Every year we worry about finding the perfect Christmas gifts for the people on our list and every year many of us end up straining our budgets. It doesn’t have to be that way. Here are 11 ways to save money on holiday shopping.

Start Early

Early fall is really the best time to start shopping for Christmas. There are no crowds to contend with and you’ve still got lots of time, both of which reduce stress and anxiety. If you’re prone to a last-minute mall marathon, consider the benefits of starting early. Leisurely shopping allows you to compare prices, get the best deals and helps to keep you sane as Christmas Day approaches.

Decide on a Budget

Set yourself a per-gift budget and stick to it to avoid over-spending. It can take a little time to find the right gift at the right price, which is why starting earlier in the season is so important. The internet is a wonderful tool for comparison shopping and will save you from hoofing it all over town to find the things you’re looking for. If you can, shop locally, so that you can pick up items yourself, rather than paying shipping fees.

Some stores, like Sears, allow you to order online or by phone and then pick up your purchases at the store nearest to you.

Leave Yourself Off Your Shopping List

It’s always tempting to buy things for yourself instead of concentrating on the main task at hand, which is buying for friends and loved-ones. We buy stuff for ourselves all year long, so don’t add to the cash outlay during the holidays. Family members are probably looking for ideas about what to get you for Christmas,  so when you see something you like, drop the hint to someone close to you.

If you don’t get everything you wanted for Christmas, you can still find what you want at boxing day sales at bargain prices.

Give the Same Gift to Different People

I used to buy the same gift for  my husband’s three aunts. If you shop online, buying more than one of the same gift could result in a discount. At the very least, you can shop in the same place, save money on gas and cross three or more people off of your list instead of just one.

Use Your Rewards Points

If you save up your rewards points all year, now’s a great time to put them to work. I’ve redeemed Air Miles for gift cards I used to buy Christmas presents. You can also trade rewards points in for rewards to give as gifts. Either way, it’s money you don’t have to spend.

Build Your Own Gift Baskets

You can save a lot of money by putting together your own gift baskets. Check discount stores like Dollarama for a variety of containers, brand name toiletries, sweet treats and more to make $10 gifts that looks like they cost twice as much. You can get basket wrap, gift tags, bows and anything else you need to help finish off your gift, too and it will all cost a lot less than shopping at a department store.

Draw Names

Many large and/or extended families use this method to tame the cost of holiday shopping. You simply put everyone’s name into a hat and have everyone draw one name to buy for.

You could also pool your money with one or two other group members so that you can buy a larger gift for someone without spending outside of your budget.

Give Gift Cards or Prepaid Credit Cards

Sometimes giving a gift card just makes sense. A gift card is always the right size and color and won’t need to be returned. Giving my daughter a prepaid credit card, for instance, allows her to shop anywhere and buy the clothes and accessories she likes instead of what her fashion-impaired mother thinks she would like.

If you regularly send gifts to relatives in other parts of the country, a gift card for a nice restaurant or another service they would appreciate, will save shipping costs and reduce general stress and the hassle of long line ups at the post office.

Make Your Own Gift Certificates

Make up a gift certificate for a evening of babysitting for a friend or some other task that someone you know would appreciate. Personal gift certificates cost you nothing but your time.

Keep Receipts

As soon as I start Christmas shopping, I label an envelop “Christmas 2012” and put all of my receipts for Christmas in it. This allows me to track my spending and be able to put my hands on a particular receipt in the event I find the same item for less somewhere else. In that case, I can take the first purchase back and take advantage of the deal. It also makes sense to keep receipts in the event something must be returned after Christmas.

Re-Use Last Year’s Decorations

It isn’t necessary to have a different decorating theme for your home every year. Think about how you can use your old decorations in new ways or simply re-create last year’s success. If you like, add one or two new baubles that will complement what you already have.

All it takes is a little forethought and planning to reduce the expense of your holiday shopping this year.

Marlene Alexander

Marlene Alexander

Marlene is a freelance writer and blogger. She maintains a free budget decorating site called Dollar Store Style and writes content for client websites.