Nine websites to help you spend less on making merry

Every family has to figure out a holiday spending strategy. Negotiate a price limit on gifts, or max out credit cards to be sure everyone’s wish comes true? Make creative homemade gifts, or give open-ended gift cards? Cover holiday costs with a year-end bonus check, or put a little in a savings account each month? Give modestly to family and generously to charity, or vice versa?

No matter how you answer these questions, one thing is certain — everyone is happy about making the holiday budget stretch a little further. Knowing you got the most out of every dollar is a little gift for yourself in December — and in January when the bills come due. Here are nine websites that will help you spend less on making merry — plus a bonus website that will help you keep your budget intact.

Compare prices

You know what you want to buy, but what should it cost? Put any product into Google.com/products and you’ll get a list of how much things cost at local, as well as online, sources. The great thing about this website is that it includes taxes and shipping so there are no surprises at checkout.

Get gift cards at a discount

Sites like Giftcardrescue.com offer discounts of up to 30 percent on gift cards other people didn’t want. Even if you don’t want to re-gift these cards, you can use them for your own shopping. The site also buys unwanted gift cards which might come in handy after the holidays.

Find a coupon

The number of websites offering coupons has exploded — and so has the number of ways to use them. Look for print-and-clip coupons at Coupon.com and check Couponcabin.com for website discount codes. Try Cellfire.com to retrieve on-the-go coupons with your cellphone.

Find local deals

Sign up at Groupon.com to get regular e-mails about discounts available from businesses in your community — everything from laser tag to clothing stores, cupcakes to sushi. The catch is that deals are only activated when a certain number of people sign up, so you may want to share this site with friends. Groupons can also be given as gifts.

Stay loyal

Many stores offer discounts to people who register for a customer card. Shortcuts.com allows you to load coupons directly onto the card. Then, when you’re at the store, you don’t have to search frantically for the diaper coupon that you know you had when you left the house. Discounts appear as soon as you swipe your card.

Sell old to buy new

If the latest tech gadget is the most important thing on your child’s list, consider selling tech gadgets that were the must-have last year or the year before. Wireflytradeins.com tells you exactly how much you can get for old video games, cellphones and other electronic paraphernalia.

Make it your treat

Taking friends and family out for holiday meals is expensive — unless you know about Restaurant.com, a website that offers substantial discounts on restaurant cards. Find local eateries with a zip code search. Cards are discounted as much as 60 percent, though you should read the fine print. Some restaurants have a minimum order. Some exclude specific days or times, and most include a gratuity of 18 percent.

Consider rentals

Whether you are throwing a special party or attending one, you may save if you rent instead of buying what you need. Weartodaygonetomorrow.com rents designer dresses for a fraction of what they cost. Partypop.com has a comprehensive state-by-state directory of rental services — as well as anything else you might need to make a party memorable.

Keep a clear head

One last tip: don’t obsess about getting rock bottom prices on everything. With all the websites offering last chance deals, that’s a sure way to make a crazy season even crazier. Instead, remember that the spending you do at the holidays is never an end in itself. It’s simply one — of many — ways to celebrate a special time of year. Sing your favorite songs. Share your favorite stories. Hug your favorite people. At this time of year, the best things in life really can be free.

Carolyn Jabs, MA, has been writing about families and the Internet for over 15 years. She is the mother of three computer-savvy kids. Other Growing Up Online columns appear on her website www.growing-up-online.com.

@ Copyright, 2010, Carolyn Jabs. All rights reserved.