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12/01/2011 - The holiday season can really press on our schedules — shopping, making travel arrangements, work parties and school concerts fill our nights well before the holidays and into the final days of December.

That busyness can also be a source of unexpected financial strain. Multiple trips to the mall don't just take time and gas money — they can also take the edge off your discipline to spend wisely. When we dine out for convenience, buy on impulse because a price is marked down, or choose gifts based on media hype, we risk leaving money on the table.

Fortunately the solution may be as simple as planning ahead. Before you get whisked into the holiday season, sit down with a pad and pen and make a plan out your holiday schedule with the following tips in mind.

Budget and divide. The most important part of sticking to a budget is coming up with one. If you don't have a guide for spending, you are much more likely to buy items on impulse and spend more than you can afford.

Once you decide what amount you can spend, make a list of the people to whom you would like give presents. Divvy different shares of the budget to family and friends (or coworkers) and spread each amount among the people listed. With your price points decided, you can focus on getting each person something unique.

Set your limits. Paying for holiday gifts should end before the holiday season does. Remember that gifts are gifts, not necessities, and that no one on your gift list wants you to run up a credit card balance in order to buy them something expensive. Also try to avoid the post-holiday sales unless there is something specific that you need to purchase and plan to use now. Chances are this year's hot product won't have the same appeal when the next holiday season comes around.

Shop during the lulls. If you're serious about saving money this holiday season, treat "Black Friday" for what it is: a social event designed to promote extra spending. After watching the frenzy on the news, head out during one of the first few weeks after Thanksgiving, when store inventories are more stable or better yet, do your shopping a few weeks in advance when prices aren't yet inflated. Many stores will also offer price adjustments if you've purchased items at a higher price within 14 days.

Catch the DIY spirit. The sluggish economy has forced many people to cut back on holiday spending, but this trend has also brought an upside: more creative giving. With less money to spend, many consumers have forgone big ticket items in favor of unique gifts sold at second-hand or local stores. Have a history buff on your list? There's no need to buy a boxed documentary set when you can peruse a used bookstore to find a vintage edition instead. Others have even cut back on shopping and made their own gifts. Do you enjoy knitting, crafting or cooking? Make a custom hat, build a picture frame for a photo taken over the holidays, or make a fancy dessert for the foodie in the family. Don't feel you're being cheap. Often the more personal your gift, the more memorable it is.

Do your homework. Research before you spend. Websites like SalesCircular.com and PriceGrabber compare both individual products and sale prices offered by major retail chains. If you have a good handle on the individual items you want to buy, you may be better off doing most of your shopping online. Big retailers like Amazon often give free shipping for purchases over a certain dollar amount, which can maximize the impact of the lower prices those retailers afford by externalizing shipping costs.

Cut out convenience. Pulling off a well-researched, soundly-budgeted and creative set of gifts takes time and energy in a season where both are limited. While it's fine to give yourself a break by eating out or paying more for a gift at one store to save the trip to another, don't spoil your careful planning by spending too much on incidentals. You can beat such weaknesses of the moment through small actions: spacing out your errands into smaller, less hurried trips and giving yourself more time to relax throughout the week. If you do shopping after work, snack on something before you leave to tide yourself over until you get home.

None of these strategies are easy. But your discipline during the run-up will make the relaxation and indulgence of the holidays even sweeter.

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[Insert advisor's biography]. Advisor is licensed/registered to do business with U.S. residents only in the states of [Insert the state(s) the advisor is licensed in].

Brokerage, investment and financial advisory services are made available through Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc. Member FINRA and SIPC. Some products and services may not be available in all jurisdictions or to all clients.

2011 Ameriprise Financial, Inc. All rights reserved.

File # 126965 (10/2011)

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