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Plan Well, Retire Well

Avoid overspending with smart holiday shopping strategies

One, five, and twenty dollar bills in an envelope on a table decorated with greenery and red berries.

It takes extra effort around the holidays to stay within a budget. We tend to spend more when we're tired and stressed, and holidays can add tasks and expectations to our already busy lives. In addition, everywhere we turn are spectacular sales, deals, and wish lists full of gifts and gadgets to buy! As the season for giving begins in earnest, think about ways to save a little money here and there for big savings overall.

Simple strategies to help you get started

  • Stay organized: Keep receipts together in a marked envelope or other safe place so you can easily exchange or return any purchases that don’t work out.
  • Make a shopping list: Know what you’re shopping for – and how much you are able to spend – before you go online or into a store.
  • Beware of loans: Do holiday bills make money tight? A payday loan or vehicle title loan may tempt you with fast cash…but beware! While these loans are typically east to get, they’re hard to pay off. A typical $1000 title loan in Illinois costs $3000 in fees and interest charges to pay off!
  • Trade to save: Tired of your holiday decorations? Trade with a friend instead of buying new! You’ll get fresh holiday looks at no cost.
  • Give the gift of time: Rather than buying holiday gifts for friends, meet up for a coffee and muffin as a break while holiday shopping.
  • Recycle: Save on wrapping costs and use newspaper comics to wrap gifts for family and friends who enjoy reading comics.
  • Consider a group gift: Buy a family or household gift instead of buying something for everyone in the house.
  • Plan for next year: Keep track of all your holiday spending this year. Divide that number by 12, and plan to save that amount each month so that you will have the cash to spend next year.

Protect your assets

While you’re shopping be sure to keep your money secure and protect your credit cards and accounts. The Federal Trade Commission’s website, reminds us that paying by credit card gives you some protections that other methods of payment may not. If there’s a problem, the law gives you the right to dispute charges and temporarily withhold payment while your dispute is investigated. If someone uses your credit card without your permission, your liability is capped at $50. Some companies will waive the charges entirely.

Whether using cash, a debit card, or credit card, we need to minimize our risks of theft or loss. FDIC’s Consumer News provides these shopping tips to protect your money and personal information:

  • Never "flash" your cash. When paying with dollar bills, keep large amounts of money concealed.
  • Only carry the checks, credit cards, debit/ATM cards or cash that you plan to use. The more you take along, the more you risk having lost or stolen.
  • Create "strong" PIN numbers and passwords and keep them secret. Combining numbers, letters, and symbols forms a password that is tough for someone else to figure out.
  • Using your phone or tablet for online shopping? Keep your device's operating system and apps updated.
  • If you use an app to “pay by phone” remember to keep your phone secure. Password protecting your phone is a good idea in case you lose your phone. Also, make sure your phone “times out” and re-locks itself after it isn’t used for a short period of time.

Online shopping

Before you enter your credit card or other financial information online, make sure the website address starts with “https”. The “s” stands for “secure” and means that your information is encrypted before it’s transmitted.

When shopping online, a credit card gives you more protections than a debit card. However, you need to decide if you’re comfortable using your credit card during the holidays. Some people prefer to use only “cash on hand” and avoid credit card bills.

A little planning and care will keep your money safe during the holiday season. Happy shopping!