Taking time to plan your budget before heading out this Black Friday -- or whenever you're planning to do your holiday shopping -- will help you have a happier and less stressful holiday season. Follow these tips to start the New Year off on the right foot.
- Review your receipts and bills from last year. This will give you an idea of the amount you actually spent and how long it took to pay for it all.
- Create a budget and stick to it. Set a dollar amount based on what you can afford this holiday season considering your current savings, income, and other expenses and how much you spent last year. Be sure to include a $20 to $100 cushion for unexpected expenses.
- Make a list and check it twice. Experts agree that it helps to write down a list of all the people for whom you plan to shop before you hit the stores or turn on the computer. Next to each name write down what you want to buy for that person and how much you want to spend. If you exceed your budget, find ways to scale the gifts back.
- Shop for bargains. Once you have an idea of what you're looking for, take time to research the best deals. If you are purchasing a number of items from the same online retailer, buying all the items together can cut down on shipping costs.
- Curb impulse shopping and spending. Buy only what is on your list. If you've forgotten someone, add them to your holiday budget and, if necessary, adjust the amounts you spend on others so you keep the same total.
- Make a plan for other expenses. Give some thought to how much you'll be spending during the holiday season on things other than gifts. Be sure to include in your budget the following: postage for cards and presents that need to be shipped; wrapping paper, bows, greeting cards and other supplies; decorations; food and drink for holiday meals; and travel expenses.
- Use credit wisely. If you plan to use credit for your holiday shopping, take only the credit cards you will need and limit those to as few as possible. Be sure to check your credit card statements carefully for any unauthorized charges. Report such charges immediately to your financial institution or credit card company.
- Save your holiday receipts from this year. Either total your receipts daily or add them up two weeks before the actual holiday. Expenses add up fast during this busy season. Seeing your totals will provide you with a reality check as to how much more you can afford to spend.
Holding true to your budget during the busy holiday season is an excellent jumpstart to healthy year-long budgeting habits.