People on tight budgets can avoid spending the $500 to $700 that American families on average spend for the holidays, a University of Nebraska specialist said.

Keeping holiday meals simple and using creativity to save money on such items as wrapping paper and holiday cards are among ways to celebrate on a limited budget, said Kathy Prochaska-Cue, an associate professor of family and consumer sciences.

For the holiday meal, splurge on one special dish and make one or two side dishes, instead of preparing several meats, vegetables, salads and desserts, Prochaska-Cue said.

Make homemade paper by decorating plain white paper or newspaper and using inexpensive ribbon instead of bows, she said.

Mail postcards to family and friends instead of a holiday card, or make your own cards to reduce costs.

Plan a gift exchange to save money on gifts, set money limits or make homemade presents, such as cookies and ornaments. Don't forget about garage sales, thrift stores or rummage sales, especially for one-of-a-kind gifts.

People may decide to give family members special heirlooms or family treasures instead of purchasing a gift. If money is really tight, consider cutting out gifts for adults and giving something small to children.

Holiday activities don't need to be pricey, Prochaska-Cue suggests.

Going sledding, participating in community activities, singing carols or reading favorite holiday books are inexpensive ways to celebrate the season, she said.

The holidays also give people an opportunity to give back to their communities, Prochaska-Cue said.

Consider volunteering at a soup kitchen, donating toys to needy children, or delivering holiday goodies to people who work on holidays, such as firefighters and police officers.