Don't let Black Friday ruin your holiday budget

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- Just like turkey, football, and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Black Friday has become a holiday tradition. Many consumers rush into stores to find great Black Friday deals. Black Friday traditionally kicks off the holiday shopping season. Many retailers offer competitive pricing in an effort to bring in huge crowds.

While the sale prices may look enticing, beginning the holiday shopping season by blowing your budget can lead to debt that lingers well into the New Year. The financial experts at Money Management International (MMI) offer the following advice to help you create a smart spending plan and survive Black Friday.

Develop a plan. Before you hit the stores this holiday season, develop a game plan. First, determine who’s on your gift list and how much you plan to spend on each person. To prevent the urge to overspend, use cash and leave your credit cards at home. Second, understand the holidays involve more expenses than just gifts. In fact, studies show that consumers should budget more than $500 for non-gift expenses such as travel, entertaining, and decorations.

Keep your identity safe. Identity theft is at its highest during the holiday shopping season. According to Identity Theft Resource Center, the number of reports on lost or stolen wallets peak in November and December. Clean out your wallet before you shop and only carry those credit cards you are sure to use. Be watchful of over-the-shoulder surfing. When using a debit card choose the credit option so you don’t have to enter your PIN. If shopping online, update antivirus and antispyware software to keep data secure.

Compare prices. Getting the best deals on Black Friday will require some homework. Many stores offer their best prices online. Once you decide what’s on your gift list compare prices at more than one retailer. Check for special discounts or coupons. See who has the best deals on shipping. Also, be aware of store’s return and exchange policy.

Get creative. You don’t have to spend a fortune to give great gifts. Some of the best gifts are those that are hand-made and from the heart. Give vouchers good for five hours of yard work, ten back-rubs, or a weekend of baby-sitting. You can access our Web site to create free personalized gift certificates at www.Regiftable.com.

Lastly, remember that holiday memories should last a lifetime. The spirit of the season is far more important than the monetary value of the gifts you give.