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Careful money managers control costs during the holiday season

Columnist Dave Ramsey says there are ways to spend wisely.

Dave Says — Dave Ramsey column sig

Dear Dave -- We’re doing our best to stick to our cash Christmas budget this year. Are there any traps to avoid, and do you have other advice on ways we can cut costs during the holiday season? -- René

If you’re getting out of debt, the phrase “extra money” probably isn’t even in your vocabulary. Regardless, stores will do everything they can to convince you to toss a couple of extra items into your cart when Christmas rolls around. Their festive marketing is everywhere, and most of it tries to get you to spend extra on things you don’t need or can’t afford.

It might be Christmas, but that doesn’t mean you need to buy a bunch of high-end electronic gadgets for everyone. Any way you slice it, electronics add up to be way more than most people want to spend. Try focusing on more personal — and less expensive — gifts that will be truly meaningful to the ones receiving them.

Set a reasonable budget , determine what’s fair for each person and stick to it. Be sure you’re following realistic gift guidelines before you go out shopping. If you have kids, don’t let their Christmas lists dictate how much you spend. Your budget should do that. Look out for sneaky buys that drain your wallet, too. Some people spend as much on stocking stuffers as they do regular gifts under the tree.

Whether you’re shopping online or out and about, remember that extended warranties are not a good deal. Neither are store credit cards and the accompanying “discounts.” It seems everyone from big-box retail stores to mom and pop operations have their own store credit card these days. Sure, they’ll be happy to offer you 10 to 20 percent off a $7 purchase of socks if you’ll just open an account. But there’s a good chance you’ll still be paying off this year’s Christmas next December.

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If gift wrapping at the store is complementary, go for it. If not, just do it yourself. Sure, it takes a little time and effort, but you’ll save a ton of money buying a few rolls of wrapping paper at the local dollar store. Don’t wait until Dec. 20 to order your Christmas presents , either. Plan ahead — like right now — so you don’t have to worry about expensive overnight shipping rates.

Finally, I know many folks want to send Christmas cards to everyone they know every year. Some people go completely over-the-top, with their family (including the dog and cat) dressed to the nines and a photo taken by a professional photographer. Come on! You can cut costs by sending cards to just your closest friends and family. It’s OK to be a little selective here, and the cards don’t have to be expensive.

I hope this helps, René.

Dave Ramsey is a personal money-management expert, a bestselling author and host of the nationally syndicated radio program “The Dave Ramsey Show,” which is heard locally on KROC-AM. For more financial advice, visit daveramsey.com .

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