Need Help This Holiday Season

With Christmas just around the corner, everybody is starting to think about gift buying.  Making sure your shopping is done on time and without breaking the bank can be extremely stressful.  Here are a some tips from Consumer Reports and Clark Howard, among others, to help you get through the holidays with your sanity-and bank account-still intact. 

Make a list. 
This may seem trivial, but it is a valuable way to keep your shopping on track and within your budget.  A list will keep you organized and will allow you to plan ahead with your shopping.  This is especially helpful if you have a large family and you're responsible for getting many different gifts.  Shopping is much more enjoyable when you have a thought out plan instead of just rushing frantically from store to store.

Make a budget and stick to it.  
This is one of the most important, and sometimes the hardest, rule to live by during the holiday season.  The last thing you want is to incur debt, so having a budget in place will help you avoid that.  But, a budget is only as good as you enforce it.  It is easy to fall into the store credit card traps to get that awesome gift, but if it is not in your budget, it is best to pass. 

Start early. 
Don't wait til the last minute to get your shopping done.  Getting easy and small gifts out of the way in November is a great way to manage your time, as well as not have those come out of the December budget.  The less you have to stress about buying gifts the closer it gets to Christmas, the better.  Getting shopping done early will also give you time for wrapping, shipping, or anything else you will need to do.

Have a plan to pay off your bills
If you over-spent your budget last year, this year it's time to be more effective with your budgeting plans.  Come up with a realistic goal and hold yourself to it. 

Don't give in to the hype. 
Just because it's Black Friday or an item is advertised as 50% off doesn't mean it's a great deal.  Sometimes, you can get the best deal after Black Friday, so don't assume that you MUST buy during a particular sales event. 

Keep receipts. 
You might need your receipts for proof of purchase for warranties or to make a return.  Have a designated place where you unload your paper receipts after a day of shopping, such as an envelope in a kitchen drawer.  For online purchases, always print out confirmation e-mails and save them.  Even for gift cards, the receipt should be kept as it will be needed if the card is lost or stolen. 

Manage credit cards.  Credit cards are OK to use for shopping, as long as you are able to stay on top of them, and don't spend money you don't have.  Most credit cards offer cash back or rewards, as well as provide fraud protection.  If you decide to use your credit card, set aside savings in order to pay off the balance after your purchase.  Another good way to keep track of your credit card spending is to immediately subtract what you spent from your checking account after a day of shopping.  And don't get caught up in opening new store cards:  is the 10% off worth the hit to your credit score?  

Don't become a target. 
Avoid theft by withdrawing cash only from ATMs in public places or inside your bank.  Also avoid giving your email address or phone number to walk-in stores, unless you really want to receive updates from them.  When shopping online, check out as a guest and never select the option for the online store to retain your credit card for later use. 

Think outside the gift box. 
There are plenty of alternatives that are less expensive, and more fun, than buying a gift for every single person in your family.  Instead, why not do a Secret Santa with the family where you draw one person's name?  That way you can put more thought and money into one gift, instead of dividing your resources into multiple gifts.  If you are creative and artsy, think about making things for people.  Sometimes the best gifts cost very little (or no) money.

Support Your Local Small Businesses
Make a promise to spend $100 this holiday season at local small businesses and not the big chain stores.  Think about you neighborhood stores: a pet boutique, specialty toy store, craft and hoppy shop, florist-----we drive past them every day!  These stores are owned and staffed by your neighbors, and your money stays local, helping your economy, not someplace far away.  As you make your shopping list, please take a few minutes to think of locally owned shops to purchase from and don't automatically drive straight to the outlet store or mall.  Think small this year---we need you!

Buy Now, Install Later
No one ever likes to hear about price increases, but we are beginning to receive notifications of first of the year cost increases from some of our product manufacturers.  This is not unusual in our industry; the New Year seems to be a clear date for price changes to be made effective.  The great thing is we can order products and accept delivery and store your order in our warehouse until you are ready for your installation in January.  So if you plan on making a flooring purchase soon, but just can't get it installed til after the holidays, don't worry.  Just get everything finalized by the end of the year and your price is locked in, regardless of any future increases.

Fast 5 Design Tips
~~Tiles laid on the diagonal will visually enlarge a room - making a small space look bigger. Also, closely matching the grout color to the tiles will expand the look of the room.
~~Use the rule of 3 as you decorate:  3 candles, 3 pictures, 3 pillows.  Two can be too formal, and four can be too many.
~~Need a quick room update?  Buy a new rug and cover as much of your current floor covering as possible.  Worn, stained carpet or beat-up hardwood floors disappear under your beautiful new rug.
~~Every room needs a focal point, which is the one thing the eye is immediately drawn toward (it also drives the design of the room). Examples of decorative focal points are a fireplace, a four-poster bed, or an interesting piece of furniture.

~~Dark-stained or ebony hardwood floors are popular, but know that they show dirt and dust bunnies faster than medium- or light-stained floors.