Smart Buying

4 Tips to Keep Holiday Spending in Check

From setting a budget to giving gift cards, here are ways to avoid overspending.

1. Set a budget you can’t bust. Do it the old-fashioned way: Pull out a specified amount of cash to buy gifts. Once the green is gone, you’re done. If you’re not comfortable with cash and carry, put the money on a low-fee prepaid card, such as the American Express Prepaid card, which charges no purchase, activation or maintenance fees. You could also deposit your holiday spending budget in a dedicated no-fee checking account. For example, USAA Federal Savings Bank’s account is free (including its debit card), and it has no minimum-balance requirement.

2. Surf smart. Enticing displays at the mall trumpet bargains and beg you to buy on impulse. A California Institute of Technology study suggests that customers are willing to pay about 50% more for products in stores, where they can touch items, than online. To find online deals, follow stores on Facebook and Twitter, suggests spending expert Andrea Woroch; you can log in to see the promotions at your convenience. Dealnews.com shows the day’s best prices on specific types of items. Consider unsubscribing from retailer e-mail newsletters that don’t assist in your hunt -- they present too many temptations.

3. Give more gift cards. It’s easy to spend an extra $5 here and $10 there as you search for just the right gifts. With a gift card, you’ll spend exactly what you intend. Sites such as GiftCardGranny.com and PlasticJungle.com sell gift cards from popular retailers at discounts to their face value.

4. Revamp your list. If you feel pinched because you buy presents for every niece, cousin and uncle, evaluate your giving strategy. Consider setting up an exchange with family or friends so that each person buys one gift with a set dollar limit. Chances are, most recipients would be happy with a single, higher-price present instead of several cheaper ones. At Elfster.com, you can invite others to a “Secret Santa” exchange, and the site will make gift assignments at random.

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