With only one week to Christmas and New Year's, here are some tips for panic-free holiday shopping:
Write it down. To avoid impulse buys, keep a list of each person you're buying for, the dollar amount you can afford and stores that carry the item. Use newspaper, radio, TV and online ads to do some comparison-shopping before you buy.
Team up. Enlist the help of "finished-my-shopping-in-July" friends. At the mall, send them off with cash to pick up items on your list that are at the price you want.
Go cash-only. It'll help avoid impulse buys. If you must use a credit card, keep only one in your wallet, preferably with the lowest interest rate.
Try post-holiday gifting. Create "IOU" envelopes that promise a gift is coming soon. It gives your recipient something to look forward to and lets you shop after-holiday sales to save money.
Check your supplies: You may already own more wrapping paper, gift bags, ribbon and unused cards than you need. Use up the old before buying new.
Know your layaway: Don't do layaway unless you're clear about the payment schedule, fees and return policies.
Mind your returns: Keep receipts and make note of return dates, restocking fees and other limits on purchases.
Be real: Don't be afraid to let kids, friends or family members know that you're cutting back and can't indulge in excessive gift-buying. It's OK to explain your economic reality and get support.
Get creative: Make your own gift wrap (newsprint works!). Give homemade items, whether knitted, kneaded, painted or potted. Host a potluck rather than buying and preparing an entire holiday meal.
Think outside the (gift)box: Create your own coupons for services like dog walking, car washes or even spring cleaning. Tuck in a kitchen gadget and offer to bake a gourmet treat or cook a candlelit dinner. Gifts of the heart will cost little but your time.
Look ahead to 2012: Open a "Christmas Club" or other year-long savings account now. Stock up at after-holiday sales on decorations, gift wrap and other seasonal supplies. Buy gifts year-round, so you can grab great deals and finish early, rather than buying in holiday panic.
Sources: Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies; Bee research