woman wrapping gifts(Photo: Corbis; Courtesy of Essence)

1. START SAVING NOW:
Tally what you spent last year and try to save that over the next two months. "If you spent $500, you can save $71.50 per week for the next seven weeks and pay cash or apply that payment to your January credit card balance so you avoid paying interest on holiday spending," says Bill Hardekopf of lowcards.com.

2. WRITE OUT A SPENDING PLAN: To curtail overspending, JoAnneh Nagler, author of The Debt-Free Spending Plan (Amacom), recommends this strategy: Buy a three-by-five-inch ring binder, and put the total amount of cash on one page. Divide your cash by the number of people on your list, and write each name on a page with the amount. If you overspend on one gift, it has to come out of someone else's category.

3. DOUBLE UP ON DISCOUNTS: Buy discount gift cards at giftcardgranny.com or cardpool.com and use them at your favorite retailer. Here's how it worked for me: I purchased a Macy's gift card, then used that card in lieu of my credit card on Customer Appreciation Days. I saved up to 35 percent on a luxe suit, designer heels and chic scarfs.

4. EARN EXTRA REWARDS: American Express card members who are signed up for membership rewards can earn double points for booking flights through membershiprewards.com.

5. SHIP FOR FREE: Free Shipping Day on December 17 gives last-minute shoppers extra discounts from retailers—all with guaranteed delivery by Christmas Eve, says Kendal Perez, deals expert at freeshipping.org.

6. DOWNLOAD DAILY COUPONS: "You can save any coupon to the app SnipSnap or search its database of more than a million coupons to find one that someone else snipped," explains Ted Mann, SnipSnap's CEO.

7. USE CASH: "The best way to stick to your budget and avoid impulse spending is to pay in cash," says Hardekopf. "Pulling cash out and handing it to someone is painful and a reminder that the less you spend, the more you can keep."