CPAs offer tips for shopping smart and saving this holiday season
- Establish a budget and stick to it. Decide what you can realistically afford to spend on gifts this year and determine where the money will come from – can you cover the costs from cash on hand or do you need to start cutting back on some other expenses like eating out to get the extra spending money?
- Make a list. Jot down exactly who you're buying gifts for and how much you'll spend on each person. And as Santa would do, check it twice. Ask yourself who really needs to be on your gift list and what's a reasonable amount to be spending on each gift.
- Leave the credit cards at home. Take exactly what you plan on spending with you, either in cash or checks. When you take the exact amount, you'll be less likely to spend what isn't there. If you do use your credit cards for convenience or bonus points, make sure you can pay the bill in full. You don't want to start the New Year with any new debt.
- Be creative. Some gifts don't need to involve money at all. Remember it's the thought that counts. There are gifts you ca make for less – framing a photo you took, knitting a scarf, or baking your famous pumpkin bread – and ones that only cost your time and talent – babysitting, teaching someone a computer program, or doing tasks like snow removal or grass cutting.
- Avoid temptation. Don't be lured by the perfect gift and spend more than you planned. Watch out for special "deals" - coupons for ten dollars off when you spend $50 dollars and you hadn't planned on spending $50, or "purchase with purchase" items that require spending an additional amount. Look for the best price and shop for sales, but remember a bargain isn't a bargain if it's not on your list or it's something you don't really need. Also think twice about buying more decorations when you have plenty on hand from years past.
If it's been a really tough year financially, and the list is looking longer than you hoped, don't be afraid to talk about gift giving. For some reason we're often reluctant to talk about cutting back on buying gifts for fear of hurting someone's feelings or breaking a tradition. But this year people may welcome some changes. Suggest new ideas like a grab bag that's inexpensive or fun, or consider selecting one name from your group of family, friends or co-workers instead of buying a gift for everyone.
For more ideas on building a stronger financial future visit the Consumer Section  of the Illinois CPA Society Web site.