COLUMN: Spend less, plan more

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By Theresa Howard

Last year, the Consumer Federation of America and the Credit Union National Association found that 12 percent of people said they were planning to spend more during the holidays than in the previous year. That number was up from 8 percent in 2011. This year, help reverse this trend and plan on spending less and saving more. Here are five ways to cut back on your holiday spending this year:

Make a budget – make a list: Decide how much you can afford to spend. Make a list of all gifts and other holiday items you plan to purchase. Take the list with you shopping to avoid overspending and impulse buys.

Comparison shop: You can easily save more than 10 percent on most items, by comparing prices at different stores. But when shopping online, shop wisely. Be sure you are purchasing from a secure site and review emailed statements for accuracy as you receive them.

Make time your ally. The reason to start sooner rather than later is that when you delay, you pay. At last minute, you have to settle for something, and it might cost more than you wanted or planned to pay. Another benefit to starting early: It gives you more time to find the “right” gift and avoid impulsive decisions.

See what’s in your supply drawer: You may have more wrapping paper, ribbons, unused cards and gift boxes stored away from last season than you realize. Use up those holiday supplies first.

Find low-cost or no-cost ways to celebrate. Adding a few changes can ease the strain on your spending budget. For example, draw names to limit the number of people you have to purchase gifts for; give homemade items; make your own gift wrap; organize a potluck rather than trying to make, and pay for, the entire holiday meal.

With the money you save on gifts, you can give yourself the gift of financial freedom by paying down debt or building your emergency savings fund.