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Fall is spending season and the time to be wise

Just a few days into the official start of fall, it’s not too early to start thinking about end-of-year spending.

Fall is traditionally one of the biggest seasons for spending, with final home repairs before cold weather sets in and, of course, the start of the holiday season, when we all are spending more to prepare for special gatherings and to buy gifts for others.

Here are some tips to help you make the best of the spending season with a plan that enables you to buy what you need without experiencing regrets when the bills come due:

Set a budget. It sounds simple, and it is, but it’s the best advice I can offer anyone during the spending season. Start by being realistic. Consider your income and your regular monthly expenses, then determine how much you have left over for discretionary purchases. You may have saved some already for home-repair expenses or perhaps holiday gifts, perhaps in a designated account. Add it together and come up with an overall spending target. Check it again to make sure it’s realistic. Then stick to it.

Make a list. Whether it’s home improvements or gifts, assemble a list of what really needs to be purchased. You’ll feel better knowing you have prioritized and have a plan of what to buy and for whom. Often, we get in trouble when we simply shop and don’t realize until it’s too late that we have overspent. A list can always change if you find just the right item. But knowing what and who are on your list — and when to stop — is the best way to start.

Spend carefully. This is a busy time of year and also when retailers offer us lots of deals. Avoid spending while rushed or under pressure. Start shopping for end-of-year needs now. And think twice about some of those deals. Are they really that great? Give yourself enough time to comparison-shop. When you’re in the store or shopping online, review the items in your check-out basket to make sure they fit your spending priorities and budget.

Use credit wisely. One of the best ways to enforce a budget is to spend with cash. When it’s depleted, you know you’ve exhausted your budget for the shopping outing or for the season. If you do use a debit or credit card or checks, keep a running total so you don’t accidentally exceed your limits. If you use a credit card, try to put all purchases on one card that you can monitor, preferably a card with a low rate. It’s best to use a credit card only for big-ticket items. You don’t want to be paying credit-card interest on stocking stuffers. Don’t apply for store credit cards you don’t need simply to get a one-time discount.

Save your receipts. This is a great way to monitor your purchases. You’ll also have receipts if you need them to make exchanges because an item doesn’t work or you end up having second thoughts. Knowing how much you spend not only will help you this year but also will be useful in setting a budget next year when spending season rolls around again.

Be creative. Can you make an existing piece of furniture work in another room or use paint or other home-repair materials you already have? Before heading to the store, look around and be sure you really need to buy more. When it comes to gifts, consider home-made items such as baked goods, cards and crafts for at least part of your giving. Friends and loved ones often appreciate these more than items you buy.

We still have plenty of 2015 yet to go. But we’ve officially entered the spending season and it’s not too early to think about planning and priorities. It’s not too early, either, to open an end-of-year savings account that enables you to put a little money aside over time to make the process smoother next year. Talk to your community banker. We have options that can help you save and more fully enjoy the spending season.

Shelly Bryant is vice president at Park State Bank in Duluth. You can reach her at bryantsl@parkstatebank.com or (218) 722-3500.

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