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Related topics: holiday spending, groceries, giving, savings, save money

Christmas is just a few days away and, if you're not yet done with your shopping, your holiday budget could be in for some serious damage.

Super sales, coupons and free shipping deals are evaporating. Hot items you expected to pick up easily at the mall could be sold out. You may have forgotten about items you bought months ago and end up buying too many gifts. If panic sets in, you're bound to start spending recklessly.

To help protect your budget, we asked our readers to weigh in on what they consider the biggest wastes of money during the holidays. Their regrets and warnings serve as healthy reminders as you approach the final shopping days.

By far the biggest spending regrets readers have are about buying presents for people -- often children -- who won't appreciate them. Kids love the excess of Christmas morning, but that last-minute, must-have gift may turn out to be "just one more stocking stuffer," warns one reader.

Another mom laments that she spends too much money on "all those great deals on toys my kids don't want or need."

Cutting back on gifts

One grandparent says she's cut way back on children's presents. "Once upon a time, I would have spent too much on my children and grandchildren," she reports on MSN Money's Facebook page. "Now my son and I don't even exchange gifts. My daughter just picks out ridiculous things that I buy only a few of. And my grandchildren already have everything in the toy store."

In fact, this year as the economy limps along, many readers say they are cutting back on gifts.

One mother writes that she is getting small gifts for her son's teachers, and then, "I am spending my holiday time and money on a short, liberating vacation for me and my son . . . period."

Christmas cards, especially for people who don't return them, are considered a waste by several readers. One reader suggests, "in lieu of wasting postage, make some calls that day when your rates are free."

Obligations and traditions

Many co-workers have been struck from shopping lists this year by people who felt the gifts were unappreciated. Secret Santas or "giving trees" at work were mentioned as big wastes of money.

One reader writes that she thinks it is a waste to give her boss a gift but has to anyway since she "expects a present and will hold it against me if I don't get her something 'nice.'"

Some readers say they find holiday food the biggest waste of money.

"Groceries to make holiday dinner usually run a couple hundred dollars over your normal grocery spending," says one commenter.

Another notes that pricey food products available only during the holidays -- like snowflake-shaped Ritz crackers, gingerbread-flavored Coffee-mate, and gingerbread Pop-Tarts -- sometimes aren't good and can cost more.

Still, the holiday treats have many fans, and it's hard not to load up on them, acknowledges one woman on MSN Money's Facebook page. "I can't help myself, they just taste so good."

There are hidden costs of shopping. It's easy to blow money needlessly on "random dinners out, lunches, lattes," notes one reader. Others point to some unpleasant surprises, including a parking ticket while shopping. "Merry X-Mas City of Boston. . . . I'll shop elsewhere next year," writes one man.

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Many readers cite other small wastes of money that can add up. One reader suggests skipping "Christmas plants that croak by January." Expensive gift wrap is another ephemeral money-waster.

Overall, it's clear that readers make the biggest money mistakes when they don't shop early enough to take advantage of sales and promotions. One reader says, "Every year I swear I'll get it done earlier but . . ."

As Christmas approaches, don't panic and overspend. And remember, even if you're guilty of some budget busters this year, there is always next year to change your ways.