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Hitha: Navigating holiday spending with style

Nov. 28, 2012 at 1:15 PM ET

Financial expert Hitha Prabhakar joined us for a chat on holiday budgeting and spending.

Savvy financial expert Hitha Prabhakar joined us for a fun and lively chat about getting through your holiday spending conundrums. How do you do it, not go crazy with stress, and still stay in budget? Is the "fiscal cliff" going to steal Christmas? And where does the smartly dressed Hitha pick up her holiday fashions without busting the bank? 

Q: I am hoping to make this holiday season a teaching moment for my two young klds (9 and 11). I want to teach about budgeting and financial management. Tips? 

Hitha: I realize holidays can be somewhat overwhelming when it comes to managing kids expectations but ALSO wanting to provide an awesome holiday for them. My advice would be to set a gift limit- say "we are going to spend $50 on gifts this year" and then we are going to use the rest of our time to volunteer. It brings it back full circle the meaning of the holidays while still participating in the joy of gift giving. I also like hand made gifts. Means more.

Q: I always overspend during the holidays. Any tips on how to stay on a budget? 

Hitha: I tend to overspend too during the holidays which is such a bummer. I tell everyone they have to take the same approach to budgeting as they take to dieting- you have to be VERY disciplined in sticking to the plan. If you have $400 to spend on gifts, decorations AND travel, try to prioritze what is most important. If you're niece and nephew need a cool gift, you may have to not take the expensive train down to see your sis and bro if you know what I mean. Also, do you use excel to make sure you are accounting for every dollar spent? It REALLY helps to see what you are spending vs. just checking your bank accounts.

Q: Are there any web sites that I can go to get deals?

A: For the best deal web sites I like www.shopkick.com. this gives you redeemable points for stores you spend in. Also have you heard of hukkster.com? It works like Pintrest- you have your list of items you want to purchase, and you "Hukk" it and it will tell you when the price starts to fall. I also like retailmenot.com which has coupons and ecoupons you can personalize and aggregate. The best bet (and what I do) is that I sign up for alerts from my favorite retailers. They send it right to my phone, or my email. This cuts the clutter from every other offer you are getting and streamlines your holiday shopping. 

Want more Hitha? Visit her site and follow her on Twitter @hithaprabhakar

Q: What are your best tips for saving money during the holidays? Not just gift buying. But food, parties, etc.? 

A:  I hear you on a 360 degree money saving strategy for the holidays. Again- it takes some planning. IF you are throwing multiple parties and know 20+ people are coming over- you don't have to go to Whole Foods and buy the most expensive organic food items, etc. Set the budget and DO NOT GO OVER. Also- I'm not sure what market you are in, but if you have a food delivery service like freshdirect.com that could cut down on gas costs because they offer free delivery. Don't be afraid to bargain hunt. If gifts require you to buy housewares for example, go to Home Goods, or better yet- Costco! No one is going to know their gift came from there. For decorations, buying at dollar stores is KEY. I did that last year. Our apt looked amazing decorated in $1 light strands. Hope that helped.

Q: My family does not celebrate the Christmas holidays. We don't want to be rude. But we can't reciprocate on gift-giving. Any advice on how to gently tell our co-workers, friends, neighbors? 

Hitha: Truth be told, I don't really give gifts during the holidays. And while it's all about individual choice, this is how I am dealing with it: I send out cards saying I'm or in this case you or your family is donating in the name of (insert persons name here) to (insert charity here). You can write that donation off on taxes at the end of the year. Does that make sense? Or you can just send cards too. That always works.

Q: My husband says he won't spend any money this year because he is afraid of the fiscal cliff. He says we will have to pay $2,000 more in taxes next year so we have to save. How do I talk him down?

A: I am shocked and humbled re: how many of you have seen me on TV. Thanks x 1000 for watching! YES the Fiscal Cliff is a major concern for the consumer out there- and it's hard not knowing either way what the government is going to do. This chat is mostly about saving money and sticking to budget and while our tendency as an American consumer is to spend, spend, spend- I get your husband's concern. If your husband won't budge on the holiday budget, I say get creative. You can make some AMAZING gifts that are small and meaningful and DIY (go to www.psimadethis.com amazing site) and come January, if you or your family still wants that flat screen, sweater or pair of Uggs, the merch is going to be so mega discounted you'll save a ton of money. I hate that it's come to this- but it's the reality of the situation and being cautious is always better.

Q: Best place to shop for inexpensive women's clothes?

A: Are you looking for designer clothes or basic t-shirts? Gap is having massive sales on basics- I love, love, love their yoga pants and work out/ weekend wear. Also, don't be afraid to go to TJ Maxx- the store has changed it's layout over the years and it's easier to navigate. Do you hit outlet stores? That's another GREAT place to get high end clothing at a massive discount. And also- places like Kohls and Target are doing incredible designer collaborations. Kohls just did one with Narcisco Rodriguez and honest hour here: I wear some of the stuff on air at MSNBC!

Q: What is your theory on re-gifting?

A: As long as the gift is BRAND NEW (in the package, does not look banged up) and you are giving it to someone who is NOT a part of the same friends and family circle- it is ok . I know, I know- manners wise, it's really terrible. But from a "waste not, want not" perspective it makes sense. Just MAKE SURE it looks new!

Q: Is online shopping cheaper than going to the mall?

A: If you really break it down- online shopping can definitely be cheaper than going to the mall. First of all, you have free shipping, so you aren't paying for gasoline to get your self there. Also, stores are trying to beef up their online traffic so they tend to give out promotions for merchandise online more readily. For the same flat screen TV for example, you could use a coupon for 20%, a rebate AND not pay for shipping. See how in three steps that became cheaper? Crazy, right?

Want more Hitha? Visit her site and follow her on Twitter @hithaprabhakar 

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