In today’s tight economy, more consumers than ever are looking for alternative ways to stretch their Christmas shopping dollar. The key to saving money when shopping retail is to find the deals in advance and stick to your budget. With proper planning, you won’t be tempted to pay full price for any of your gifts.The early arrival of Black Friday this year offers consumers more time for holiday budget planning. It seems that the traditional day after Thanksgiving mega-deal day, has been turned into an entire season. Some stores started as early as Halloween with their ‘Black Friday’ savings.Along with Black Friday, shoppers can also look forward to Cyber Monday online shopping deals. Many websites list stores and their Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals for your convenience. When ordering online, many payment screens have a space to input a coupon code for additional savings. Many times, you can quickly pop onto a coupon forum website and find a valid coupon code. I did this recently when making airline reservations and ended up with an additional 10 percent savings. These same coupon sites also have printable coupons for in-store shopping trips.An additional way to save is to consider handmade or low cost gifts. With a little creativity and planning ahead, inexpensive gifts can become classic favorites.Small gifts for babysitters, gift exchanges, neighbors, and friends at work could include the following:Ornaments. Whether you make them or purchase them, ornaments are a perfect gift. Most women love new decorations for their tree, and the person who receives this gift will think of you every year when trimming the tree.Recipe Cards. A sweet personalized gift, you can use pretty recipe cards and write five or six of your favorite recipes on them. Leave the rest blank so they can be filled out by the receiver of the gift. Fabric and craft stores generally have decorative recipe cards and matching boxes for one or two dollars each.This gift can also be presented with one or more of the recipes (such as cookies or fudge) wrapped in a tin.Calendars. Target and other stores have cute calendars and planners in their dollar bins during this time of year. They are very attractive and practicalGift Baskets. Gift baskets are a perfect way to be both creative and personal. If your friend likes golf, put together a small basket using golf balls, tees, and a few homemade club covers. If they knit, give them a new pair of needles along with a few skeins of yarn. Another inexpensive gift basket for a couple could include two coffee mugs along with some hot cocoa or decorative tea.Other Gifts that could be given to family members or close friends:Quilts or throw blankets. If you like to sew, blankets are the perfect gift, especially for young people who have recently moved out on their own.Decorative pictures or framed photos. Use your computer and decorative fonts to print out motivational or meaningful quotes, poetry, or Bible scriptures and frame them. Frame favorite photos and give them as gifts to grandparents, aunts, or uncles.Aprons, potholders, or placemats. Depending on your sewing skills, these can be quick and inexpensive presents for loved ones who love to cook.There are many more, but these should spark your imagination. Christmas shouldn’t be something that you later regret because of overspending. This holiday season, make it a memorable, meaningful and stress free time.