Despite millions of Americans still facing significant problems with unemployment and debt, experts expect spending to increase this holiday season compared to last year.
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Holiday spending increased 4.1% from 2010 to 2011, but consumers should be careful not get caught up in the hype and start the new year saddled with debt.
To keep holiday costs down, consumers need to create holiday budget strategies that help them save – and they should start with Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
These massive spending days offer consumers valuable savings on holiday gifts and other purchases, but it’s easy to fall into the trap of buying something simply because it’s a good deal. To get the most benefit from the heavy discounts, you need to have a clear spending strategy in place before entering a store or hopping online.
Here are seven tips to make an effective spending plan for Black Friday and Cyber Monday:
- Make your list. Create a list of all of the gifts you need to buy for the holidays now. Write down specific items for each person and do some research to determine the estimated cost of each gift. Be as specific as possible to help avoid impulse shopping.
- Check it (more than) twice. Once you have your list, check it regularly to compare prices during various sales. Compare prices online, check your local newspapers and keep an eye out for sales. Every time you find a deal on a gift that’s on your list, write down the information for the sale and how much you will save. If you find a better deal later, change the information so you always have the information on the best deal written down.
- Get an early start. Retailers continue to open earlier and earlier for Black Friday and many stores now offer consumers the opportunity to shop pre-Black Friday sales late on Thanksgiving. Shopping as early as possible increases your odds of getting a heavily-discounted item and avoids some of the hassle and annoyance of the full-scale shopping mayhem that happens on Friday.
- Don’t deviate. Retailers work hard to make attractive store displays intended to pull you into spending more money on Black Friday. Shopping with a list decreases the potential for impulse purchases, but only if you can commit to sticking to your list. Remember, if you didn’t intend on buying something, then even a sale price is more money than you wanted to spend.
- Make friends online. “Like” stores that you want to shop at on Facebook and follow them on Twitter. In the days leading up to these two big shopping days, many retailers will offer exclusive deals and promotions to their social media audience that you won’t find anywhere else.
- Stay safe. Only shop from stores that you recognize on Cyber Monday and only enter credit card information if you know the site is secure. A secure website address starts with “https://” so if you don’t see an “s” in the address prefix, don’t enter your information. The last thing you need during holiday shopping is identity theft.
- Take advantage of free shipping. Shopping online early allows you to use free ground shipping options without the worry that your gifts won’t arrive on time. With so many days before the holidays begin, you can buy gifts online and use free shipping to save money.
Howard Dvorkin, CPA, is the founder of Consolidated Credit Counseling Services, Inc., and the author of Credit Hell: How To Dig Out of Debt. He is also personal finance expert and consumer advocate who has been helping people for more than 15 years.