3 money-saving moves to make before the holiday season, according to financial experts

Christmas is not only the most wonderful time of the year, it’s often one of the most expensive.

Financial experts say there are three things all families should do this fall to make sure they have enough to spend this holiday season.

1. Make a budget, and check it twice.

Most people go about it wrong and come up with a list of people to buy for. Instead, Mark Farnan, a local financial advisor, recommends setting your holiday budget before you go near a store.

In your budget, include everything from postage for Christmas cards to holiday party favors and home decorations.

Once you settle on a dollar amount, that’s it. If you can’t afford one gift, get another.

“A budget helps you understand what you can spend, what you want to spend, and it also helps you give some thought to the people you want to give a gift to,” said Farnan. “I think a budget is really useful year-round.”

Farnan said budgeting is the No. 1 tip he gives to people planning for retirement, but it is crucial for people of every age.

2. Make your travel plans now.

October is the best month to book flights for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, according to AAA .

Purchase tickets on airline websites to avoid booking fees. Otherwise, you might pay up to $20 at the ticketing office or up to $10 when you call the airline (exceptions are JetBlue and Southwest Airlines, which don’t charge such fees). Travel sites also charge nonrefundable booking fees when the same low fares can often be found on the airline’s site.

If you plan to rent a car, check out price quotes from local independent car-rental agencies, which can be well below brand-name prices.

The bottom line is: Remember your budget and stick to it.

“You’re going to have baggage fees, and taxi or car rental fees,” said Farnan. “If you’re going to one of the Disney parks, or if you’re going out to Colorado to ski, you’re going to have lift tickets and park entrance fees.”

Even if you’re saving money by staying with relatives this holiday season, Farnan said you should budget in expenses like taking them out to dinner to compensate for their generosity.

3. Start shopping… and be careful HOW you pay!

People tend to spend 30% more when they use credit cards, according to Cardweb.com. But while some financial advisors recommend using cash, Farnan said paying with cash isn’t as advantageous as it used to be. He said, as long as you pay off your balance by the time your statement comes, it’s best to pay with cards.

Using credit cards allows you to rack up points, earn cash back, and take advantage of the 26 to 30-day “float” period, where the money you’ve spent is still in your account accruing interest.

If you’re set on budgeting with cash, there are still some benefits.

“The cash is advantageous because you won’t get into a spot where you spend too much because you won’t spend more than the cash that you have,” said Farnan.

You can also get paid to spend. The online coupon site fatwallet.com offers cash back when you make purchases with partnered vendors through its website. Search for coupons and promotions at your favorite retailers and, if they’re FatWallet partners, sign up to receive cash rebates.

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