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Shop Smart and Safe During the Holiday Season

The end-of-year holiday shopping extravaganza is upon us.

According to the National Retail Federation, consumers will spend an average of $805.65 per person celebrating Christmas, Kwanzaa or Hanukkah this year. That total includes food and drink, decorations and gifts. If you’re going to be one of those people, it’s best to make a budget before you hit the stores.

Make a budget
The best way to budget is to make a list of all your expected expenses and then allocate money for each. Don’t forget to budget for wrapping paper and ribbons, holiday cards and postage for mailing gifts, even travel expenses.

When you go out to shop, take your budget list with the estimated costs and use it when you shop. If you jot down how much you’re actually spending for each item, you’ll be able to stick to the budget. And don’t deviate from the list.

Shop around before you shop
Before you shop online or in a store, do your comparison shopping. Sites like PriceGrabber.com and Google.com/products do the legwork for you, comparing hundreds of products online and in stores. Google’s product search also calculates tax and shipping and shows you where you can buy the item in your area.

If Black Friday sales are tempting, there are also a number of mobile apps that help you comparison shop, even while you’re at the mall the day of. Apps like ShopSavvy, BuyVia or Red Laser let you to scan the bar code on an item and find it for the best price.

Protect yourself
The 2013 Payments Survey by the Federal Reserve found that fraud involving online transactions was three times greater than when the card was presented at the checkout counter. It’s important to be vigilant about where you shop online.

Protect yourself by making sure the site you’re using has the proper security checkout system: Look for the https:// in the Web address. If you’re using your smartphone to shop on the go, be careful about using a public Wi-Fi, especially if you’re shopping or banking.

When you download mobile apps — especially to do mobile banking — always use the Apple’s App Store or Google Play that’s been authorized by your financial institution. Fraudsters routinely create official-looking downloads and place them on other websites, hoping that unsuspecting consumers will plug in their financial information — and send it directly to the cyber criminals.

Some credit cards have begun to provide for additional security when you shop online. Financial institutions like West Community Credit Union offer the MasterCard SecureCode system, which adds an extra authentication step using a unique personal code that you create. Even if hackers get your credit card information, they can’t make purchases at participating online merchants without having your individual code.

When you’re shopping online, don’t forget to check your credit card’s online deals. Many cards have special offers from various partners for travel, merchandise and experiences.

Another benefit of using a credit card is purchase protection. If you buy a new iPhone and you break the screen a week later, you might be able to get it replaced if your credit card has purchase protection. And, of course, if you receive a damaged or defective product, you can dispute the purchase and get a refund or a replacement.

Now you’re ready for the season: Make your budget, stick to it, shop safely and enjoy the holidays.

Ellen Cannon, NerdWallet
© Copyright 2015 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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