Shopping season is nearing

There are only 11 weekends and 5 paychecks (if paid bi-weekly) until Christmas! Very soon the decorations will start going up, holiday music will be playing, increased inventory and the gear up for the onset of holiday shoppers.

But, before the seasonal shopping take stock of how much money you have available for holiday spending. This will be important with current issues for employment for many in our area.

Ideally, you've planned an annual budget, figuring out how much you wanted to save by the end of the year, and setting it aside on a monthly basis. You'd be ready to head to the mall if you have.

But, for many of us, "ideally" just doesn't happen. It's not until the decorations go up that we start thinking about how much we're going to spend, and more importantly, where the money will come from. The result - Seasonal expenses that strain our personal finances, sometimes all the way into Februrary and March.

What kind of Shopper are you?

Do you plan every person and penny? Or do you just grab what looks good on your way to the party? There are definitely some wise shopping methods to help you stay within a reasonable spending limit this season.

The first and most important money saving strategy is getting organized. Even Santa makes a list, and checks it twice.

Divide the list into those you need to purchase gifts and those you could do something else. Sometimes things and gadgets are not the best gifts for everyone so take advantage and don't spend money.

Once the list is made it is time to budget. Total up your monthly expenses and see how much is left over. Then start placing dollar amounts by people. If you are still looking for "leftover", then it might be time to start looking for ways to increase your income to help cover extra expenses.

Many stores are hiring part-time through the holidays and this may be a way to make extra money and get some extra discounts.

If you have to borrow money, make it interest free. Take advantage of special store offers and special lending programs through your bank. When going out to shop. Leave the credit cards at home. If they are not there, they can't be used. Everyone can justify extra spending when standing in the store.

Making a list also helps you to comparison shop from home. Check out store advertisement, online offers and early bird specials. However comparison shopping for every item on your list is not productive. Higher priced toys and electronics are usually when it becomes important.

Shop smart. Not everything has to be purchased at a mall or super store. Local craft shows, thrift stores or second hand shops may have items you are looking for at a lower cost. No matter where you shop, never go without your list!

Don't fall into the "big sale buy it now" trap. Although there are some items Black Friday may be the best time to buy, there are many items which will remain at a lower price throughout the season. And, again don't buy items not on your list!

If money is tight then gifts of time or thought might be a good choice for some on your list. Cookies or baked goods can be great options. Each recipe can make lot which then can be divided for several people.

A coupon book for little things you are willing to do for the other person. Or, doing or finishing a job they need done may be really appreciated. Any of these things may be worth more than a $5 candle or picture frame to the person receiving it.

The last and most important holiday money strategy - Get ready for Christmas 2014! Buy holiday items this year for next when they are ½ off. Shop the after Christmas clearance sales. Save for next year! Add up receipt from this year; divide by 12 and each month set that amount aside for Christmas 2014.

Don't let the pressure of the season ruin your New Year financial success. Be realistic and never go shopping without your list!