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Get your wallet ready, the biggest shopping season is about to begin.  This year, shoppers are expected to spend an average of $1,007.24 during the holidays.  That’s up from $967.13 last year.  While we all want to get great gifts for our loved ones, there’s no need to go broke in the process.  Here are some easy ways to keep your budget in check this holiday season.

Have a plan

Before you hit the stores, take some time to figure out how much money you can comfortably afford to spend.  Once you have a budget in mind, create a list of intended recipients along what you plan to buy each person.  By shopping with a plan, you’ll avoid picking up things impulsively and make it through the aisles quicker.  Stick to paying for your gifts in cash since credit cards make it too easy to get carried away.

Use the four-gift rule

Movies always make it seem like you’re supposed to wake up to a room full of gifts on Christmas morning.  Not only is it unrealistic, you probably don’t have the storage space anyway.  Keep things simple and follow the four-gift rule this year.  Rather than purchasing everything on your kids wish list, you’ll only buy something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read.

Pull names

If you come from a large family, you know how much of a burden it can be to buy gifts for everyone.  To save money, switch things up and have everyone participate in a Secret Santa gift exchange.  The rules are simple.  Write down everyone’s name on a piece of paper and place it in a bowl.  One by one, have each player pull out a name.  The name you choose is who you’ll be buying a gift for.  Once all of the names have been selected, agree on an acceptable price range and select a gift-exchange date.

Take advantage of shopping holidays

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are two of the biggest shopping holidays for a reason.  Depending on what you’re looking for, you may be able to save hundreds of dollars on your purchase.  Most retailers begin releasing their Black Friday ads during the first week in November so keep your eyes open.  Once you get your hands on a copy, come up with a shopping strategy so you don’t miss out on the best deals.

Beware of sneaky sales

While you’re trying to spend as little as possible, retailers are hoping for the exact opposite.  One way stores trick you into spending more money is by advertising tiered offers.  For instance, they’ll say save $5 when you spend $25, $10 when you spend $50 or $20 when you spend $100.  Before you know it, you’re throwing random items in your cart just because you want the discount.  Don’t take the bait.  Unless you were already planning to spend the required minimum, this isn’t a good deal.

Get free shipping

Want to save money on shipping?  Most stores will waive the shipping fee if you spend the required minimum.  If you don’t mind waiting until the last minute to do your holiday shopping, hold out until Free Shipping Day.  On December 14th, most stores will be offering free shipping on all orders with guaranteed delivery by Christmas Eve.