The holiday countdown is on, and once again, you’re short on time and money. But you still can celebrate a debt-free, wallet-friendly holiday season if you follow a few last-minute strategies.

Savvy Shopping

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If you have wait until the week before Christmas to start gift shopping, you’ll probably miss out on the best deals. But all hope of finding a great bargain is not lost. Fran Harris, a money-management expert, says that you always can save money if you practice “savvy shopping.” Shop outlet malls, one-price stores and sales. “Do not buy anything at full price,” Harris says. And shop strategically. Before you take the trip to the outlet mall, call stores to check if they have the specific item you want, especially if you’re looking for the season’s hot-sellers. You’ll save gas and avoid a fruitless search.

Savvy shopping also means not spending beyond your means. Do you have an invitation to a gala bash and not a thing to wear? Rather than shelling out a small fortune on something you won’t wear again, visit consignment shops and thrift stores for values on slightly used clothing. Or rent formal wear or borrow a friend’s fancy duds. Need gift paper, boxes and bows? Save money by buying in bulk and splitting the cost with a few others.

You can also try out our free discount/deal finders for Amazon and eBay to find some great bargains.

Penny Pinchers and Money Grabbers

Money experts say that the quickest, easiest way to free up cash for the season is by trimming the fat from your budget for the next month. “I see about three [new] movies a week, so that’s about 30 bucks,” Harris says. “When I need money, I cut there. Look where you are spending and out reasonably.” Replace money-guzzling activities with low-cost ones, like eating at home or renting videos. You also can save money by cashing-in on coupons, refunds and mail-in rebates.

Maybe your financial needs require more drastic measures. If so, consider temporarily working a second job. Department stores, packaging services and temp agencies offer part-time seasonal work with flexible hours. Plus, if you work retail, you usually can get an employee discount on merchandise. Or go to work for yourself. Tap your talent for baking goodies or making crafts and start a holiday business. Earn money for a shopping spree by selling your wares to friends and co-workers in need of gifts.

Stress-free Celebrating

Christmas-tree shopping on a shoestring? You don’t have to bring home the “Charlie Brown” special to get a bargain. Slightly imperfect trees can bring big savings. Turn a sparse side toward a wall, decorate it, and no one will notice. But if you want a real deal and you’re in no hurry, purchase your tree on Christmas eve, they’re practically given away then. Put what you save toward something that can go under the tree.

Trimming your tree also can be an exercise in frugality and creativity. Shop second-hand stores for cheap, but good-as-new ornaments. Create your own homemade trimmings and involve the whole family. Don’t shrug off after-Christmas sales, either. Stock up early on discount decorations for the upcoming year.

Think of other creative, yet thrifty ways to deck your halls for the holidays. Add festive touches to your home decor, such as a colorful Christmas centerpiece or a kinara and kente-cloth accents for Kwanzaa. “Have a Christmas wall,” Harris suggests, “a decorative wall or a Christmas quilt that people contribute to in lieu of buying a tree.”

Save time, money and your sanity by throwing a theme party. Potluck parties, dessert parties, gift-wrapping parties and tree-trimming parties spread goodwill and cheer while spreading the responsibility for cooking, cleaning and decorating.

Creative Gift Giving

Give gifts that come from the heart and go easy on the pocket. A phone call or letter to a faraway friend, or nearby buddy. Make simple, yet sincere gifts. Pass out IOU coupons that can be redeemed for thoughtful services, breakfast in bed, a candlelit dinner, a day free of chores. Have a grab-bag or Secret Santa so that everybody saves money. Or channel your creative energy into making gifts. Videotape a message of love, make a cassette of your loved one’s favorite songs, create a photo album or scrapbook of memories, bake cookies.

And encourage your children to use creativity over cash. “We always think of tangible things when it comes to gifts,” says Harris, “Have your kids write a song or a poem, which cultivates great qualities in them. You may discover that you have a budding artist.” Or avoid the holiday hype outright by giving just one “annual” gift. “It may sound radical,” Harris says, “but the fact is, the end of the year may not be your best time.” She adds that while you still can honor special days with inexpensive, yet thoughtful forget-me-nots, “You give the annual gift when it’s the best time for you, keeping you out of debt and creating a healthy, productive way of living.”

Practice these time- and money-savers, and you are certain to be richer in holiday memories, and in cash.