Web Extra: 5 Shopping Rules to Follow This Holiday

It’s never been more important to avoid making mistakes with your money. Mistakes like budgeting poorly, or not getting the best deals on gifts this season. Those mistakes can mean less money when you need it the most – which is why I came up with five simple rules to help you avoid the holiday money pitfalls.

1) First and foremost, make sure you’ve accounted for everything – and everything isn’t just presents. Make sure you include things like greeting cards, travel bills, ornament-related utility bills, shipping, holiday centerpieces, stamps – the part of the iceberg you don’t see but could easily add up to half of what you actually spend for a happy holiday.

2) Do your homework. Ask yourself whether you are getting the best return on your dollars. You may be getting a deal, but you must know whether it’s still a deal a few years down the road. Check out customer reviews on sites like Amazon to see what others are saying about your gift idea. Also check the web for coupons to maximize your savings.

4) Keep your receipts. It’s a standard rule, but in today’s economy retailers are clamping on their return rules. When times were flush, they might look the other way if you didn’t have the receipt or proper packaging, but now more and more will make you stick to the letter of their return policy law. Check each store’s return policy to make sure your holiday gift doesn’t become a yuletide albatross.

5) Absolve yourself of gift guilt with a budget. Co-workers and extended family are going to understand if money is tighter than usual and you can’t afford an actual present. Likewise, if you sit down and explain to your kids that Santa is feeling the recession, too, they’ll understand.

Believe me. Everyone understands that you can’t spend as much as last year. So don’t feel the need to keep up with the expectations that no one has.