How to shop on a budget during the holiday season

More people will be shopping for the holidays online this year, according to a poll from the National Retail Federation.

Christmas bells will soon be ringing, and so will cash registers, as the busy holiday shopping season is just around the corner. And this year, it looks like shoppers are feeling especially "merry," as sales are expected to surge.

While everyone wants to buy that perfect gift for their loves ones, impulse buys and lack of planning can make for a less than jolly good season once the bill comes due. However, there are a number of steps you can take to ensure that you stay on budget and still spread plenty of holiday cheer:

Make out a list

"Make out a list and stick to it."

Santa Claus isn't the only one who's making a list and checking it twice. Before you begin your holiday shopping excursion, write out the items that you plan on buying for everyone and stick to them. You should also have an idea of how much you expect to spend. Both of these preparations require you to prepare, so be sure you examine your finances to see how much discretionary income you have available once all the bills are paid.

Need some help planning out your finances during the holidays? Feel free to reach out to the Financial Readiness Program at your installation or visit Military OneSource for some additional tips.

Do your homework
The Internet has made product research easier than ever, as there are a number of websites that allow you to comparison shop right from your desktop. PriceGrabber is one such website that has a large database, so you can enter the piece of merchandise that you'd like to buy and see what it costs at leading retailers.

Check your email regularly
There's a reason why Black Friday – the day after Thanksgiving – is the shopping blitz that's come to be, as retailers offer deep discounts in order to get people to start their shopping bright and early. However, Black Friday and Cyber Monday aren't the only days retailers roll back prices in head turning ways. Keep an eye on any circulars you see in the newspaper over the next several weeks as well as advertised sales events sent to your email box . These are usually sent out at least 24 hours in advance, making checking your email daily a rule to live by.

Ask for military discounts
What was your last Christmas like in terms of finances? Did you overspend or was the amount within your budget? Keep a record of how much you spent this year so you can consult it when the holidays return. The best part is that many retailers offer discounts specifically for service members and their families. Brands like Chrysler all the way to Apple have certain perks, especially around the holidays. Check out this list compiled by Military Benefits before you start your holiday shopping this year.

Real Simple Magazine has compiled some additional holiday shopping budget tips from readers all over the country, offering up more examples for how to shop 'til you drop without breaking the bank. What are some great ideas you've had to save money during the holidays?

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