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Tina Fineberg  /  AP file
Tip No. 5: Avoid waiting until the last minute to shop so you’ll have time to visit more than one store, compare prices and take advantage of sales. Shopping early also will make it possible for you to avoid expensive express delivery charges.
By Laura T. Coffey
msnbc.com contributor
updated 1/15/2007 7:27:13 PM ET 2007-01-16T00:27:13

It’s already time to start thinking about gifts for family members. Gifts for friends. Gifts for co-workers. Gifts for your neighbors. Gifts for your hairdresser. Gifts for your dog walker. Gifts for …

Wait a minute. How on Earth are you going to afford all of these gifts this holiday season? And gifts won’t be your only expense, of course. Bearing in mind just how common it is for people to splurge much, much more than they expect during the holidays, consider these tips for avoiding a financial hangover and keeping your spending in check.

1. Reflect on last year. Take a look at your holiday bills from a year ago and think about whether your financial situation has improved or worsened since then. Be brutally honest with yourself. Are you really up for a repeat spending performance this year? If not, start thinking hard about how much you can afford to spend.

2. Count the costs. Remember that gifts aren’t your only holiday expense. Factor in the costs of travel, food, candy, a tree, decorations, gift-wrapping paper, greeting cards and postage when calculating your holiday budget.

3. Check your list twice. Make a list of people you plan to give gifts, and write down what you expect those gifts to be. Get organized in this manner as early as you can, and include prices on your list so you can see how much you’re on track to spend. Having the gift list with you when you shop can help you avoid impulse purchases.

4. Limit your use of plastic. Unless you’re good – very good – about paying your credit-card balances off in full each and every month, view the cards in your wallet with a healthy measure of fear and trepidation. If you must use credit this year and you know you won’t be able to pay everything off right away, try this approach: Don’t pay for every single purchase with credit; make sure you can pay your purchases off completely within two to three months; and limit your spending to the card in your wallet with the lowest interest rate.

5. Don’t procrastinate. Avoid waiting until the last minute to shop so you’ll have time to visit more than one store, compare prices and take advantage of sales. Shopping early also will make it possible for you to avoid expensive express delivery charges.

6. Time the sales. When you see an ad for an enticing sale, consider this: You may be able to avoid crowds and get first dibs on everything by shopping after 6 p.m. on the day before the sale officially kicks off. While this doesn’t always happen, it’s fairly common for the discounts to be activated in the store’s system the night before the sale.

7. Steer clear of unwarranted warranties. In almost every case, you can feel comfortable about saving money by not paying for extended warranties on gift items. Unless you’re buying a not-fully-proven technology, such as a fancy LCD or plasma flat-panel television or a rear-projection DLP, LCD or LCoS television, or maybe a treadmill or an elliptical trainer (which can be expensive to fix), just rest assured that the cost of the extended warranty usually equals the cost of a typical repair.

8. Hunt for discounts on the Internet. When making online purchases, have you ever spotted those little areas where you can enter a “promotional code,” “discount code” or “coupon”? That’s a sign to open a Web browser in another window and do a quick Google search for the retailer’s name along with the same catch phrase used on that retailer’s Web site. You could find a coupon code in seconds and save on the purchase you’re about to make.

9. Make your own gifts. Give some homemade gifts, such as cakes, cookies or gift certificates for your services. Such services could include babysitting, running errands, cooking a nice dinner, doing handyman work, repairing or detailing a car, or helping someone build a Web site, to name just a few possibilities.

10. Keep it simple. Substitute expensive get-togethers and elaborate holiday dinner parties with inexpensive entertainment at home, such as a neighborhood potluck dinner or an evening of caroling.

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