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credit & debt

Save -- or Earn -- $1,000 by Black Friday

Avoid going into debt to pay for holiday gifts by setting aside enough cash over the next two months.

Black Friday – the day after Thanksgiving that kicks off the holiday shopping season – is still two months away. Yet, it’s not too early to start planning for this day – that is, planning how to save enough money to pay for your holiday gift purchases without racking up debt.

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Last year, consumers spent, on average, nearly $400 on Black Friday alone, according to the National Retail Federation. And they spent a total of more than $700 on holiday gifts in each of the past couple of years.

If you start saving now, you’ll have eight weeks until Black Friday to set aside more than enough to cover your holiday shopping tab. To help you reach your savings goal, we’ve come up with several cost-cutting moves you can make to boost your cash flow over the next two months. And we also tell you ways to earn extra cash. The actual savings and earnings in the examples below will vary (especially depending on which ones you can implement). But they do show it is possible to find an extra $1,000 in your budget by Black Friday.

Ways to save

Brown bag it. That $5 deli sandwich you regularly buy for lunch might seem like a good deal. But if you do the math, you’ll find that you’re spending $25 a week (at least). You could buy a pound of deli meat for about $6 and a loaf of bread for about $2 or $3 and make sandwiches for a week for a little less than $10 -- saving you about $15 a week TWO MONTHS OF SAVINGS = $120

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Skip happy hour. If you and your friends meet up each Friday after work for a few drinks and some appetizers, you easily could be spending $10 a week (if the happy hour deals are good). Break your happy hour routine for a couple of months, or perhaps invite your friends over occasionally and ask them to BYOB so that you still can be social without the added cost of a bar tab. TWO MONTHS OF SAVINGS = $80

Drive less. If you have a bike, consider leaving your car in the garage for the next two months and cycling to work. Half of the working population in the U.S. commutes five miles or less to work. So if your round trip is 10 miles, you can save $4.55 a day by biking rather than driving, according to our How Much Can I Save Bicycling to Work? calculator. TWO MONTHS OF SAVINGS = $182

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Stop paying for texting. Eliminate texting charges from your monthly smart-phone bill by downloading a free application, such as Textfree or textPlus. Both apps assign you a free phone number through which you can send and receive texts on an iPhone or Android device. TWO MONTHS OF SAVINGS = $40 (assumes $20 per month for unlimited messaging)

Switch to generic drugs. If you pay the full price for common heartburn and high-blood-pressure drugs, switching to generics would cut your health insurance co-pay and save you $60 per month. Go to your health-insurance plan's Web site to learn about generics for the drugs you take and how much you could save. You can also look up generic equivalents at www.drx.com or by using the Medicare.gov Plan Finder. Then ask your doctor if it's safe to switch. TWO MONTHS OF SAVINGS: $120 (assumes savings with generics on two drugs within a health plan)

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Adjust your tax withholding. The average tax refund this year was nearly $2,927. If you got a refund, stop paying Uncle Sam too much throughout the year and keep that money for yourself (or gifts for others). You simply need to change your tax withholding by filing a new W-4 with your employer's human resources department. To find out how many exemptions you should be claiming, try our Easy-To-Use Tax Withholding Calculator. The changes will go into effect on your next paycheck. TWO MONTHS OF SAVINGS = $487.80 (based on the average refund)

Live off your grocery stockpile. If your pantry and freezer look anything like mine, you probably have enough food to last you a couple of weeks. So skip one weekly trip to the grocery (at a cost of about $100 for a family of four), and put those canned goods and frozen foods to use. For more tips, see Save Money on Groceries Without Coupons. TWO MONTHS OF SAVINGS = $100 (if you can live off your stockpile for a week; $200 if it'll get you through two weeks)

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Find free babysitters. Round up another family or two and take turns watching the kids. If you go out for four hours every month and would have paid a baby sitter $10 per hour, you can save $40 per month. All you need to do is watch the other family's kids occasionally -- which gives your children a few extra playmates. TWO MONTHS OF SAVINGS = $80

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TOTAL SAVINGS = $1,209.80

Ways to earn

Sell unwanted gold jewelry. With the price of gold at about $1,776 an ounce, selling unwanted gold jewelry also is a quick way to generate some cash. For example, Kiplinger.com Managing Editor Robert Long recently sold his high school class ring for $145. If you have a gold ring with a melt value (the actual value of the gold in the jewelry) of $200, expect to get paid about 70% of the melt value -- so $140. See Smart Ways to Sell Your Gold for tips on how to get a good deal. EARNINGS = $140 (for jewelry with a melt value of $200).

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Sell sterling silver for scrap. My husband took a few silver pieces that we never used to a local dealer and got $30 an ounce, netting us more than $1,000. EARNINGS = $240 for an 8-ounce piece

Sell unwanted gift cards. The average household has about $300 in unspent gift cards, according to Plastic Jungle, a Web site that lets you buy, sell, exchange or donate gift cards. With sites such as Plastic Jungle and Gift Card Granny, you can turn those cards into cash. You won't get the full value of your card (up to 92% at best). EARNINGS = $240 (based on an 80% return on $300 worth of cards)

Participate in clinical triaIs. If you're willing to be a human guinea pig, you can earn anywhere from $25 for a couple of hours of your time to thousands of dollars for longer-term commitments. Peruse studies that are actively recruiting participants at ClinicalTrials.gov, a database run by the National Institutes of Health. Search by location to identify local trials. EARNINGS = $25 per trial

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Get paid for your opinions. Participating in an in-person focus group led by a moderator, such as those run by Delve, can earn you between $50 and $200. EARNINGS = up to $200 per focus group

Redeem credit card rewards points. If you have a rewards credit card, see if you can convert your points to cash. For example, you can receive $25 when you deposit 2,500 points earned with a BankAmericard Power Rewards card into your Bank of America account. If you have 5,000 American Express Membership Rewards points, you can earn a $25 AmEx gift card that’s good in more than a million places, according to the company. EARNINGS = $25

Sell your stuff on consignment. Unload items you no longer want without the hassle of selling them yourself by taking them to a consignment store. Look for upscale consignment stores that get a lot of traffic if you want top dollar for clothing, furniture, linens, china, glassware or artwork. Expect to split the profit 50/50 with the store. I made $50 selling a children’s train table and more than $100 selling clothing at consignment stores. EARNINGS = $150

Be a mystery shopper. You can get paid up to $20 if you agree to browse a store and provide feedback on customer service, merchandise quality, and other quality-control metrics. Visit the Mystery Shopping Providers Association’s Web site to see a database of jobs with legitimate companies. Sign up with several companies because it can take a while to be contacted. EARNINGS = $20 per job

TOTAL EARNINGS= $1,015

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