10 Ways You Throw Holiday Money Away

Consumers spent $45 billion shopping during Thanksgiving weekend, an increase of nearly $4 billion from the year before. The number of consumers shopping for deals on Cyber Monday increased significantly as well. In total, retail sales picked up significantly throughout November, and will likely continue to stay strong for the month ahead.

While this may be good for the economy, it's arguably more important now than any other time of year to be mindful of how much you spend and whether a product is really worth buying. After all, many people are still paying down their debts from the previous holiday shopping season.

We rounded up 10 products you should avoid buying, either because the item will be cheaper another time during the year, there are cheaper alternatives or simply because the item really is not worth the money.

Our gift to you begins on the next page:

Family Holiday Cards
Don't empty your bank account just to get a decent family portrait for the holidays. Macy's ( M) charges $150 for a family of four to get two family portraits done professionally, and adds on more costs for every additional picture you get. And that doesn't even factor in the cost of adding that photo to a card and making dozens of copies, which you then have to buy stamps for to mail to friends and family, who probably will glance at it for only a few seconds.

Here's a better option: Take the picture yourself with a digital camera, edit it on the computer using a free program such as Pixlr, and send it to friends and family by email. It's the same sentiment, but free.

Wrapping Paper
There may be no bigger waste of money during the holiday season than buying wrapping paper. Some companies charge around $10 for a roll of wrapping paper, while others charge as much as $90.

If there's one thing most families have in abundance, it's old magazines and newspapers. Get creative and use these supplies to wrap your gifts instead. Not only will you save a few dollars, you'll also clean up your house a bit.

Christmas Trees
Buying a fresh cut Christmas tree can cost anywhere from $50 to a couple hundred dollars, which may not sound like a lot given that it's the centerpiece of the holiday. But if you consider that you have to buy one every year, the money adds up. Consider buying an artificial Christmas tree instead. A nice full-sized artificial tree can go for $350 or more, which pays off over time.

Inflatable Santa and Snowman
Yes, we know people like to deck out their front yards so passers-by can see they have tons of holiday spirit, but if you're willing to cut back on one kind of lawn decoration, it should be these. Not only can inflatable Santas or snowmen cost $60 or more, they're energy hogs that suck up electricity to stay inflated and lit up. If you leave one of these on your property for a month or so, it could put a serious dent in your energy bill.

Holiday Decorations
Rather than splurge on buying ornaments and flowers to deck out your house for the holidays, you may want to think ahead to next year. Holiday decorations always go on deep discount as soon as the holidays are over, and stores need to shed whatever's left in stock. Buy what you need then and save it for the following holiday season.

If you do need decorations this year, consider some clever and cheap alternatives to buying. Instead of paying for flowers for the house, why not use pine cones from outside as a centerpiece? And instead of buying new ornaments, try making paper snowflakes and popcorn on a string to create a cozy Christmas mood.

Insurance for Holiday Parties
The downside of hosting a big holiday party at your house is that there is always the risk something will go wrong, whether it's having a tipsy guest break a valuable possession or finding out one of your guests got in an accident on the way home and is suing. This fear leads some to buy special holiday party insurance. Before you take this step, it's important to do some research. The truth is, your homeowner's insurance may cover any damages that occur on your property, and only certain states consider hosts liable for incidents that happen outside your property after a guest leaves your party.

One recent survey of consumers found that the iPad is the most sought-after electronic device this holiday season. But you may want to think twice before buying one this month. The iPad was launched in April of this year, which leads most industry experts to assume that the next-generation iPad will be released around the same time in 2011. If that turns out to be true, it will presumably cause the older model to drop in price but provide consumers with a new model that could fix some of the iPad's shortcomings, notably the lack of a front-facing camera. Either way, a wait is wise.

It's also worth noting that Apple is the rare company that generally does not discount heavily during the holidays. Even on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the best Apple offered was 10% off select items.

We know you want to show that special someone how much you care, especially during the holidays, when romance is in the air (along with some expectations for lavish gifts). But if you can somehow convince yourself and your significant other to be patient for just a few weeks, you may find some better deals come January. Retailers are eager for business in January, since the holidays are past and Valentine's Day is still weeks away. As a result, you may see discounts on a broader range of jewelry.

Puppy Tweets
Every once in a while, a special product comes along that you know will probably be popular, but you have no idea why. This year that product is Puppy Tweets, a $30 electronic dog tag that promises to answer the eternal question: "Ever wonder what your pet is doing while you're away?"

According to Mattel ( MAT), the toy company behind Puppy Tweets, the electronic tag senses when your dog moves around or barks and uses this information to post select messages to Twitter under the dog's personal account. What kind of messages, you ask? Well, one of them is, "I bark because I miss you. There, I said it. Now hurry home."

Adorable, but completely and utterly useless.

It's bad enough that there is already a toy that allows babies to tweet, do we really need to commune with our dogs on social networks as well? You don't need it, your friends don't need it and one day, when dogs evolve to the point where they can actually tweet, I'm pretty sure they won't appreciate all the falsified messages Puppy Tweets has posted for them.

The Thermajock
Finally, no list of what not to buy this holiday season would be complete without the Thermajock, a new piece of apparel that promises to prevent "man's most sensitive area" from enduring "cold and chafing during cold-weather activities." The website for this product is full of pictures of men going on long adventures through frigid snow-covered hills.

But here's a cheaper idea: Rather than spend $15 plus shipping for this product, maybe you should just try not to run through the Arctic so often. And if you really do want to give someone this gift for the holidays, may we at least suggest you do so covertly, rather than in the middle of a get-together. If you can't save the money, at least save yourself the awkwardness.

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