By Ingrid Simone, Common Sense Media editor
The holiday season is upon us -- and so is a pretty painful economy. Whether it's family entertainment, gifts for the kids or gifts for relatives and friends, the costs of video games, DVDs and presents can quickly add up. But if you know where to look, you can find some pretty sweet deals. Check out these ideas:
1. Have nieces and nephews? Offer a sleepover movie night at your house. Movies are a fun holiday tradition, but a night out can really add up -- especially if you want to take the whole gang. With so many options for watching movies online, whether downloading or streaming, you can still enjoy first-run flicks (or seasons of your favorite TV series) for less than the cost of a night out at the theater.
Companies like Netflix, Blockbuster, YouTube, VUDU, iTunes, Amazon, Google Play and Hulu all offer videos to enjoy without leaving home. Some of these services offer a flat rental fee from a couple of dollars or so for a movie, some offer a monthly subscription rate and some even offer the ultimate bargain -- free viewing! And with introductory offers, you can often try a service for free for a week or even a month. Most of these services offer multiple ways to view content. You can use your video game console, computer, tablet, mobile phone and more.
And don't forget the library. While you will lose the convenience of streaming movies without leaving home, you can often find a great selection of DVDs to borrow at your local public library.
2. Go for board games -- digital and old school. If you have a tablet such as an iPad, adding classic board game apps -- Scrabble, Yahtzee, Monopoly, The Game of Life, Boggle and more -- can be less expensive than buying the real thing. But the original "old school" versions of these same titles are lots of fun -- and generally inexpensive, too.
In addition to playing classic board games in their digital form, you can also play digital favorites in a board game form. This year you'll see board game versions of apps like Draw Something and Words With Friends for prices comparable to the more traditional board game titles. Whatever format you choose, family game night can be a budget-friendly entertainment experience.
3. Make your own gifts. Creative websites and apps let kids make cool projects as they learn new technology. With One True Media and Animoto Videos, kids can create videos for free and send links to relatives for the holidays. Kids can design their own scrapbooks, comic books and more with apps like Pictello, Strip Designer and Skrappy; some allow you to add audio, video or animation. The creations can often be shared online or printed as PDFs to share at little to no cost. Budding authors can give their very own literary creations thanks to websites like Story Jumper, We Make Stories and Tikatok. Kids can also use pictures they've taken to create low-price gifts like calendars, photo books or cool posters at sites like Snapfish, MyPublisher and Shutterfly.
4. Check out the deal of the day. You can save on goods, services and more with deal-of-the-day services like Groupon, LivingSocial and Google Offers. You can't really plan ahead with these services, but if you keep an eye out you may find an offer for just the gift you were looking for, from a tablet device, to high-end earphones, to a subscription to a digital encyclopedia.
5. Get games cheap. Take a tip from serious gamers: Never pay retail! Stores like GameStop are in most major shopping malls and allow gamers to purchase and sell used titles for all of the major systems, from Nintendo Wii to Xbox 360. On Glyde.com, you can snag some great deals on pre-owned games (it's also a great site for selling your own unwanted titles). New gamers aren't always looking for the hottest, newest games -- what's old to one gamer is new to the kid who just got a gaming console for the first time. Blockbuster and Gamefly also offer video game rentals and can be a good alternative to buying new games; if you've got a major gamer on your list, consider getting him or her a monthly subscription to an online game-rental service like these.
6. Give them downloads! Music, games, apps, e-books -- most are less expensive than their shrink-wrapped counterparts. Most download sites offer gift cards you can email, and they come in a range of denominations -- even $5 buys a lot of downloads. It's like a digital stocking stuffer!
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