The end of summer always brings a flurry of gift-giving at my house. I have a son with a birthday in August, another with a birthday in September, my birthday is in October, my wife's birthday is in November and of course Christmas arrives in December. That's five months of parties, gifts, cards and pictures. Unless we plan it just right, it can become very expensive!

One way I cut down on the cost of gifts is to comparison shop online. I have written before about finding shopping bargains on eBay, but good deals can also be had elsewhere online.

For books, I usually check out Half.com or Amazon.com first. The prices almost always beat whatever I can find at a local bookstore. The only time I buy books locally is when I'm in a time crunch, so pre-planning is a must when it comes to gift-giving.

Another great service is Shopzilla. You can search for whatever you are looking for at Shopzilla, and it will do all of the online comparison shopping for you, returing several finds and letting you select the one that comes closest to the price you want to pay. Like eBay, it will let you arrange the search results from the lowest to the highest price. There is now a Shopzilla search portal at the bottom of this page.

Froogle.com...a division of Google, is also another great site to use for comparison shopping, and it is very thorough and even includes eBay and Amazon.com results.

Sometimes, we will also make gifts for each other. My kids love to make their own greeting cards, and my wife prints greeting cards on the computer. Why pay almost $5 for a piece of cardboard that someone is only going to read once? Some of the best gifts I have ever received have been the ones made for me by my children.

We used to take the kids to Chuck E. Cheese, Discovery Zone and places like that for birthdays, but honestly, some of the best parties we have had have been the ones we have had at home. If you don't want a bunch of screaming kids tearing up your home, check with your city's parks and recreation department and see if you can reserve a party space at one of the city's parks. There is a park near my home with a shaded picnic area which has a birthday party taking place there nearly every weekend. The cost is nominal, and you can bring your own food, drinks and games. We always make our own birthday cakes. The great thing is that in our town you can check availability and make reservations online.

If you like sporting events, taking the family out to a game is a good way to celebrate a big day, too. While the price of a ticket to a pro game can be outrageous, we have a minor-league baseball team in town with a great ball park, and tickets never cost more than $15. The tickets can even be purchased online and printed at home. No waiting in a ticket line!

No matter how you choose to celebrate the big days in your home, the main thing to remember is it really doesn't matter how expensive the gifts and parties are (or aren't). What really matters is that you celebrate those moments with friends and family.

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