Shop smart this holiday season

By Meggan Gray – bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Whether it's in stores or online, millions of people will be spending their money this holiday season. Before you get out your wallet, though, you may want to consider some things to help you shop smart.

Certified Financial Planner Stephen Byrne says step number one is setting a budget.

"What can you truly, comfortably afford. The big key is here. It's so important to understand if you stick within the budget of what you can afford reasonably, you will certainly avoid the post Christmas credit card blues," Byrne said.

Once you've made your list, it's time to face the crowds. When you're in the store, remember to ask about return policies.

"Keep your receipts," advised Byrne. "Keep them through the holidays because if people return their items which a lot of people do if you return a piece of clothing it may not fit, may not be the right color."

Gift cards are always popular, but remember to ask about possible fees and penalties associated with them.

"Gift cards are great," Byrne said. "Be careful, if you buy a gift card. If the store goes out of business for any reason, your gift card is null and void."

And if things are really tight this year, you may consider giving your time instead of your money.

"Offer to baby sit, to run errands or go grocery shopping. Go to the cleaners for someone; offer to wash someone's car," Byrne said. "These are items that don't cost money, but provide valuable benefit for the recipient, and they'll appreciate it."

If you do head to the stores, keep in mind experts say retailers won't have as much inventory this year, so they may run out of items early.

For more advice on how to shop on a budget, visit the Federal Trade Commission's website.

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