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Business // Thinking Smart
David S. Chang

Spend Wisely This Holiday Season

Black Friday is the biggest shopping day of the year and unofficially kicks off the start of the Christmas shopping season. The name has several origins, most common is the accounting terminology where the retail industry gets out of the red (losses) and “in the black” (profits) on the Friday after Thanksgiving.

This year a record 247 million people shopped in stores and online over the Black Friday weekend. The average shopper spent $423, up from $398 last year. Many people do a good job of sticking to a budget until the Christmas season, when they spend far more than they should.

Here are some tips to spend wisely while keeping your debt down.

* Plan ahead. Write up a spending plan that lists who you will buy for and how much. Sticking to it will prevent impulsive buying or going over budget. Resist buying multiple gifts for someone if not in the plan. Cross off the name and move on. Don’t let guilt drive your spending, and don’t be afraid to skip a holiday party or if people don’t make the gift list. Keep every decision in mind of your long-term financial goals. Avoid signing up for retailer credit cards with high interest rates unless you know you can pay it off monthly. If you decide to use a layaway plan, make sure you read the fine print to see the hidden fees.

* Be disciplined. Leave your credit or debit cards at home and shop with cash allocated to each recipient. Once you run out, you can’t be tempted to buy more. Also playing a “Secret Santa” or “White Elephant” can help with gifts with large groups. If your budget is really tight, you also can look at group gifts for a boss, friend or family member. Avoid buying something just because it is on sale. This is one trick retailers get you to spend by giving you an offer you think is too good to pass up. It also can be tempting to buy something for yourself, but make this season about others, and if you are under budget, then maybe you can treat yourself during after-season sales!

* Smart shopping. You can purchase discounted gift cards for most retailers such as the Apple Store, Radio Shack, Sears and others for 5 to 30 percent off the face value. You also can check out your favorite companies’ social media sites to get discounts offered exclusively to their Twitter followers, Facebook friends or mailing list. Search recent posts for the latest discounts and discount codes to use at checkout. Remember to consider shipping when making your purchase. You can go to artofthinkingsmart.com for the latest information and websites on discounted gift cards, discount codes and links to money-saving gift guides.

Ending the Christmas season in major debt is rarely worth trying to please everyone with the latest gifts. It is important to be disciplined in spending and while giving gifts to those on your list.

The worst gift you can give yourself is debt for the new year!

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