You’ve made a list and checked it twice, and all that’s missing is a workshop full of elves to tackle all of the cooking, cleaning, decorating, shopping and wrapping. Since Santa isn’t sharing his little helpers, we’ve come up with simple tricks to make this holiday season easier and a lot more affordable.


1. Surf for deals – There is nothing more exciting than finding a cashmere sweater on sale, right? Duplicate that thrill using online coupons. Sites like,, and offer printable coupons for thousands of retailers. You can find such deals as free shipping and 20 percent off online purchases. Another way to find discounts online: Google “sale” or “coupon code” along with the name of the item you want or the store where you want to shop.

2. Get discounts at spas – Think it’s too expensive to purchase spa gift certificates for your mom, sister and best friend? You might be surprised. Find out what discounts are available at Even if no discount is published, many spas are willing to negotiate the price of their services if you buy a package deal. Just make sure to speak to the spa manager.

3. Budget for everything – It’s easy for costs to creep up when you don’t keep track of miscellaneous holiday expenses, such as postage, cards and wrapping paper. Start the season with a budget for the small stuff as well as gifts and entertaining – and keep track with a holiday budget worksheet, which can be downloaded from

4. Give from the heart – Creating a unique gift doesn’t have to involve baking or a handmade IOU certificate. Consider these alternatives: For your spouse, make a CD of romantic songs and design an album cover at For young children, personalize a storybook with their names, ages and other details at For close friends and family, make a photo calendar at Snapfish or Shutterfly.

5. Downsize your gift list – Rather than buying gifts for everyone on your list, plan an old-fashioned Secret Santa exchange. Have everyone pull one name from a hat and buy a gift for that one person. Agree on a budget in advance so gifts don’t get too extravagant.

6. Redefine wine – Good wine doesn’t have to come with a hefty price tag. You can get some great quality wines in a box, such as Black Box and Banrock Station, available in most wine shops. Don’t want guests to see the box? Decant the wine into pretty pitchers and tuck the boxes out of sight. Or, serve a wine-based punch.


7. Get organized – Spend an afternoon creating a comprehensive calendar that includes parties, religious services and doctor appointments. Your calendar should also include dates to bake cookies, mail gifts and the annual Black Friday sale at the mall. Once all your important dates are marked, you can see if you are scheduled to be in two places at once and make plans to deal with the schedule conflict.

8. Lighten your load – Instead of lugging gifts across the country in shopping bags and suitcases, ship them. It will be one less thing to worry about during an already stressful time. You may want to put gifts in unsealed gift bags in case the post office or delivery service has to inspect the packages.