Good Question: Stay on budget while checking off your list

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Question: The holiday shopping season is almost here. What are some ways to keep from overspending and stay on budget this time of year?

Answer: It's time to start making your list and checking it twice. Consumers are expected to spend $640 billion on the holidays this year. If you're watching your budget, holiday shopping can be a time of great angst. However, there are ways to stay on budget and still check everything off of your list.

It's early enough in the shopping season to take advantage of layaway programs offered by many retailers. Just as you comparison shop for products, you also should comparison shop for layaway programs. A limited number of retailers offer free layaway. Make sure you know what the layaway fee is and how it compares to other stores.

Using a store layaway program doesn't mean you can forget about your budget. You still have to be able to pay for the items.

It's a good idea to reserve layaway for a few, higher-priced items. Making small, weekly payments allows you to avoid putting the purchase on a credit card. Crunch the numbers and figure out how much your weekly payment will be and if you can afford that amount.

Make a list for your holiday shopping and then edit your list. It's not necessary to buy a gift for every friend and relative you have. If your budget is tight, only buy for the children on your list and set a limit on how much you're willing to spend.

If you have a large family, but not a large budget, consider doing a grab bag. Everyone picks a name and purchases a gift in an agreed upon price range. Keep who you have a secret and for fun say no gift cards. That way, everyone will have to find something the person will like. For an extra challenge, set your price limit at $5 or $10.

Take advantage of the multiple sales that go on during the holiday season. Check out the Black Friday deals. However, review the ads ahead of time and know what you're buying for whom and from what store. Make your Black Friday shopping list as detailed and as organized as possible.

It's a good idea to keep with you copies of the Black Friday store ads. Retailers will sometimes confuse you with two similar items, but one may be more expensive. Also, pay attention to the time of the sale. Some sales start at midnight while some don't begin until 6 a.m. Note that information on your list.

If you want to avoid the Black Friday mayhem, do some online shopping Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving. Sale prices comparable to Black Friday deals are available on retail websites, and in most cases free shipping is included.

When it comes to holiday shopping, sometimes waiting until the last minute isn't a bad idea. Retailers tend to offer their lowest prices right before the holidays, and waiting may work to your advantage. If you wait until the last minute to do your holiday shopping, it's still important to be organized and shop with a list. Shopping at the last minute can be stressful and lead to impulse purchases and overspending.

Watch your sale ads and when the price is right, go!

Heather Murray is manager of education and resource development for Advantage Credit Counseling Service (dba Consumer Credit Counseling Service). For more information about the agency's services, please visit www.advantageccs.org, or to access the free online budgeting tool go to www.onlinebudgetadvisor.com. If you have money or credit management questions, you can email Ms. Murray at hmurray@advantageccs.org. Please provide your name, address and daytime telephone number with all inquiries. Ms. Murray tries to reply to all inquiries but, because of the volume of questions she receives, she cannot always respond.


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