WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - With many people on tight budgets, spending too much on holiday gifts can add to the stress.

Common sense tells us to make a list and a budget and stick to it. Doing so helps prevent impulse purchases either online or in stores. Don't give in to the deal you spot, or before you know it, your budget will be shot.

A lot of advice is available about how to stretch your dollars. Here are some of the best tips from Consumer Federation of America:

Spend only what you can afford
If you really believe it's the thought that counts, don't try to overdo it with elaborate gifts. Don't rack up credit card charges that you will end up paying interest on. If that's a problem for you, pay as you go with cash. Just don't flash it around when shopping.

Map it out.
Plan your route to avoid wasting gasoline. Park your vehicle once, then walk to several stores in the same area. That way you can burn up some of the calories from the eggnog, cookies, and other treats you may have consumed.

Don't lose your money to scams
If you see a popular item advertised for much less than the going rate, it could be a dangerous sign of fraud. Do business with companies you know and trust. If you're gift shopping on online auction sites, be sure they provide buyer protection in case you don't get what you paid for. Steer clear of offers by email or through social networking sites from unfamiliar sellers. They could be scammers who just want to take your money and run.


Make it or bake it
This is a possible way to save money for people who have talent. If you are known for making delicious cakes, cookies, pies or spaghetti sauce, there's nothing wrong with giving those, especially if they can be frozen and enjoyed later. If you are good at knitting or building a birdhouse, that's a possibility.

Give gifts that save people money
A supermarket or gas station gift card will help defray everyday expenses. What about a gift certificate from the hair salon or barber shop the person frequents?

Give gifts that help other people
Some people really don't need or want anything. Make a gift in the person's name to a worthy charity. Consider groups that feed the hungry or provide shelter in the person's area, or causes the person supports. Information about specific charities is available from the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance at bbb.org/us.charity.
Consumer Reports' ShopSmart magazine offers the following tips:

Don't forget that Free Shipping Day is Monday, Dec. 17. The list of participating stores can be viewed at freeshippingday.com.

Check out price-matching policies, which are usually posted in stores or on websites. If you can show proof, such as in an advertisement, that a competitor's deal is better, the merchant will match that price. Most such policies apply to stores, not to websites such as Amazon or to stores' websites. Best Buy and Target recently started matching online prices, and Walmart may in some cases if the manager OKs it.