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Shop smart for Christmas

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With the nation’s biggest shopping day less than two weeks away, now is the time to start making your list and checking it twice.

The average consumer spent more than $700 last year – a number that could increase this year, as shoppers loosen their purse straps. When the recession hit in 2008, spending dropped about $40 from 2007, but that total has since increased along with consumer confidence.

Holiday sales consistently represent nearly one-fifth of annual retail sales, despite the decrease in holiday sales over the past 15 years, according to the National Retail Federation. Retailers are notorious for offering steep discounts after Thanksgiving; in fact, Best Buy, Kohl’s, Old Navy and even Wal-Mart have already released their Black Friday sales ads.

Combine these one-day bargains with wish lists, and it’s easy to go overboard with spending, especially if credit cards are involved.

The good news is that consumers charged less to their credit cards for the third straight month, according to a recent report by the Associated Press.

This could mean that consumers are growing more cautious about taking on high-interest debt in a weak economy. Total consumer borrowing rose by $7.4 billion in September, according to the Federal Reserve. In August, it had fallen by the most in 16 months.

The Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs offers tips for getting the best deals.

What’s the bottom line? Extra research can really pay off, the group advocates. And LaToya Irby with About.com provides these Top 10 (11, because we want you to save money) tips to avoid sinking into holiday debt.

1. Set a budget. Create a gift list and double check it to help you stay on track and not over-spend.

2. Decide what matters. If you are buying gadgets, know what your “must-have” features are versus those that are just nice to have.

3. Use search engines. Type a company or product name into your search engine with such terms as “review,” “complaint” or “scam” to find out more.

4. Gifts bought on credit end up costing more. Add in months of  finance charges and you’ll ultimately pay more for your gifts than you would if you’d used cash.

5. Credit scores fall from high balances. Spending more than 30 percent of your credit limit will cause your credit score to drop.

6. Save up. Spending cash instead of using credit for your holiday purchases allows you to avoid holiday debt all together.

If you haven’t started saving, put aside something each paycheck starting now and use that to finance your holiday purchases.

7. Check comparison shopping sites. These sites connect to many retailers selling the same product, sometimes at significantly different prices.

8. Consider coupons. Some companies offer discounts via e-mail and some websites collect and list codes for free shipping and other discounts. Search for the store with such terms as “discount,” “coupon” or “free shipping.”

9. Read return policies. Not all stores have the same rules.

Some charge fees for return shipping or restocking things like electronics.

And be sure to check on the address – should a return be necessary, you want to make sure you know where to send it.

10. Use layaway. Layaway disappeared for a few years, but a lot of big retailers, like Wal-Mart and KMart, are bringing it back for the holiday season.

Starting early means you can put a little toward your holiday purchases each month. In the end, all your purchases were made and you’ll be free of holiday debt.

11. Don’t shop for yourself. Avoid the “one for you, one for me” shopping mindset.

You’ll end up spending double what you would if you’d shopped only for the loved ones in your life.

You have all year to shop for yourself.
Read more from:
Black Friday, Business, Christmas, Credit, Economy, Holiday, Shopping
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