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Be a Smart Shopper
This Holiday Season

Smart Shopping this Holiday Season

Plan ahead to make it through the holiday season with your finances intact.

(ARA) - There are three kinds of holiday shoppers: those who buy throughout the year, picking up the perfect gifts as they find them; those who hit the malls after Thanksgiving, enjoying the holiday decorations, spirit and sales; and those who put off shopping until the last minute, then rush around buying frantically and impulsively.

No matter what your shopping style, it's a good bet it ends up costing you more money than you realize around the holidays -- you're spending more time than usual in malls and specialty shops and in the spirit of the season, you're feeling especially generous (you might even sneak in a "gift" for yourself). If you don't have the money for that cashmere sweater, it is all too convenient to put it on the credit card now and deal with it later.

Don't be one of countless consumers who has a fit of panic and regret when the New Year rolls around and the credit card bills start coming in. Begin planning now and you can make it through the holiday season with your finances and your credit rating intact. Here are some ideas to get you started and help you share the joy of the season without going overboard.

Check your credit

You probably have a general idea of your credit card balances, but now is a good time to sit down and get a complete picture of how much you owe and to whom. You may find that you don't have as much available credit to use for the holidays as you thought. You'll also want to check your credit report, both before (to make sure you'll get approved for more credit if you need it) and after the holidays. You can get a copy of your credit report from Web sites such as creditmatters.com. Verify that all the information is correct, and that there are no unfamiliar charges or accounts on the report. If you carry a monthly balance, this would be a good time to consider consolidating your debt on the card with the lowest interest rate. Just don't use the zero balance on the consolidated cards as an excuse to charge more. You can enter the New Year knowing that your credit is in good shape.

Look to last year

Take a minute to review your holiday spending from last year. You'll be amazed how fast the total adds up. There are obvious expenses such as gifts, but don't forget to include expenditures for decorations, food, party clothes, holiday activities and travel.

Draw up a Budget

Once you figure out how much you've spent during the holidays in the past, you can start making a budget for this year. Are there ways you can economize? For example, maybe you can talk to your immediate family about drawing names and buying for just one person, instead of getting gifts for your siblings, their spouses and their kids. In a similar vein, why not start a grab bag tradition among your friends, instead of buying individual gifts for everyone. Alternatively, set a price limit with friends and family. You may not want to be the one to broach the subject, but many people will be relieved at the suggestion.

Stick to Your Budget

Having a budget and sticking to it are two different things. Holidays are a time when emotions can easily trump good sense. With a budget in place, you're less likely to succumb to impulse spending. You might want to include an "unexpected expenses" category in your budget for last-minute emergencies, like buying a gift for the co-worker who wasn't on your list, but who gives you an unanticipated present.

Take Advantage of Sales

The past few years have been a bonanza for bargain shoppers as stores strive to entice shoppers during a sluggish economy. Look for good deals, and remember to save your receipts. Many stores will credit you with the difference in price if an item goes on sale within a certain timeframe after you buy it.

Plan for Next Year

Keep all your receipts and add up how much you spend this year; figure out what that translates to per month, and start putting that amount away for holiday spending during the coming year.

Throughout it all, have fun. After all, 'tis the season to be jolly. Just because you're on a budget doesn't mean you can't enjoy the holidays.

For more information on checking your credit report, visit www.creditmatters.com.

Courtesy of ARA Content

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