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Sneak a Peek at Real Moms' Holiday Spending

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The most wonderful time of the year? Not for your checking account.

According to the National Retail Federation, the average holiday shopper spends $750 on gifts and décor at Christmas time. But where do they get the extra dough? And how do they make it a Merry Christmas for everyone on their nice list, while also sticking to a budget?

We asked five real moms to dish about how they get the biggest bang for their buck during the holidays -- without breaking the bank.

Maureen in New York, NY
My holiday budget: $800

Who I buy for: My husband, daughter, father, sister, four brothers and their families

How I save: This year, on top of my full-time job as a magazine editor, I took a side gig teaching a 6-week writing class specifically to cover holiday expenses. I really don't like teaching, but the fee made the effort worth it.

My daughter is 5, and her list is very specific -- she wants every Lalaloopsy doll ever made. The dolls are available in limited batches (not to be produced again), which has actually been helpful with budgeting. I've been picking up a doll or accessory once per month for the last couple of months. She'll probably get five of them at about $25 each, plus some roller skates. My husband wants the iPad mini.

For the remainder of my family, I'll probably send gift baskets: cookies, coffee, etc. The only part that's been tough is that my daughter still believes in Santa Claus (who does not have to worry about a budget apparently), so she has filled her list all the way down the page. I told her Santa only has so much room in his bag, so he can't bring her everything she asks for. The lies!

RELATED: Money Mic - Why I'm Glad I Didn't Believe in Santa

Trina in San Francisco, CA
My holiday budget: $500

Who I buy for: My two kids, my husband, my entire family on my in-laws' side (from grandparents down to cousins), my parents and one out of my six siblings (we draw names)

How I save: Each year, I make a list of people we need to buy for with an estimate of the amount I'd like to spend. At night, after the kids are in bed, I shop and online sales -- I won't even open an email from a big brand store unless it's 30% off or more.

RELATED: How Much Should You Spend on Holiday Gifts for Kids?

Pinterest has been an amazing inspiration for DIY gifts, which I think are the best (also check out 20 Cheap and Easy DIY Holiday Gifts). The kids and I have craft day every Saturday -- we paint mattes for photo frames, craft necklaces and make holiday cards. They feel so proud to give something they made, and everyone loves it! But my big trick for saving money is buying before mid-December. It's always in the last minute panic that I overspend.

Deanna in Winston-Salem, NC
My holiday budget: $1,000

Who I buy for: My husband, two sons, my parents, my in-laws and one gift for someone on my husband's side of the family (we draw names)

How I save: Each month this year, I've set aside about $75 to put in my fund for Christmas. I also add in some money along the way, such as from a tax refund, a bonus check, etc. Then I start shopping the week after Thanksgiving (not Black Friday -- I hate dealing with the crowds). I scour sales ads, and I'll go to several stores if need be to get the best prices.

I also make presents, like knitting a scarf, because I enjoy putting my time and love into a present instead of a lot of money. Those presents have been more special for me to give than a store bought one.

Shannon in Atlanta, GA
My holiday budget: $400

Who I buy for: My two kids, my husband, my parents, two siblings, in-laws and a few other family members and friends

How I save: This year, I'm spending even less than most because my husband was out of work for about a month. Because of this, I started looking for deals earlier in the year. If I saw something that I knew I could use for a gift and it was a good price, I bought it. I do lots of shopping at places like Marshalls and TJMaxx. It's amazing how you can find the exact same stuff that is currently in other stores for less money.

Thrift stores are another good option. You can find some great things (vintage, antique or even brand new with tags) for just a few dollars. It's almost like a game to see what you can find. My mom, my brother and I have no shame in giving each other thrift-store gifts. We've all gotten some nice presents that we couldn't have found otherwise.

Erin in Sheridan, CO
My holiday budget: $700

Who I buy for: My husband, two daughters, parents, in-laws, four nieces and nephews, great grandparents, two to three close friends and approximately three gifts for holiday parties and colleagues

How I save: My husband and I sit down at the beginning of the holiday season and discuss realistically how much we think is appropriate to spend. However, even though we agree on a set amount, we tend to go over. Things come up, and the spirit of the season can take over. For example, my husband will go to Costco for groceries and come back with a $30 toy that was just "too cool" to pass up. I am known for buying gifts for people we didn't really plan on, which can also impact our budget.

RELATED: Why I Withhold Gifts From My Kids

Fortunately, my kids are young enough that I don't really have to worry about lowering their expectations. I can often tell my 2-year-old daughter that she "may" get that toy for Christmas, and then she quickly moves on. The hard part is meeting expectations for me and my husband. We always start off saying, "Let's just get each other an ornament or something under $50." However, we tend to feel like that isn't enough and make last-second decisions to spend more. This year, we are really going to try and stick to the budget by using cash for holiday shopping. Once the cash is gone, we are done shopping. Using the card can be dangerous!

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