Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Financial Planning 101: Tips for Smart Holiday Spending

Ideas for holiday spending from the Consumer Federation of America and the Credit Union National Association:

  • Decide how much you can afford and then stay within that budget. It will be easier if you make a price list for all gifts and other holiday items you plan to buy, such as food, decorations and postage.
  • You can save at least 10 percent on most items by comparison shopping at various stores by using the Internet. Comparison shop easily at When shopping online, be sure you are buying from a secure site (with a locked padlock icon on the toolbar) and review e-mailed statements for accuracy.
  • Pay off debts quickly, and pay in cash if possible. When using credit cards for holiday purchases, use a lower-interest card and pay off that debt as soon as possible after New Year's. One of the best deals we've found is a Citibank Platinum Select Mastercard at 11.74% with no annual fee. Don't borrow more than you can repay in several months. Remember that if you make only the required minimum monthly payment, you may never pay off the debt.
  • Open a Christmas Club account for next year. Your bank or credit union can automatically transfer money every month from your checking account to your Christmas Club account. Use a high-yield savings account like at Emigrant Direct which is currently a 5.05% interest rate.
  • If you give or receive a gift card, read the fine print. There may be fees, such as for checking your balance. Some store cards deduct $1 a month if the card hasn't been used for 24 months. Also, please be careful of scams with gift cards. Never use a gift card that doesn't have a scratch off section to get the PIN number.
  • Pay attention to a store's return policy. Some stores are tightening their policies. Keep receipts and note time limits that may affect the recipient of your gift. Always ask for a gift receipt whenever possible.

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