A price war has also broken out among booksellers, with Wal-Mart, Target Corp. and Amazon.com Inc. lowering online pre-order prices on several titles to $9 or less.
"This time last year, everyone was hit with the shock of the meltdown, so any price promotion there was reactionary," said Sean McGowan, an analyst at Needham & Co. "This year, battle plans have been drawn."
An easy way to manage your budget is to stick to cash. Don't succumb to the temptation of plastic.
"With credit cards it's like free money," said Jackie Fernandez, a partner at accounting firm Deloitte & Touche. "By the time the bill comes, you're way over the budget that you set."
If you have to use credit cards, fewer is better.
Gail Cunningham, a spokeswoman at the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, recommends using only two credit cards: One for the charges you intend to pay off that month, and the other for purchases you know you'll have to pay off over time.
"With the holidays you may have to admit that you won't be able to pay off everything in January when the bill arrives," she said. "But don't allow yourself to spend more than you can pay off in three months."
Layaway is another tactic that has made a comeback during the recession.
Shoppers put down a deposit on the items they want and pay them off -- usually over 30 to 60 days -- before taking them home.
Layaway became popular during the Great Depression and was commonly used by consumers who couldn't afford to pay cash upfront. But once credit cards became widely available, layaway all but disappeared.
Now, after pulling back on layaway programs for years, retailers are again touting the service as a financially savvy way to buy goods.
Toys R Us recently began offering layaway on hundreds of items, and Kmart and Sears introduced online layaway this year to complement their in-store programs.
One way to spend less is by haggling, which has become more socially acceptable as consumers scrimp on their purchases.
It's easier to haggle at independent shops than at major chain stores because small-business owners generally have more leeway in making deals than do employees at national retail giants. But it still doesn't hurt to ask.
"Definitely try to negotiate a price," said Britt Beemer, chairman of consumer behavior firm America's Research Group. "I think you're going to be successful 80% of the time. Don't feel bad about saying, 'If I buy more, can I get a discount?' or, 'Is this your lowest price today?' "
Just about anything goes when trying to strike a deal, but experts said shoppers should avoid making outrageously low offers that sellers could find insulting.
A good strategy is to haggle on merchandise that has been sitting on shelves for a while, because retailers are more eager to move it. You can also research prices on comparable items at other stores so sellers know you're a savvy shopper.
Timing it right