With presents to wrap and stockings to stuff, the holiday season can quickly become the most expensive time of the year. It’s easy to get into the habit of picking up a gift just because you feel obligated—but how do you know if the money you spend is actually worth it? Before opening up your wallet, keep these tips in mind to ensure strong purchases this Christmas.

Make a Budget

Just as if you were planning a vacation or allocating money for your monthly groceries, it’s important to have a budget for your holiday spending. All the killer sales and specialty items in stores this time of year can easily lure in the most financially responsible shopper. In order to avoid debt and buy gifts that recipients will truly love, make sure to keep track of your receipts. While it would be fun to get your whole family new laptops, the price tag likely won’t set you up for success come January.

Know Your Audience

One of the easiest ways to waste money on holiday spending is to buy items that won’t be used or appreciated. Take the time to think about who you’re shopping for and what they’d love to see nestled under the Christmas tree. Consider their interests, hobbies, passions, and wish lists to brainstorm some ideas while you’re out hunting around the mall. Not only will your purchase be put to good use, but the look of joy on their face as they unwrap your gift will be more than enough to make up for the money you spent.

Use Online Reviews

No matter if you’re shopping online or in stores, use online review sites to glean insight into the products you want to purchase. Yelp, Amazon, Etsy, and Consumer Reports all feature robust review sections that will give you a good idea about whether you’re spending your money smartly. If you’re looking at several similar products, it also helps to keep a pros and cons list to compare them at the end of your research. Don’t simply pull out your wallet for the first shiny item you see—a strong purchase requires proper time to find the most bang for your buck.

Check Coupon Sites

During the holidays, discount sites such as Groupon and Slickdeals often offer special deals that can save you a lot of money. While it’s not always the best idea to make a purchase based on how inexpensive it is, this can be a great tip for shoppers looking to save some money without compromising on the quality of their gifts. Plus, these sites typically have unique ideas that involve experiences rather than physical goods. There’s nothing more special than sharing a one-of-a-kind activity with a loved one!

Understand Shipping Policies

In an era where Amazon Prime has trained us to expect two day shipping, websites and stores that don’t expedite their deliveries can come as a shock to the system. Make sure to fully understand when your item will arrive, how much shipping will cost, and how you’ll be able to track its progress to your mailbox. While online shopping can be convenient, buying an item from a brick-and-mortar shop takes out the uncertainty of a lost package or ordering from a phony site. Consider when you’ll need to give your gift, and then make the decision from there!

Making a strong purchase during the holidays is often easier said than done. But when you’re equipped with the know-how and the willpower to spend wisely, Christmas shopping can be an absolute joy without breaking the bank.

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