Here are 10 tips to keep your holiday shopping season a little more jolly and a lot less jarring on the wallet.
1. Makin’ a list
One of the best ways to avoid overspending is to write down a list of everyone you want to give to. Decide what you can comfortably spend for each person.
2. Embrace technology
A number of new tech tools make it easier than ever to snag holiday bargains, said Jake Gibson, chief operating officer of consumer finance site NerdWallet.com in San Francisco.
One of his favorites: “Passbook,” an iPhone app through which you gather all your gift cards, boarding passes, digital tickets, rewards cards and coupons on your smartphone.
“It’s a pop-up notification on your phone ... . If you walk into Sears or Old Navy, it’ll alert you that coupons are available,” said Gibson. “I use it every day to buy my coffee because my Starbucks’ gift card is loaded onto Passbook.”
Another bit of shopper tech, he noted: Target’s mobile shopping tool for top-selling kids’ toys. In a Target store, you scan the toy’s QR code and it can be purchased and shipped via your mobile phone.
3. Credit, cash or debit?
We all know that credit card spending can spiral out of control, which is why many experts recommend using cash or a debit card.
But the holidays can be different, said John Ulzheimer, consumer education president with SmartCredit.com. With identity thieves “working overtime” during the holidays, he said credit cards offer more ID theft protection, especially if you dispute fraudulent charges.
4. Be card wise
“If you can’t afford to pay off your credit card in November, then you can’t afford to add a lot more to it in December,” said Bill Hardekopf, CEO of LowCards.com, a credit card comparison site. “If you must use a credit card to pay for Christmas, make sure you can pay it off by Easter.”
If you have more than one card, use the one with the highest limit, so holiday purchases don’t push you into debt ratios that can hurt your credit score.
5. Skip the store cards
Avoid those tempting store credit cards offered when you’re standing at the cash register. Their discounts -- 10 percent to 20 percent off everything you’re buying -- are enticing. But the cards often carry some of the worst terms out there, said Ulzheimer, with interest rates as high as 24.99 percent and credit limits of $1,000 or less.
6. Track those receipts
After the holidays, store receipts can go AWOL, unless you’ve corralled them in one place. It can be as simple as keeping an envelope at home where you stash every gift receipt.
For a more high-tech solution, look at sites like ReturnGuru.com. You take smartphone pictures of your receipts and it sends you a digital alert when they’re getting ready to expire.
Either way, when it’s time for the inevitable post-holiday returns, you’ve got easy access to all your receipts.
7. Shop thrifty
Be creative and check out local thrift shops that sell “gently used” goods to benefit various charities. It’s a very “green” way to pick up bargain gifts, many of which are new and unused, from sports equipment to fine china to appliances.
8. Gift card trading
Want to buy or sell your gift cards? Sites like Cardpool.com or GiftCardRescue.com or PlasticJungle.com let you sell unwanted gift cards for cash or buy other people’s cards at a discount. The gift cards are from hundreds of well-known brands.
Say you want to unload a $100 gift card from American Eagle Outfitters. Cardpool will pay you $79 -- by check - if you mail in the card; for a $100 Babies R Us card, they’ll pay $82.
If you want to buy gift cards, they’re sold at discounts of up to 30 percent off. At GiftCardRescue, for example, you’ll pay $22.50 for a $25 Sunglass Hut card or $45 for a Pottery Barn $50 card.
9. Best deals
If you missed or avoided the Black Friday frenzy, no worries. Many experts say better deals on certain items often land in the last week before Christmas.
Household goods, such as bedding, linens, towels and decorative items, often get marked down with deep discounts, for instance.
The risk of waiting, of course, is that a coveted item might be completely sold out.
10. Play it safe
One of the worst ways to lose money during the holidays is theft. When out shopping, follow these common-sense reminders:
Don’t carry more than one credit card, in case your wallet or purse is lost or stolen. Don’t leave packages, laptops or cellphones visible in your back or front seat; if you don’t have a trunk, bring a blanket to throw over valuables. Keep your purse tucked under an arm and strapped across your torso; stick your wallet in a front pocket. Don’t pull out a wad of cash at the register. Always be aware of your surroundings and park in well-lit areas.
Contact Claudia Buck at firstname.lastname@example.org. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,