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'Tis the Season to Be Budgeting

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Cha-ching!

That should really be the sound of Christmas. Not carols, crowds, and festive party chatter. The sound of the cash registers, credit card swipes and debit machine beeps should all be assembled to create one official symphony of holiday sound. We know that it's easy to get swept up in the season of giving (translation: shopping), but why are we so surprised every January when we get that credit card bill? It happens every year; somewhere in the magical haze of eggnog, stuffing and twinkling lights we are struck with some holiday amnesia that makes us forget the spending damage we've done -- until the bills come in.

To avoid the rude awakening from holiday amnesia this year, there are a few simple and savvy holiday tips to employ before hitting the stores to keep the shopping budget in check:

1. Make a list of people you're buying for -- It's so easy to get tempted to overspend on all the pretty things in stores. Avoid this by making a list of gift recipients and a few items in mind of what they might want. Make a budget specifically for each person which leads to the next tip...

2. Make a budget -- Get an idea of what you can afford to spend overall. "Afford" ideally means you've either got the money outright from your savings, or that you know it can be paid off by your next credit card statement...if either sound impossible then you need to rethink the budget. Once you add up what you have, divide it into the amounts you're looking to spend for each person on your list -- ta-da! A budget. Obviously you're not going to find exactly what you want for each person but if you have an overall budget, you'll be less likely to overspend.

3. Research -- If you know what you're looking for and how much you're willing to spend, do a little online research before heading out to shop. A site such as Bing Shopping provides a price comparison tool that is a godsend during the holiday season. Typing in the item instantly yields a list of how much that item costs at multiple stores. This leads to the next point...

4. Make a shopping plan -- If you have an idea of what you're looking for and where to buy it, make a plan to go to two or three stores (translation: focused vs. meandering) and buy what you need. If you're heading to a mall check before hand to see if they have a downloadable parking app. These can let you see in real time when parking spots are available so you don't waste any time. Likewise another app mint.com allows you to track exactly how much you're spending during your shopping day so even if you do get tired, you'll stick to your budget. Having a plan and sticking to it allows you to save time and money... two things that are very valuable during the holidays.

5. You give, you get -- Some stores will give shoppers coupons or store dollars at the time of purchase. These are often available to redeem in the New Year. If you like and shop at a certain store, then see if you can buy a gift from that store for someone on your list. You'll have a great gift for that person and the added benefit of knowing you can shop in the New Year while still saving money with your store dollars!

6. Always, always keep the receipt -- If you purchase something at one price and it is reduced within a few weeks of your purchase, bring the receipt back to the store for the price adjustment. This is especially important during the holidays when stores are constantly marking down merchandise.

Above all else, try to enjoy the holidays. Yes it can be stressful with all the shopping to-do's and family gatherings, but with some careful planning and budgeting, you could be blissfully sipping rum and eggnog by the fire without a case of holiday spending amnesia.

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