**This post may contain affiliate links. I may be compensated if you use them.

**This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of American Express. All opinions are my own.

Christmas is exactly three weeks away. That’s right; you have 21 days to get your holiday shopping done. If you’re like most Canadians, there’s a good chance you haven’t even started, but that’s okay. Retailers are ready for the crush of shoppers at this time of the year, but can your wallet handle it?

I don’t have any hard stats on me, but it’s probably safe to say that December is the one month where people spend the most money. With this increase in spending, we can blow our budgets quickly, which is why you need to know these five ways to save money over the holidays.

Budget for your presents

We all know that the holidays happen in December, so why is it that many of us seem to be caught without any extra funds to buy presents? If you find that you’re spending on average $1,200 a year during the holidays, then you need to save at least $100 a month to ensure you have enough set aside.

Don’t forget that there are other presents you need to buy throughout the year such as birthdays, baby showers, and weddings, so it’s probably a good idea to budget a little more.

Make a list

If Santa makes a naughty and nice list, why aren’t you? Seriously, you just can’t afford to buy everyone a present, so you need to make a list of the people you want to give a gift. Does your boss or your kid’s teacher really need a present from you? Or is it necessary to get gifts for every member of your friend’s family?

Once you have that list established, you can come up with a realistic budget (Hello tip #1) Remember, most people don’t even care about presents. The best gift you can give your friends and family is your time which doesn’t cost a thing.

Use a cash-back credit card

Since you’ll be making quite a few purchases at this time of year, you might as well use a cash-back credit card. The SimplyCash Preferred Credit Card from American Express gives you 2% cash-back on all purchases. New applicants can even take advantage of the 5% cash-back for the first six months (up to $300).

The card does have a yearly fee of $99, but you’ll also get great benefits including emergency medical insurance, travel accident insurance, car rental theft & damage insurance, and entertainment access through American Express invites. There’s also no limit to how much cash-back you can earn so use the card year round!

Don’t wait until the last minute

With three weeks left until you still have plenty of time to get your shopping done, but that doesn’t mean you should delay. Since you’ve got that list made, there’s no reason to delay your shopping. If you wait until the last minute, you may not find what you’re looking for which might force you to spend more than you expected on a different gift. Now if you hate the whole idea of going to the mall at this time of the year to fight the crowds, you may find my next tip appealing.

Shop online

It may seem obvious, but many people don’t realize that shopping online will often save you money over the holidays (and year-round). Sites such as Amazon and Indigo usually have prices much lower than what you would find in-store. There are even sellers on eBay who offer new products at great prices.

If you’re worried about shipping costs, don’t be. Most online retailers offer free shipping when you spend a certain amount (about $25 -$50). Even if there’s no free shipping, a little simple math can still justify the costs. For example, if shipping will cost you $10, but you’re saving $25, you’re still coming out ahead.

5 Ways to Save Money Over the Holidays

About Barry Choi

Barry Choi is a Toronto-based personal finance and travel expert who frequently makes media appearances. His blog Money We Have is one of Canada’s most trusted sources when it comes to money and travel. You can find him on Twitter:@barrychoi

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