With the holidays around the corner, millions of Americans will be taking to the shopping malls and the Internet to make their holiday purchases. According to a 2012 survey by the National Retail Federation, the average holiday shopper plans to spend just under $750 on holiday gifts, decorations, cards and other items this holiday season. Whether you plan on spending more or less than the average person this holiday season, the key to avoid beginning 2013 in debt is to create and stick to a holiday budget.

Make a plan
Determine how much you can afford to spend this year, and create a plan before you begin shopping. Make a list of everyone for whom you intend to purchase a gift and assign a maximum amount to spend for each person according to your budget. Don’t forget to include expenses like special meals, greeting cards, wrapping paper, decorations and other things that you might spend money on during the holidays. Having a clear picture of what you need to purchase before you begin shopping will also help you avoid impulse buying, so be sure to bring your list with you when you shop and avoid the temptation to overspend.

Do your homework and search for deals
As retailers compete for consumers and offer incentives to get you into their stores, doing a little comparison shopping can help you find deals to help stretch your budget. Give yourself time to compare prices for the items on your list and scour catalogs and advertisements before you begin shopping. Consider signing up for e-mail alerts from your favorite retailers to receive notification of sales and coupons not readily available to everyone. Ask sales associates about any upcoming sales, especially if there are big ticket items on your list.

Another way to cut costs while avoiding the hassles of crowded stores is to shop online. While you might find lower prices online, make sure to factor in any shipping charges before making a purchase. Check for free shipping deals or online coupon codes that might be available for your purchase. Before doing business with an online retailer, check reviews and merchant ratings to ensure you are dealing with a reputable business.

Use mobile applications
If you have a smart phone or tablet, there is technology available to help you stay within your budget. If you don’t already have a favorite budgeting app, there are many available to help you develop a holiday budget and keep track of spending as you shop. There are also applications to help you compare prices while shopping. Applications like Red Laser or Price Grabber allow consumers to scan product barcodes and search thousands of online and local retailers for the best prices and features. The TGI Black Friday app allows consumers to search thousands of Black Friday deals from major retail stores.

Remember, it’s the thought that counts
If after all of your careful shopping you come up short, look for creative ways to fill in your gift list. Baked goods, craft items or offering your time are thoughtful and appreciated gift ideas. Talk to family members to bring their expectations in line with your financial situation. Grab bags, name exchanges, or making a group donation to a charity may take the stress out of gift giving and enhance the feeling of goodwill during the season.

The foregoing article is intended to provide general information about budgeting for the holidays and is not considered financial or tax advice from Union Bank. Please consult your financial or tax advisor.

About UnionBanCal Corporation & Union Bank, N.A.
Karen R. Smith is a vice president and branch manager of Union Bank’s Crenshaw Branch. Union Bank, N.A., is a full-service commercial bank providing an array of financial services to individuals, small businesses, middle-market companies, and major corporations. The bank operated 402 branches in California, Washington, Oregon, Texas, New York and Illinois, as well as two international offices, on September 30, 2012. UnionBanCal Corporation is a wholly-owned subsidiary of The Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, Ltd., which is a subsidiary of Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, Inc. Union Bank is a proud member of the Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG, NYSE:MTU), one of the world’s largest financial organizations. Visit www.unionbank.com for more information.

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