If there's one month of the year when families struggle to save money more than any other, it's December. According to the American Research Group, shoppers this year expect to spend an average of $801 for gifts. And that number doesn't include all the other things families spend money on over the holidays — travel expenses, admission to holiday events, entertaining, holiday meals, etc. — nor does it include the routine monthly expenses that don't disappear just because it's the holiday season.

Feeling strapped for cash as December approaches? Consider these 5 ways for your family to save.

1. Give less stuff (but more of yourself).

Resist the pressure to buy lots of expensive gifts; smaller gifts, especially those that truly come from the heart, can be just as thoughtful. Try making homemade presents for friends and family, or skip the gift exchange entirely so you'll have more time to spend together.

2. Take advantage of deal sites and apps.

Savings sites like FatWallet can help you find the best deals on items you want to buy, and apps like Coupon Sherpa will keep the best discounts right at your fingertips. Before heading to your favorite stores, always compare prices and search for coupons and discount codes first.

3. Stock your freezer.

Families eat out a lot around the holidays, because the busy nature of the season leaves less time to cook at home. But dining out with kids can get expensive (and exhausting) so stock your freezer with delicious meals that can be reheated easily. The savings will be huge. When you do dine out, check a site like Out to Eat With the Kids to take advantage of Kids Eat Free programs in your area.

4. Look for free holiday fun.

Does your town have a Christmas Parade or Tree Lighting? Where will Santa be making an appearance? Just driving around the neighborhood to see the beautiful holiday lights can be a cheap alternative to paying for the fancy big displays, especially if you play Christmas music and bring hot chocolate as a festive backseat treat.

5. Take advantage of Free Shipping Day.

If you do a lot of your shopping online — and at the last minute — there is one date you need to be aware of. Free Shipping Day, when over 400 stores offer free shipping and guaranteed delivery by Christmas Eve, is on December 18. So if it's getting close to Christmas and you're starting to panic about spending big bucks on last-minute shopping, don't. You can still get your holiday gifts in time — and save some money too.

How do you save on expenses in December? Does holiday shopping make it hard for you to save money?