Budget for the Holidays

We're going into one of the biggest weeks in retail. Shoppers are expected to spend $750 for the holidays this year, up slightly from last year. With sales everywhere, Kelli Grant, Senior Consumer Reporter for SmartMoney.com, tells us how to budget and keep our spending in check.

Make a list. Holiday spending encompasses a lot: not just gifts, but greeting cards, holiday parties, travel and a tree. Before you buy too much, figure out exactly what you can afford to spend. Then make a list of all your planned purchases, and set a budget for each. Compare against what you've already bought, to see what you still need and what might need to be returned.

Scrutinize deals. Not every sale is worth your while. Check sites like Decide.com and DealNews.com, which report how current deals stack up against recent offerings. Look to consumer and expert reviews, too - lots of the door-buster deals are actually clear-outs of older or glitch items. But it's not always good to wait for a sale. Hot holiday toys sell out fast, for example, and don't often have a discount.

Stock up on gift cards. They're a smart savings tactic, as well as a gift. Sites like PlasticJungle.com and eBay often deduct prices up to 30% off the face value. It's also a valuable use of reward points to redeem for gift cards. American Express has a new system that lets you redeem points for cards using your phone, and then instantly redeem that gift card.

Hunt for price adjustments. With so many sales, it's worth checking back to make sure prices haven't dropped after you buy. You could use an online tracking site like Hukkster, or an app like Savvy. Some credit cards also offer automatic price adjustments. To get the adjustment, you'll need to show up with your receipt and proof of the lower price. But hurry - most stores only give you a week or two at most.

Buy airfare ASAP. If your holiday plans include travel, make sure to get your tickets soon. We're hearing prices are $417 on average now, but could skyrocket this week. If you can be flexible in your travel dates, you're more likely to save. Also consider alternate airports and get a nonstop flight to avoid getting stuck mid-trip if there's bad weather.

For more information on holiday budgeting and other consumer tips click here.

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