Tips for stretching that holiday dollar

  • NEED HELP?Looking for additional help on controlling holiday spending? The Consumer Credit Counseling Service of South Texas might be able to help. Call 361-576-9899.

It's become increasingly evident. From commercials announcing layaway opportunities to overstocked toy store shelves, all the signs are there.

Yes, the holiday shopping season is upon us. And it doesn't come cheap.

Nationwide, people will spend an average $518.08 on gift spending this holiday season, according to a National Retail Federation news release.

But there are ways to curb that spending and still take care of the friends, family and neighbors on the shopping list.

Here are a few ways to stretch that holiday spending money.

PLAN AHEAD

Make a budget by calculating expenses you know will incur, including gifts, food for parties, decorations and, if applicable, travel expenses. It's the first step in preparing for a debt-free holiday season.

MAP OUT SHOPPING DESTINATIONS ACCORDINGLY

It doesn't make sense to drive across town to save two cents on an item, when you waste more on gas getting there. If you need to visit multiple sites, map them out so your stops are close to one another. Also try to pick up multiple items from the same store.

MAKE A LIST, STICK TO IT

It's easy to become sidetracked at stores and purchase items you don't need. Go in with a plan, knowing exactly what you need and and what you want to spend.

COMPARE PRICES

Look over store advertisements, keep an eye on commercials and check price tags while in stores. The same item often goes for different prices from store to store.

USE CREDIT CARDS IF NECESSARY, BUT DON'T OVERSPEND

Remember that, even with a credit card, the payment is due next month. A good goal is to be able to pay off cards within 90 days, to avoid additional fees and interest. Also, never use one credit card to pay off another.

CONSIDER MAKING GIFTS

Cookies, foods quilts and more can make great holiday presents, and they typically cost less than retail purchases. After all, the saying goes that it's the thought that counts.

AVOID GOING TO EXTREMES TO PAY FOR GIFTS

Don't spend all of your savings or pull out money from 401(k) accounts to fund presents. If you get a bonus check from work, use that for holiday spending. Just remember the No. 1 priority is to keep a roof over your head and utilities, food, clothing and medications paid for.

Watch for bargains.

Clip coupons and check store advertisements to find the best prices. Also, start shopping earlier. The closer it gets to the holidays, the fewer gift options become available, which can mean higher prices.

AVOID STORE CREDIT CARD OFFERS

Many retail sites offer discounts off the day's purchases to those who sign up for their cards. Although they do equal some savings, you pay more in the long-run when you calculate interest rates and the like. Applying for multiple cards can also hurt your credit score.

CONSIDER ONLINE PURCHASES

Sometimes Internet deals are available that can save you major money. Before making a credit card payment, however, make sure it is a secure site. If necessary, call the retailer, who can give you the official, safe web address.

Sources: American Financial Services Association Education Foundation website, Luke Billeri, regional vice president for TDECU and Jack Kashouty, certified consumer credit counselor with the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of South Texas