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Enjoy the holidays without blowing your budget

The holiday sales have landed in your inbox, mailbox and newspapers. Whether it's holiday travel discounts or deals on the must-have toy, temptation lurks everywhere and it will only heighten as we get deeper into November.

Black Friday is no longer a post-turkey day highlight. It's right there with the pumpkins and scarecrows. With so much pulling at you, it can be challenging to make it a festive rather than frustrating season. To keep the stress level low and the smiles wide, adhere to some fast and true strategies this time of the year, said Patricia Stallworth of Johns Creek, Ga. Stallworth is a certified financial planner and author of "Minding Your Money." She also hosts the squeezeyourmoney.com blog.

She shared seven strategies to enjoying the holidays without blowing your budget:

1.  Start with a clearly defined budget. The holidays can impact several parts of your budget, from food to gifts to possibly even travel, so come up with a total budget in each of the categories. If you are really concerned, set up envelopes for each category like food, gifts, etc. Put the allotted cash in each envelope and stop spending when it is empty.

2.  Develop a plan. Keeping your budget in mind, plan your activities, gift lists, and other forms of celebration -- from menus for entertaining to stamps for cards. Use your plan to create shopping lists for each category.

3.  Get creative. Ask your family to draw names so you can cut down on the number of gifts you need to buy. Make gifts like cookies or craft items, and give "your time" gifts, like washing the car, cleaning and babysitting.

4.  Always shop with your list. The decorations and sale signs are tempting so don’t let them distract you from your appointed mission. Also, consider layaway programs.

5.  Get back to the real meaning of the holiday season. The holiday’s are all about families. Instead of spending all of your time in the malls or online, plan low-cost activities that the whole family can participate in.

6.  Give to charity. Giving to charity warms you twice. Once when you give it and again at tax time when you deduct it.

7.  Start a savings plan for next year. While it’s still fresh in your mind, add up all of the extras you needed for the holidays, divide that amount by 12, and start a 12 month savings plan for next year so you can enjoy the holidays without worrying about busting your budget.

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