Boy playing in a boxMoms and Dads, you have fewer than 12 days to wrap up your Christmas shopping. You can't afford that iPad 2 any more than 12 lords 'a leaping, but you don't want to disappoint Junior when he unwraps Santa's offerings. Just how much is this day going to cost you?

In 2009, Christmas gift shopping averaged nearly $700 per person, according to the National Retail Federation—and numbers have only increased since then. In short, this holiday can send us into serious debt if we're not realistic with our budgets. We'd all like to be that person who thoughtfully buys gifts on sale throughout the year, but most of us are staring dumbly at our checking account a week and a half out wondering what to do.

Take comfort in knowing you're not alone. Get to work with these eight thrifty shopping (and swapping) tips and start a new Christmas tradition this year: staying in-budget.

1. Comb Craigslist.

If you're new to Christmas with kids, I'll let you in on a little secret: the preschool crowd doesn't know a new toy from a used one. You'll need to assemble all bikes, doll houses and train tables the night before anyway, so just find the beloved, sought after toy and buy it for less than half the cost on Craigslist from someone across town. Princess will love it just as much.

2. Check out online buys with free shipping.

Your favorite retailers have banded together—much like they do on the ominous Black Friday and Cyber Monday frenzies—to push Free Shipping Day, one of the last days to order online for delivery by Christmas Eve. So this Friday, December 16, you'll not only be treated to a host of free shipping offers, but many sales to go along with them.

3. Make your spending equitable.

Whatever amount you allocated for gifts, try to divide it appropriately for each child. Maybe one child receives two smaller gifts as opposed to the more expensive gift her brother got. Even if the dollar amount isn't fair, the coolness factor needs to be equal. Younger children don't analyze the amount spent as much as older children do.

4. Sell some older toys first.

It goes without saying that most children in the U.S. have too much stuff to start with. Add 18 Christmas and birthday extravaganzas to the mix and you've got a packrat on your hands. Have your children select at least three or four playthings they don't use anymore and try to get cash for them at a children's resale or consignment store. Use the cash to buy one or two new gifts.

5. Focus on family fun activities rather than gifts.

Maybe your Christmas morning needs to be focused away from wrapped presents under the tree. Have several family-fun activities lined up for the day, not only to make great Christmas memories, but also to detract from opening presents. If money is tight this year, you can still make and decorate cookies on a dime as well as craft some awesome ornaments.

6. Make this Christmas a service holiday.

Pull all the stops and radically transform your Christmas! Whether you are financially able to buy gifts for your family this Christmas or not, take your family out to serve meals or volunteer for a local organization. You will make some of the best, lasting memories by giving rather than getting.

7. Wrap "unconventional" toys.

Ever wonder why Junior gets a brand new toy and just wants to play with the box? John Rosemond, psychologist and author of Making the Terrible Twos Terrific, has strong opinions about it. "Generally speaking, many store-bought toys are fairly worthless," he says in a Baby Zone article, and most seasoned parents would agree. Junior is playing with the box because it truly is the most interesting part of the gift. Find as many odd boxes, containers, and utensils from your house and wrap them up for your littlest ones.

8. Find a parent in your same situation and toy swap.

Package up three of your child's better toys and exchange the same number with a like-minded friend. Make sure the toys are fairly newish looking to avert any suspicion. Since Junior wants that train set at his friend's house, it's exactly what he'll see under the tree. Check out other organized sites with more variety like Toy Swap

Ashley Grimaldo comes from a long line of penny pinchers and enjoys blogging on money-saving tips and advice for frugal-minded parents. She lives with her husband and three children. Ashley has been featured among such media outlets as Redbook, The Chicago Tribune,, and CBS News-Houston

Do you find yourself going over budget when shopping for the holidays? Let us know!