Published on 11/19/15

Overspending on gifts doesn't make the holiday season brighter

By Michael Rupured

The holiday shopping season starts earlier every year. Long before Thanksgiving dinner has been reduced to leftovers, shoppers will be looking for bargains.

Serious bargain hunters get excited about all the sales the day after Thanksgiving. To make the most of the big day, they sort through advertisements and go online to compare prices. They plan to hit stores for time-specific sales and map out routes to cut down on time wasted in traffic or looking for a parking spot.

Many others avoid the chaos by shopping early or online, and still others get caught up in the moment, joining the spending frenzy with no plan or shopping list.

While shopping smart is important every month, the stakes are especially high after Thanksgiving. Starting holiday shopping early helps. With a little forethought, even procrastinators can benefit from these shopping tips.

Spend Smart

Develop a spending plan for the holidays. Economic conditions are improving, but piling up a lot of holiday debt is never a good idea. Know how much money you can reasonably afford to spend by making a budget. To avoid financial problems in 2016, limit spending to the cash that’s set aside for the season.

A holiday spending plan is not just about the gifts. Remember to include parties, greeting cards and postage, charitable giving, clothes to wear to holiday functions and other things that make the holiday season joyful.

Be creative. Belt tightening is in, wasteful spending is out. Remember, the thought is what counts. Homemade gifts, whether it be food, clothing or crafts, may be appreciated more than something purchased at the local big box store. Gifts of time for babysitting, car washing or house cleaning may also be well received.

Think carefully about each and every purchase. At the store, keep the spending plan and shopping list in hand. Avoid deciding on an item in the spur of the moment. Take time to think about needs and spending limits.

Use ads to plan purchases. Compare offerings from different stores to find the best deals. Once a particular item is selected, compare features, quality, prices, installation charges, delivery and service. Sometimes the cost to use and maintain an item makes selecting a more expensive model the cheaper option.

Conserve gasoline. Avoid running from store to store. Instead, use the phone and Internet to find information. Particularly for gifts to be sent out of town, ordering the desired item for direct shipment to the recipient may be cheaper than the sender paying to ship it.

Shop online to locate special or unique gifts. Use a secure browser, shop with known companies and keep your passwords creative and private. Pay particular attention to shipping charges. Be sure to print out and keep records of purchases.

Wait for last-minute price cuts for items that are not in short supply. Retailers will roll out holiday items earlier than ever this year. Sales may also start earlier as retailers clear out merchandise. That means plenty of bargains, but be careful shopping to find them. The best deals may come late in the season.

Examine factory seconds and irregulars carefully. These items have flaws or imperfections. Find the flaw and decide if it will make a difference. Look in your newspaper classified ads for items too. Buying person-to-person often saves money.

Expect to pay a fair and reasonable price for goods and services. Bargains that sound too good to be true are usually just that. Read labels, seals, tags and instruction booklets. Ask questions.

Get the facts before purchasing. Find out what is promised, who stands behind the promises and what is required to benefit from any warranty. Return a purchase that is damaged, did not provide reasonable wear or did not otherwise live up to the guarantee.

Overspending can ruin the holidays and the months that follow. Plan ahead and stick to the plan. Spending only as much as you can afford will make the holidays better for all.

Michael Rupured is a financial specialist with University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.

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