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Shop smart this holiday season

By Michael Rupured
University of Georgia

It starts soon after the Thanksgiving turkey and pumpkin pie are gobbled down, the football games are over and the family is headed home. That is when serious shoppers – with adrenaline pumping - sort through all the advertisements to plan for the big after-Thanksgiving-Day sales.

More than ever, it is important to shop smart. That means developing a sound spending plan. With economic conditions still shaky, now is not the time to pile up a lot of holiday debt. Know how much money you can spend. To avoid problems in 2009, limit your spending to the cash you have set aside for the season.

Think creatively. Everyone is tightening their belts this year. Remember, it is the thought that counts. Homemade gifts, food, clothing or crafts may be appreciated more than a mass-produced item purchased at a local store.

Give the gift of time. Things like babysitting, car washing or housecleaning may also be well received.

When you get to the stores, keep your spending plan and shopping list in hand. Think carefully about each and every purchase. Avoid deciding on an item in the spur of the moment.

Take your time. Think about your needs and the amount of money you have.

Use the ads that appear in newspapers and mailboxes around Thanksgiving to plan your purchases. Compare offerings to find the best values. Once you decide on a particular item, compare features, quality, prices, installation fees, delivery charges and service rates.

Sometimes the cost to use and maintain the item makes selecting a more expensive model the cheaper option.

Look in the newspaper classified section for items, too. Person-to-person buying often saves money.

Running from store to store may not be feasible. Instead of driving around town, use the phone and Internet to find information, particularly for gifts you will send out of town. You may find that it is cheaper to order the desired items and ship them directly to the recipients.

Shopping online can also be an easy way to locate special or unique gifts. Do be careful. Use a secure browser. Shop with companies you know and keep your passwords creative and private. Pay particular attention to shipping charges. Be sure to print out and keep records of your purchases.

With a possible recession looming, retailers started sales earlier this year than in years past. That means plenty of bargains, but you will need to shop carefully to find them. As the holidays approach, many will slash prices so the best deals may be still to come. Waiting for last-minute price cuts makes sense for items that are not in short supply.

This might be the year to avoid buying gift cards. If you buy a gift card at a store that then goes out of business, you may as well have flushed your money down the toilet. If you do buy gift cards, make sure you understand the terms. Some companies begin charging fees after a relatively short time. These fees can eat up the value of the card.

Bargains that sound too good to be true are usually just that. Expect a fair and reasonable price for goods and services. Read labels, seals, tags and instruction booklets.

Ask questions. Get the facts before you buy. Find out what is promised, who stands behind the promises and what you must do to benefit from any warranty.

Your holiday spending plan is not just about the gifts you plan to buy. Remember to allow funds for parties, greeting cards, charitable giving and clothing to wear to holiday functions, along with other things that make the holiday season joyful for you and others.

(Michael Rupured is a University of Georgia Cooperative Extension financial management specialist with the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences.)

(Michael Rupured is an Extension financial management specialist with the University of Georgia College of Family and Consumer Sciences.)

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