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Top 10 Hidden Costs That Can Destroy Your Holiday Budget

Tuesday, 2 Dec 2008 | 9:48 PM ET

This holiday season, many of us are wondering why we should hit the malls and discount chains when we can just sit in front of our home computer and point and click to all our purchases.

Savvy Shopping 101
Talking strategies for savvy shopping, with CNBC's Carmen Wong Ulrich.

Sometimes, pounding the pavement locally for the right gift for someone special can’t be beat, and is worth the extra money it may cost. Hitting the mall to get it all done at once is the easiest option for many. For others, shopping online is the fastest and cheapest way to go. But where you shop should depend on just what kind of gift you’re after, says Kathryn Finney, retail expert and founder of BudgetFashionista.com.

For bath and beauty products, retail stores and department stores at the local mall are your best bets, according to Finney. Most body product purchases are brand specific and have expiration dates, so you want to make sure you get the highest quality possible. Also, several stores have relaxed their coupon policy with fragrances and most come with free gifts that can double as additional presents.

For clothing, off-price retail stores like Marshall’s and TJ Maxx are where the best deals are, Finney says, as they often have the same items that are currently in the department stores for up to 80% off.

But no matter what you’re buying or where, it needs to fit into what Carmen calls your ‘holiday number.’ That’s your budget for all spending related to the holiday season. To get to your own holiday number, think about:

1. How much credit-card debt you have

2. Your income

3. Whether you have an emergency fund (money put aside that can cover six months’ worth of living expenses)

It doesn’t end there. Don’t forget about the hidden costs of the holiday – those things that you wouldn’t think of factoring into your expenses but will eat into your costs nonetheless. These hidden costs include:

1. Holiday meals/gifts for hosts

2. Holiday cards/wrapping paper

3. Holiday travel (airfare, hotel, gas)

4. Holiday decorations

5. Shipping/postage

6. Clothing/holiday party outfit

7. Electricity for holiday lights

8. Additional childcare/pet sitting

9. Charitable contributions

10. *BONUS* Gift for yourself – but only if you can afford it!


All these hidden costs need to be on your books when you calculate your holiday number, Carmen says.