Despite the deepening sense of economic gloom in the U.S., there is at least some positive news as we enter the festive period. Consumers are set to spend more on gift purchases this Christmas than they have done at any point since 2007, committing an average of $764 per household as opposed to just $714 in 2010. This increase is vast, and all the more surprising given the depressed levels of expenditure which were forecast in 2008 and 2009. However, it is important that families keep themselves out of debt throughout Christmas and beyond, and strive to keep their festive outgoings less than their incomings. (Learn how to avoid going over your holiday budget. Read Top Holiday Budget Busters.)

TUTORIAL: Budgeting Basics

Regulate How and Where You Will Spend to Create Your Christmas Budget
There is little doubt that Christmas is expensive. Aside from gifts, you must also purchase food, drink and a number of additional accessories to ensure that your family is well provided for throughout the festive period. According to the Master Card Advisor Spending Pulse, in 2010, pre-Christmas sales registered at an astonishing $584.3 billion throughout the U.S., and this figure goes some way to revealing the pressures faced by families and the exact cost of enjoying a merry Christmas. This need not be the case, as regulating how and where you spend your money can help you to make savings without compromising the festive spirit.

The fundamental budgeting principles apply to this process. Start by deducting existing outgoings from incomings to calculate the exact amount of disposable income that you have available. It is then a case of distributing this money wisely, and setting realistic spending limits for individual gifts and food shopping. You should also try to use cash exclusively when it comes to making your purchases, as this helps you to avoid running up debts on credit cards and makes it far easier to manage exactly what you are spending and when.

Use the Online Tools Available to Purchase Affordable Gifts
So in terms of gift items, how exactly do you go about purchasing these as cheaply as possible? Well, the internet is a good place to start, as it is constantly evolving to suit consumer needs. As the U.S. hovers perilously on the fringes of recession, there are an increasing number of resources on the World Wide Web that allow the consumer to save money without compromising on quality. Ebay and Amazon provide the perfect examples of this, as both site offer second hand goods that are not only sold in perfect condition, but also for a fraction of their original selling price. Even accounting for delivery costs, this can amount to significant savings at a time like Christmas. (For reason why you should avoid physical stores, check out 6 Common Pitfalls Of Brick-And-Mortar Shopping.)

Though these resources are trail blazers in the field of affordable e-commerce, they are certainly not alone. BulkTik is an innovative website that provides cinema tickets and snack vouchers in bulk for interested consumers. As these tickets do not expire, they make an ideal gift for film loving friends and family members, and can be redeemed at any participating movie theater. As with all bulk purchases, this practice can save you potentially hundreds of dollars, as well as providing your loved ones with an innovative and unusual gift experience.

Join Forces with Friends and Family to Eat Cheaper at Christmas
Businesses have been saving money for years through the concept of bulk buying. In the last two years it has also emerged as a valuable tool for the consumer, and can help you to cut down on your food and beverage costs at Christmas. Bulk buying sales rose by 15% between 2009 and 2010, as families desperately sought ways to reduce their domestic expenditure. At times like Christmas, bulk buying food can make a significant difference to your budget, and allow you to either save money or invest more into other festive activities.

One issue that concerns many consumers about bulk buying is storage, but by joining forces with like-minded friends and family members you can distribute the food evenly as well as sharing a significant financial saving. It is estimated that bulk buying can secure discounts of anywhere between 30% and 96% on certain items, ensuring the frugal shoppers can enjoy a very merry Christmas without going hungry. With food and drink such a big financial consideration at Christmas, bulk buying with family could save potentially hundreds of your hard earned dollars.

The Bottom Line
It is clear that by adopting a frugal approach to gift purchasing and food shopping the U.S. consumer can save potentially hundreds of dollars, and all without compromising the renowned festivities of the Christmas period. After all, it is predominantly a time of joy and giving, and it would be a crying shame to let overspending spoil the experience and leave families facing rising debt as they enter into 2012. (For more Christmas savings, see 6 Tips For Last-Minute Christmas Budgeting.)