tree made out of money(Photo: Courtesy of Redbook)

Grinch-time came early last year: By early December, more than a quarter of American shoppers had already outspent their gift budget, according to a survey from America's Research Group. Nothing saps joy like credit card dread, so this year things have to be different--and they can be. We calculated that if you use all the rebates, tools, and strategies below, you could save over $500 on your season's celebration. Ho, ho, ho! Consider that our little gift to you.

Stalk a lower price.

Know exactly what you want to buy but aren't finding it at a cost you can live with? Visit and, in quotes, enter the product's name followed by the minimum price and the maximum price you'll pay, separated by two periods. (It looks like this: "Sony Handycam HDR-CX190 $1..$250.") Hit "Create Alert." Now, if a price pops up on that item that's under $250, you'll get an email.

Fill your pantry in advance.

Beginning in late fall, bargains start appearing on guest-worthy food and drink such as chips, rolls, soda, mixers, and wine by the case. "We bake a lot during the holidays," says Kelly Hancock, author of Saving Savvy, "so when supplies go on sale--flour, sugar, chocolate-chip morsels, canned pumpkin--I stock up." She also watches the meat aisle for pork or beef tenderloin, her traditional Christmas main dish. If there's a great deal in November, she just throws the meat in the freezer.

Shop with a list.

Without a game plan, it's easy to be tempted by cute stocking stuffers or that perfect thing for a random someone. "Research has shown that on average, people spend more when they're shopping without a list," says Deborah Mitchell, a clinical professor of marketing at the Fisher College of Business at Ohio State University in Columbus. "You don't want to be out there reacting to sales like a Ping-Pong ball." So make a list of everyone you'll gift this season, including neighbors, teachers, and family friends, and set a spending limit for each one.