2008-12-25 / Correspondents' Notes

Siphon Some Stress From The Holiday Season

When it comes to the holidays, emotions often run the gamut. Moments of great elation are often preceded by more than a few moments of stress and anxiety.

Such stress and anxiety has become the norm during the holiday season. Thanks to road trips to see family, busier social schedules and financial concerns, what should be a festive season can often be a restless one as well.

For many people, the most stressful part of the holiday season is holiday shopping. Long lines at the mall, the hunt for the perfect parking spot and the urge to overspend on gifts for loved ones is a difficult thing for many people to balance. The following shopping tips should help make the stressful art of holiday shopping a little easier to handle this season.

Resolve to use cash and only cash. Paying with cash can reduce the likelihood that you'll overspend. According to the Federal Reserve Board, the average American household currently has more than $8,000 in credit card debt. Adding more to that already large pile is only going to make the holidays more stressful. Shopping with cash and leaving the credit cards at home will allow you to predetermine what you'll spend on a shopping trip, and it won't give you wiggle room to land yourself in any trouble.

Another benefit to cash is that you won't find yourself on any mailing lists. Each time a credit card is swiped, you run the risk of ending up on a junk mailing list. Paying with cash has no such risks.

* Comparison shop, both in person and online. Comparison shopping might take more time, but it can save lots of money. Particularly for big-ticket items like appliances, a little research can go a long way. Thanks to the Internet, comparison shopping is now easier than ever. Make online prices a part of your comparison shopping. Some appliance stores even offer lower prices on their Web sites than they do in-store, and even allow items to be bought online and picked up in the store. This can save time as well as money, as you can simply call the store to arrange a pickup time so you're not left wasting valuable time waiting for your purchases.

Read the fine print on warranties. Many times, big- ticket items offer extended warranties. While these seem like a good idea on the surface, that's not always the case. Often expensive, extended warranties can stretch your budget while providing little on your return. The Consumers Union reports that fewer than 20 percent of products covered on an extended warranty are ever brought in for repair. If you're really uncomfortable with just the manufacturer's warranty, consider purchasing the product with a credit card that offers to double the manufacturer's warranty. Certain credit card companies offer such specials to get people to use their cards during the holiday season. However, read the fine print to make sure using the card is worthwhile.

Don't be afraid to return items. If you notice your spending has gotten out of control, and the gifts have yet to be given, it's perfectly alright to return products (so long as it's within the allotted time the store allows). Especially in this current financial climate where money is tight, it's perfectly acceptable to tighten the purse strings and be more careful with your finances. If you've spent more than you planned, return items so you can stay within your budget. Many stores set 30-, 60-, or 90-day limits on returns, so you probably have ample time to return items and get back on track.

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