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Five golden rules for holiday spending

12/11/2013, 6 a.m.

If you bought the gifts in the holiday classic, “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” it would cost a record $27,393, according to the 30th annual PNC Christmas Price Index. Few have a budget for all those birds and performers, but ‘tis the season to get carried away. PNC’s Joseph M. Jennings, Jr., CFA, senior vice president and investment director of Wealth Management offers these Five Golden Rules so you don’t overstuff the stockings— or your budget:

  1. Be choosy: Identify your special partridge and pare down your list to those you’re actually close to. Don’t guilt-buy for those far-away relatives who will re-gift your tacky present anyways. If you can’t resist, create a funny e-card for free.
  2. Create a budget: Don’t be one of the geese who lays a spending egg. Once you know who you’re buying for, decide how much you will spend per person. If $15 is all you can afford per person, then spend $15 – not $17 or $20. If that seems a bit Scrooge-like, tell your friends/family to set the same limits for you. Take advantage of online budgeting tools to set limits with text or email alerts to warn you.
  3. Find the bargains: Be surfing while the swans are a swimming. Look for coupons and Groupons. When it comes to online shopping, there’s a cost for convenience. PNC calculates the online cost of the “The Twelve Days of Christmas” gifts is $39,762, which is 45 percent over the in-person approach. But you can save by watching for free shipping offers and no-hassle returns plus there’s Cyber Monday deals and Free Shipping Day on December 18.
  4. Get crafty: Handy drummers are drumming up their own gifts. Whip up a few dozen batches of your special cookies, cake pops or brownies, package in pretty baskets with a bow and call it a day. Who on your list wouldn’t love a homemade treat over a store-bought gift?
  5. Pay smartly: Like the maids, milk the most out of your money. Pre-paid cards mean you only spend a set amount and are perfect for kids to learn how to buy for others and stay on budget. Cash in on your credit card reward points to buy gifts. When using credit, make sure you have a plan to pay off your balance. For online payments, look for security or privacy seals first before submitting information. The payment page should have a lock icon and the address should start with “https.”