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Decide in advance how much you can budget without going into debt. Once you've arrived at this figure, list everyone -- family, friends, kids' teachers, coworkers, your hairdresser -- to whom you plan to give gifs. Assign a maximum amount to spend on each person; the total cannot exceed your magic number.Watch the Deal Sites
Check Groupon, Livingsocial, and Tippr, among other sites, for discounts at national retailers such as Old Navy or The Body Shop. If you miss a deal, they're often available for resale at sites like CoupRecoup or MyCabbage. A daily deal for a nontangible (a beauty treatment, say) also makes a fine gift.Know When to Buy Online
Decide.com forecasts whether you should grab a great deal on electronics now or wait a little longer. And if you register products at sites like Shopittome and PriceGrabber, they'll alert you to sales.Arm Yourself with Apps
When you're in a store, scan product bar codes with RedLaser (iPhone, Android, Windows Phone), Amazon Price Check (iPhone, Android), or Google Shopper (iPhone, iPad, Android) to compare the in-store price with online options. (Warning: some retailers now use proprietary bar codes to prevent this type of comparison shopping.) To find up-to-date coupons at local stores, use CouponSherpa. To redeem, have the cashier scan your smartphone screen.Mail it for Free
Watch for special free-shipping emails from your favorite retailers or search for deals at Freeshipping.org. Retailers taking part in Free Shipping Day will mail your package gratis on December 17 (the last day to ensure arrival by December 24).Get Social
Go ahead, like your favorite stores on Facebook and follow them on Twitter. You'll be rewarded with special coupons and advance sale notices. A new social-media option this year? Group-gifting apps like Wrapp and Gifiki. Sign up for these apps, then invite selected Facebook members to chip in money to a shared account to buy retail store gift cards for a mutual friend. The company will email an electronic gift card to the recipient for the amount collected.Rethink the Gift Card
Instead of relying on it as a fallback gift, buy cards for yourself at a discount, then use them to purchase presents. (Look for sales and free shipping for extra savings.) Find discounted cards at sites like PlasticJungle and GifCardGranny. Many credit card companies also let you redeem reward points for gift cards.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, November 2012.