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5 ways to give with joy, not stress, at Christmas
There's a lot to buy around the holiday season, and in turn, a lot of budget strategizing that comes with it. Here are five ways to save your budget this holiday season. - photo by Seth Olson
So you want to trim your holiday budget, not just your Christmas tree? Youre not alone.

A survey from the Pew Research Center asked Americans what they least like about the Christmas or holiday season. As holiday fate would have it, the top three responses involve gift-giving.

A third of Americans (33 percent) said they dislike the commercialism or materialism of the holidays. Another 22 percent cited the high expenses of the season or the expectation of buying gifts. Ten percent disliked shopping and crowded stores

But the financial costs and crowds associated with Christmas don't have to be a burden. Here are five ways to manage the load and possibly replace the financial stress with the joy of giving.

1. A budget for everything

While gifts account for most of a familys holiday budget, a way to control how much you can spend is to budget for every holiday-related expense you can think of. Are you hosting a Christmas dinner? Are you hosting a New Years party? Or are you traveling for the holidays? How much will Christmas cards and postage cost?

An article on Forbes advises to write out every line item between now and the holidays to show yourself exactly why youre keeping your spending at bay.

That budget will keep in perspective what you spend on gifts, which can add up quickly. Based on an October poll, Gallup estimates Americans will spend an average of $785 on holiday gifts this year, with nearly nine in 10 people intending to spend something this holiday season. More than half (53 percent) plan to spend between $100 and $999 on gifts, and 31 percent will set aside $1,000 or more.

2. Limit the list

Apparently, Americans have mixed feelings when it comes to Christmas shopping. According to a 2014 Pew Research Center survey, 46 percent of Americans said gift giving makes them feel stretched financially. At the same time, 83 percent said buying and receiving gifts makes them feel joyful and 78 percent feel generous.

So how do we feel joyful and generous without overspending?

Forbes says you cant buy presents for everyone youve encountered in the last year. Forbes reminded gift givers that giving presents among friend groups and co-worker circles is not required.

Dont be afraid to keep your holiday gift giving circle small, reserved to family members and relatives, significant others and close friends if you feel necessary.

3. Online shopping versus heading to stores

Customer preferences are now trending toward online shopping, as e-commerce numbers have skyrocketed this year.

According to a survey from the National Retail Federation, an estimated 108.5 million Americans shopped online over the Black Friday weekend, significantly above the estimated 99.1 million who shopped in stores.

Online shopping has made price comparing much easier and faster than traveling from store to store.

For many gifts, Forbes recommends checking large retailers such as Amazon, Overstock and RetailMeNot, along with the websites of individual retailers for items and pricing that are often only available online.

Two other websites, Living Social and Groupon, can also come in handy for shoppers looking to save, particularly when buying more experiential gifts.

4. Get a price adjustment

If you shop early and then prices for those gifts drop, don't worry. Many stores will refund the difference within a certain time period.

The Huffington Post advises to keep your receipts since many stores, such as Macy's and Nordstrom, "offer a refund if the price of your item goes down within 14 days of your purchase."

5. Use the Secret Santa method

An alternative to family members giving to each other, suggest to the kids that you pool together resources to give to a family in need of help during the holidays.

Money Crashers author Jacqueline Curtis wrote how her family did the "Secret Santa" approach through their church, which decorated a tree with ornaments that identified the age, gender and specific Christmas wish of a child in need. Instead of buying presents for family members, the Curtises choose to purchase gifts for the anonymous beneficiaries.

This gives families a chance to talk about the importance of giving and service during the holidays, while also helping out those less fortunate.