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12 money tips from holiday 'experts'

Every holiday season, we revisit the prophetic words of Charles Dickens.

No, not the life lessons Ebenezer Scrooge learned from Marley, Tiny Tim and a couple of time-traveling spirits in "A Christmas Carol." Instead, many of us find that the holidays offer the best of times and the worst of times.

But you won't have to struggle with a tale of two (or more) holiday financial disasters if you follow the advice of some celebrated Christmas characters.

We've taken a look at a dozen seasonal classics. Each embodies a valuable money message to make the days merry and bright.

Santa

Ol' St. Nick knows what he's doing. Making a list is crucial at holiday shopping time. Checking it twice is optional, but that's not a bad idea either. If you hit the stores without your Christmas list, you're likely to overspend. Savvy shoppers like Kris Kringle know that using a carefully crafted list saves time and money. By organizing your purchases, you'll eliminate multiple trips to the mall and reduce costly impulse buys.

Irving Berlin

Composer Irving Berlin penned the classic "White Christmas." Regardless of your holiday locale's climate, the song always conjures visions of a perfect blanket of crystalline holiday snow. Or, conversely, cold, icy snow covering your drafty house with its high heating bills. Brrr! Do something about those energy inefficiencies and get a reward from the Internal Revenue Service at the same time. Tax credits for energy improvements end Dec. 31.

Ebenezer Scrooge

After a particularly sleepless night, Scrooge learned to keep Christmas in his heart year-round. Donating to charities is a very good idea -- for your bank account, as well as the nonprofits. Giving USA Foundation recommends a giving strategy that best fits your financial situation. If that means donating in March when you get a raise, the charity will gladly take your gift then. And you won't feel so financially strapped in December when you're spending on other gifts.

Snoopy

Snoopy was a key to the gang's quest for a decent tree in "A Charlie Brown Christmas." Pets are a popular holiday gift, but Stephanie Shain of The Washington Humane Society advises against surprise pet presents. "There's a significant personal, emotional and financial cost to caring for a pet," Shain says.

Instead, put a homemade gift certificate for the adoption fee under the tree, then go with the recipient to the shelter to select the new furry family member.

Buddy the elf

In "Elf," Santa sack stowaway Buddy ended up at the North Pole, where he was raised by loving elves. Among the things he learned about elf culture -- other than the four food groups of candy, candy canes, candy corn and syrup -- is his uncanny knack for Christmas decorating. But you don't need to be as over the top as Buddy when it comes to decorating for the holidays -- you can throw a party with elf flair even on a budget.

The Grinch

Simple pleasures count for a lot, especially during the holidays. Just ask the Grinch, who watched in amazement as Christmas in Whoville "came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes or bags! . . . Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more!" Yes, the changed Grinch, whose formerly small heart grew three sizes that day, can attest that you don't have to spend a lot to have a happy holiday.

Howard Langston

In "Jingle All the Way," Howard Langston spends the holiday season on a frustrating quest for the must-have toy, a Turbo Man action figure. Though ultimately successful, Howard's frantic search wrecks lots of department stores and decorations -- and almost destroys his family's holiday. Don't suffer the same fate.