According to the International Mass Retail Association, American families spent an average of $1,067 on holiday gifts in 1999 - 27 percent more than they planned. In order to avoid a financial hangover this holiday season, consider these tips:
1 REFLECT ON LAST YEAR. Look at your holiday bills from a year ago, and think about whether your financial situation has improved or gotten worse since. This will help you gauge how much money you can afford to spend this year.
2 COUNT ALL THE COSTS. Remember that gifts aren't your only holiday expense. Factor in the costs of travel, food, decorations and gift-wrapping paper when calculating your holiday budget.
3 CHECK YOUR LIST TWICE. Make a list of people you plan to give gifts, and write down what you expect those gifts to be. Be sure to include prices so you can have a better idea of how much you'll be spending.
4 CARRY A SHOPPING LIST. Having the gift list with you when you shop can help you avoid making impulse purchases.
5 LIMIT YOUR USE OF PLASTIC. Don't put all your holiday purchases on your credit card. If you must use credit, do so for an amount you can repay in less than three months. Also, limit your card use to the one with the lowest interest rates.
6 DON'T PROCRASTINATE. Try to avoid waiting until the last minute to shop so you'll have time to visit more than one store, compare prices and take advantage of sales. Shopping early also will make it possible to avoid expensive express delivery charges.
7 MAKE YOUR OWN GIFTS. Give homemade gifts such as cakes, cookies or gift certificates for services, such as baby-sitting, running errands or cooking dinner for someone.
8 KEEP IT SIMPLE. Substitute expensive get-togethers and elaborate holiday dinner parties with inexpensive entertainment at home, such as a neighborhood potluck dinner or an evening of caroling.
9 THINK ELECTRONICALLY. E-mail some of your holiday greetings to save money on paper and postage.
10 GO AGAINST THE GRAIN. Consider taking advantage of post-holiday sales by agreeing with your family to exchange gifts after Christmas Day.
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