7 Secrets to Smart Holiday Shopping

Use these tips for holiday shopping this year and you might have enough left over for some self-gifting!You know you have to limit your holiday spending, but you want to be generous with gifts. After all, it's a good chance to show the people you love how much you care. Even if that perfect gift costs more than you can afford, you think, What the heck, it's the holidays, right? Then, you suffer shopper's remorse when the bills come rolling in. This year, prevent a spending hangover before it starts. These smart moves can help you save and still get into the spirit.

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Create a master list. With a few exceptions, the people you give gifts to will be the same from year to year. So keep a master list and make changes to it every Labor Day for the holiday season that year.

Make and use a gift list. Slip the list in your purse and refer to it often. You'll be ready to snap up bargains without panic buying.

Group your gifts. Decide on your total shopping budget for the season. Group people by category: family, friends, neighbors, coworkers and others. Decide on a realistic budget for each category. Add up and check the total. Then revise it if you need to. If you can't afford to buy something for everyone―your coworkers for example―plan to make the gifts for one group instead.

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Compare prices online. If you shop on the Internet, try using a "shopping bot"―an online search engine that checks web sites, digging up the best price on a given item. Type the name of a product, like "Xbox console," and you'll see a list of web retailers that carry it, plus price ranges. Two good options you may want to try are www.bizrate.com andwww.shopping.com. To save on shipping, shop early―some sites offer free shipping if you buy before a certain date―and order all of the items you plan to purchase from one site at the same time.

Bring the list with you. It sounds obvious, but a lot of people leave their gift lists at home. If you always have your list on hand, you can take advantage of sales and deals throughout the year. It's also a great way to avoid the stress of buying all your presents at the very last minute.

Stick to your budget. Now that you know what you want to spend on each gift, keep your budget in mind when you shop. Buy your most important presents first―children, partner and parents.

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Pay cash. The best way to avoid overspending is to leave your credit cards at home―you can't spend what you don't have. Keep a tally of how much cash you withdraw at the start of each gift-shopping trip and stop when you've hit your limit.

Or use a pre-paid debit card. If you feel uneasy about carrying a lot of cash, try using a prepaid debit card, available from most banks. It works like a credit card, only you pay up front to have a specific balance loaded onto it. Every time you make a purchase, the amount is deducted from the total. Best of all, you get the protection of a credit card―you can dispute charges that appear on your statement―but you have a built-in spending limit.

How do you stick to your holiday shopping budget? Will you be trying any of this secrets this year?