Saving Money During the Holidays

Create a budget. Before going shopping, determine how much you can afford to spend. Keep track of your spending as a way to help you set and stick to limits.

Research before you buy, especially with big purchases. Read reviews in magazines or respected Web sites, talk to knowledgeable people, compare prices offered by several stores, including online merchants.

Consider using a credit card if you're concerned about a problem with a purchase. Under the federal Fair Credit Billing Act, you have the ability, in certain circumstances, to withhold payment on defective merchandise until the problem has been corrected. That's not the case if you use a check or cash.

Be careful about going into debt. If you decide to pay by credit card or get a loan, decide how much you can afford without getting too deeply in debt. "You may want to plan on paying off holiday debt before the holidays next year, if not sooner," said Luke Reynolds, an FDIC Community Affairs Specialist.

Protect your personal information. Identity thieves who learn your private information can use it to withdraw money from your bank account or obtain — and use — a new credit card in your name. You can minimize your risk of becoming a victim by protecting your Social Security Number (SSN), credit card and debit card numbers, passwords and other personal information when shopping around town or online. For example, don't carry your SSN and unneeded credit cards in your purse or wallet, which can be lost or stolen. For more on protecting against ID theft, go to, which also includes guidance from agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission.

Remember that gift cards may come with costs or restrictions. "It's especially important to ask if the gift card has an expiration date or if fees will be assessed when the card is purchased or used — or even if it is not used within a certain time frame," said Reynolds. While some states have laws that may prevent a gift card from expiring, "in other states you can lose the balance left on the card after a certain time period," he added.

Consider giving gifts to children that encourage saving. "Ideas may include a U.S. Savings Bond or a book that reinforces financial responsibility," Reynolds said.

The information on this site was produced by the USDA, the USNFSA and other agencies and was compiled by the site owners. Site design and layout copyright 2007

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