Will you spend more or less this holiday season?
As I walked the pup before dawn this morning, the neighborhood was eerily quiet. Maybe everyone was hunkered down under the covers as the cold wind rattled the windows. Or maybe everyone was already out shopping at Black Friday sales.
Have you created a budget for your holiday gift buying, or will you simply spend like the federal government and buy now because, well, the deals are too good and our kids/parents/spouse deserve it and weíll figure out how to pay off the bills later?
Data from ComScore says online spending on Black Friday 2011 grew 26 percent compared to 2010 and that even more shoppers would be turning to the Internet today. Supposedly, 71 percent of Americans believe the best deals are online. Are you among them, or do you prefer to shop in brick-and-mortar stores that create more jobs, pay property taxes and provide good services?
I wonít be out in stores today. Iím working. Iíve already done some Christmas shopping, and none of it has been online. In fact, I have no plans to shop online this holiday season.
My budget for gift buying also will be a tad smaller this year to match our householdís declining income.
The Wisconsin Credit Union League offered a news release with wise spending tips to keep you from overextending yourselves this holiday season.
Make a budget and list. To avoid impulse buys, decide how much you can afford to spend and stay within that budget.
Make sure your list includes all the projects and activities that make up your holiday. Donít overlook expenses such as holiday foods, party clothes, holiday dťcor and postage. Decide which is worth it.
Comparison shop. You can save 10 percent on most itemsósometimes much moreóby comparing prices at different stores. The Internet and smart phones ease comparison shopping. Be careful online, however. Buy only from secure sites, and review emailed statements for accuracy.
Make time your ally. When you delay, you pay. At the last minute, you have to settle for something, and it might cost more than expected. After-Christmas clearance sales are a good time to shop for next yearís gifts.
Pay off debts quickly. Youíll spend less if you pay in cash. If you must use credit, use a lower-interest card and pay it off as soon as possible. Donít borrow more than you can repay in several months. If you only make the minimum payment, you might never pay off the debt.
Check your supplies. You may have more wrapping paper, ribbons, unused cards and gift boxes from last season than you realize. Use up those supplies before buying more.
Understand layaway. Know the payment schedule, and read the fine print. Be realistic about how these payments fit your spending plan and what you can afford. Understand policies, including time between payments and schedule of payments, service fees, late and cancellation fee policies, refunds and exchanges.
Be wise about gift cards. Read the fine print about expirations and fees. If you get a gift card, use it sooner rather than later to avoid forgetting about unused balances on the card, or forgetting the card altogether. You might also use any card youíve received to shop this year and save out-of-pocket costs.
Pay attention to return policies. Donít let strict store policies surprise you. Pay attention and keep receipts, and note time limits, restocking fees and other factors that may affect your recipient.
Consider low- or no-cost ways to celebrate. Draw names to limit the number of people for whom you buy gifts. Give homemade items. Make your own gift wrap. Organize a potluck to share meal costs.
For next year, consider opening a Christmas Club account. These low- or no-interest accounts provide a practical way to save over time. Ask to have funds transferred automatically from your checking to this account every month. Regular saving reinforces your good budget intentions.
My advice: Spend reasonably, stick to your budget and keep your holidays truly happy this season.
Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Or follow him on Twitter or