Opinion December 15, 2015 | 10:00 am

Don’t let the last-minute Holiday Rush crush your budget

For all the planning wedo during the holidays, the last couple of weeks before the big parties andfamily gatherings can trip up the best of budgets.

Perhaps what’s neededis some last-minute tricks to keep overspending to a minimum. Here are a fewideas to get you through.

Track your spending. Ifyou’re close to the upper end of your budget and you’re not quite sure what’shappened, go through those receipts. Maybe you and your partner or spouse areshopping independently, spending too much on gas, meals out or failing tocoordinate on the items you need. Maybe the kids are adding items to theirlists at the last minute. It’s toughest to say no to kids, so see if there areadult gifts, decorating items or seasonal specialty food you really don’t needto purchase. In other words, if your budget is tight, identify the expenses youcan alter and adjust your spending plans.

Don’t ignore the costof returns. Some retailers are strict about return policies on a host of items,which makes it doubly important to save all your receipts. If you’re givinggift cards, make sure the recipient has the purchase receipt in case the carddoesn’t work. If you’ve bought items online, make sure you keep critical returninformation and package return stickers in case you need them.

However, take oneadditional step with shipped returns – see whether the seller is charging youmore for their convenient shipping label option than shipping the item backlocally in your own packaging. Finally, keep restocking fees in mind – someretailers charge in excess of 10 percent of the item’s cost to accept a return,particularly for electronic and mechanical purchases that involve heavypackaging. Ultimately, the best time to check return policies is before youbuy, but if you do have to return items, consolidate those trips to save time,gas and money.

"Piggyback"the purchases of others. If you have a large gift list for loved ones orfamily, be a nosy shopper. Maybe your sister is finally giving her movie freakhusband the room-sized flatscreen he’s always wanted. Maybe your nieces andnephews are getting expensive dolls, toys or technology items that requireclothes or software of some sort. If you are trying to cut your holiday budget,check in with loved ones to see if you can supplement these expensive giftswith accessories that might be easier on your budget and appreciated just asmuch. Pitching in for a couple of outfits for the expensive doll – rather thanhaving to buy the expensive doll itself – saves you money, gives your lovedones a break on the subsequent purchases they’ll need to make and the recipientgets more of what he or she wants. A win-win all around.

Watch out for theft.All the smart shopping in the world won’t lessen the headaches from thieves whotarget your packages, personal and online data or the contents of your wallet.Fast-approaching holidays and busy schedules can leave us tired and distracted,so keep a close watch on potential risk for identity theft,(https://www.identitytheft.gov) package theft from cars, homes and apartmentvestibules. If you take public transportation, use extra caution to keep yourmoney, purchases and personal technology hidden from thieves.

Bottom line: Don’t letthe last, busy weeks of the holiday season knock you off budget or threatenyour financial security in other ways.

Nathaniel Sillindirects Visa’s financial education programs. To follow Practical Money Skillson Twitter: www.twitter.com/PracticalMoney.

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