, this method makes sure that the adults each get a nice bigger gift rather than a whole bunch of smaller gifts,” Scarlet Paolicchi, a writer on the Family Focus Blog, told Time.

5. Give gifts of experience or service

“Meaningful gifts don’t have to be extravagant and costly. Consider giving experience gifts -- whether that means buying tickets for a ball game or making plans to take the kids to a matinee movie,” the Time article said. Gifts of spending time together or giving back to the community can be the most meaningful and memorable.

6. Give a “combined” big gift to the kids

Instead of giving a big gift, like a new Xbox or iPad, to every child, give small individual gifts and one large combination gift. The expensive combination gift can be Santa’s present while the parents can give smaller, personal gifts.

7. Get creative with non-family gifts

Family members probably expect traditional gifts, but friends, coworkers and neighbors will feel just as appreciated with a batch of ginger snaps, a handwritten note or a jar of homemade raspberry jam as with a gift certificate. Always opt for something personal (and edible) if the budget is tight.

8. Cut down on your gift list

“When you include extended family, friends and service workers -- colleagues, school teachers, delivery people and security guards -- your holiday gift list can get long. Hunt recommends writing everyone down and then prioritizing them. Typically your spouse and children would be at the top, followed by close family, and then the extended network toward the bottom. Consider taking some names off, or come up with a plan for spreading your budget out in a smart, creative way,” suggested Forbes.

9. Homemade decor

Michelle Jones of the Better Budgeting blog recommends these cheap décor tips to save money: buy decorations after the holiday for next year, save all child-made artwork and crafts, string popcorn and cranberries on the tree and around the house, bring pine cones, boughs and acorns from outside into the home. Invest in an artificial Christmas tree to save money year after year.

10. Compare prices

Use mobile apps, like Amazon Price Check, Google Shopper, Shop Savvy, Red Laser and Price Grabber, to compare prices before purchasing a big item. Make sure to check online stores before entering brick-and-mortar stores.

11. Host a potluck

“Just because you’re on a budget doesn’t mean you can’t have friends and family over to eat and be merry. This year, rather than providing all the catering yourself, Hunt recommends having a potluck, where everyone brings a component. Another way to save on the holiday party is to move between houses for each course, so that multiple people in your group can host a party and show off their homes,” wrote Forbes.

12. Tell your children to pick one item

Tell children in advance to limit their wish list to one item. This doesn’t mean that in practice parents are held to only buying one gift per child, but this strategy curbs childhood greediness. Also, if one is on a tight budget, it is important to explain the situation with children so they understand why they didn’t receive as many presents as their friends at school. And make up for a smaller bounty with fun and inexpensive kid-centered activities during the holidays.

13. Set a budget for next year

In January, accountants suggest that couples and individuals plan out a detailed budget for the coming year. That budget should include a spending quota for Christmas presents and activities. Take it a step further and divide that quota by 12 and put away holiday money into a savings account each month throughout the year, Time recommended. | Twitter: @debylene