Holidays are great for family gatherings, time off and the consumption of calorie-laden food, but they're not so great for the fatness of our wallets. In fact, the longer the holiday season stretches on, the smaller our bank accounts get. From gifts to party food to gas in the car or plane tickets, we tend to incur a lot of extra expenses over the holiday season. And while frugality has its place, you can't - and don't want to - cut out everything. What to do instead? Use some of the unique opportunities of the holiday season to make some extra cash. (For related reading, see Tips For Avoiding A Holiday Spending Hangover.)
IN PICTURES: 8 Easy Ways To Slash Your Holiday Budget

  1. Sell Stuff Online
    Online sites that sell used merchandise (Craigslist, Kijiji ...) make it easy to build up a little extra holiday spending money by selling what you already have; you can also search for resale stores in your area that will buy your stuff or sell it for you on consignment. Clean out your closets, your attic, your basement and the trunk of your car. Quit hanging on to those college textbooks, clothes that don't fit or furniture that you really don't like. You'll end up with a cleaner place (room for more gifts!) and a nice-sized wad of cash.

    The key to eBay success is to sell stuff that people can't get just anywhere. Think antique, collectible, unique, one-of-a-kind, regional, handmade, specialty: anything that fits into one of those categories has a good chance of finding buyers on eBay. Conversely, you won't have much luck trying to sell online what anyone can walk down the street and buy at the supermarket or mall. So, if you have collectibles or access to some great regional items, buy up enough to sell and get started. (For more, check out Odd eBay Sales.)

  2. Get a Seasonal Job
    UPS isn't the only place that needs thousands of extra employees during the holiday rush. Browse the mall - more shoppers mean that stores need more people stocking shelves and running cash registers. Any store or supplier of holiday products (Christmas trees, greenery, ornaments, popular gifts) or point in the supply chain (from ordering to wrapping and packaging to delivering) might be in need of extra holiday help.

  3. Use Your Freelance Skills
    Professionals with skills, turn your attention to holiday opportunities. Marketers, interior designers, graphic designers, writers and photographers: consider designing holiday e-cards, business flyers, holiday events and promotions, helping to write holiday letters, taking holiday portraits, arranging store displays and more. Charge fair rates and you could find yourself busy beyond the holiday season. (For more, see Freelance Careers: Look Before You Leap.)

    For example, if you can make a great pecan pie or know the secret to moist muffins, it's time to turn that baking expertise into cash. Figure out the cost of supplies and then determine out a cost for your labor. Set prices on what you're willing to make and sell, draw up a price list, and email it out to family and friends. Many people will jump at the chance to get some help and still offer homemade goodies.

  4. Do the Dirty Work
    The worst part of hosting a holiday party definitely comes after the guests have gone home and the inevitable mess remains. Pick up some gigs cleaning; you can offer your services for business holiday parties and events, as well as to the quintessential harried homemaker. Think beyond the post-party cleaning, too. You can make money helping prepare for holiday events, doing regular weekly cleaning, doing laundry and household chores and running errands for people who are willing to part with a little cash in order to save a little time.

    Also, hanging holiday lights, hauling Christmas trees, putting up decorations and carrying in all those packages people are getting in the mail can bring in some extra dough. There are plenty of ways an able-bodied person can be helpful for others. Students often need to relocate during the holiday time between semesters, so if you have a truck and muscles, you can pick up even more cash. (For a related reading, see Be A Holiday Saver, Not A Scrooge.)

  5. Take Care of Kids
    Daycares need holidays too, and parents of school-age children often find themselves scrambling to care for and entertain their kids on holiday break. Make it known in your social circle that you're available for child care. Offer your services to parents who need a little time for holiday shopping, holiday parties or just a quiet afternoon or night out away from the kids. (For more, check out 5 Ways To Save On Child Care Costs.)

  6. Flaunt Your Talent
    Holiday gigs can be very lucrative events if you've got talents in the world of music. Parties need bands, carols need singers, and all sorts of corporate and church events need good musicians. If you have friends with similar talents, you might be able to put together a group, practice a few holiday songs and make some cash providing background music for all sorts of events during the season.

  7. Teach What You Know
    Hold a class in your kitchen on quick holiday appetizers and easy party food. Teach a workshop at a local crafts shop on how to make holiday wreaths or homemade gifts. Run a seminar on candid photography, coach musical students prepping for a holiday recital or drama teams putting together performances. The knowledge you share doesn't have to be holiday-themed, either; people with a little extra time off work might enjoy a chance to brush-up on hobbies and interests that normally have to take a sideline.

IN PICTURES: 6 Hot Careers With Lots Of Jobs

The Bottom Line
Making a little extra cash is less about setting up your hot dog stand on a street corner and more about getting creative with the stuff and skills you have and what you already enjoy doing, teaching or sharing with others. You could ring in the New Year a little lighter on the holiday calories and a good deal heavier on the holiday cash. (For more, see the Top Holiday Spending Mistakes.)

Find out what happened in financial news this week. Read Water Cooler Finance: GM's Dramatic Return.

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