Smart holiday shopping tips to prevent big bills in January

(BPT) - The holiday season is all about celebrating with family and friends. But unfortunately, making the most of this festive time of year can also come at a cost. That becomes clear in January when the credit card bills show up - including bills for higher phone plan usage.

To help avoid the pain of post-holiday sticker shock, finance expert and author of New York Times bestseller "Zero Debt: The Ultimate Guide to Financial Freedom" Lynnette Khalfani-Cox - also known as The Money Coach - offers her money-saving tips for enjoying the holidays without breaking the bank.

"Shopping smart now makes all the difference when January rolls around," says Khalfani-Cox. "So make the most of the deals and offers that might only be available around the holidays, and your bank account will thank you!"

Here are her tips for making sure your holiday mood doesn't come to a halt when the January bills come due.

1. Make your list - and check it twice

Setting a budget for holiday shopping and making a list of who you're shopping for - then sticking to it - is the smartest way to be sure you don't end up with unexpectedly high bills next month. Where possible, consider going in for group gifts, or choose gift cards for picky gift recipients so you can control exactly what you're spending - and that they'll love what they get.

"Keep a running list of what you're spending, whether you shop online or in person, to stay on track," advises Khalfani-Cox. "It's all too easy to overspend when you're not writing down every purchase."

2. Dive into deals to make the holidays bright

Comparison shopping is the name of the game when it comes to finding the best deals for everything from gifts to holiday hosting must-haves. And that doesn't stop at items to check off your holiday list. While you're comparison gift shopping, check out the latest discounted deals from phone providers like Straight Talk Wireless, a no-contract carrier from Verizon. In fact, Straight Talk is now offering 6 months of free service with the purchase of the Samsung Galaxy A13 and one month of the Straight Talk Silver. This deal can help you stay connected with far-flung family and friends throughout the holiday season and beyond, for a lot less. Plus, it's available exclusively through Walmart, so you can get all your other holiday shopping done, too.

3. Maximize rewards and loyalty programs - smartly

If you frequently shop from one store or brand, or if your credit cards offer cash back rewards for purchases, first make sure it's something you really want to buy before signing on. Loyalty programs are great and can save you money, as long as it's something you know will make a great gift for someone on your list.

"Choose programs and memberships that don't cost anything up front," Khalfani-Cox advises, "so you'll be a lot merrier when you take advantage of the savings!"

4. Always read the fine print

No matter what you're purchasing - but especially for high-priced or tech products - look out for hidden fees or costs. Read carefully to know what you're signing up for, whether that's a protection plan or autopay you may not need or want, and what the store's policies are.

"When you're spending your hard-earned money, you'll want to be sure you know the store's policies for returning items, or if they offer a price-match guarantee if you see the same item for less somewhere else," says Khalfani-Cox.

5. Gift experiences or home-made items

If you're looking to save money, consider gifting some people on your list a special homemade lunch at your home, a visit to a favorite local attraction together or home-baked goodies. For some gift recipients who are tough to shop for - or who don't really want more "things" - a shared experience or heart-felt homemade present can be much more meaningful.

"The joy of the holiday season shouldn't come with mounting bills," Khalfani-Cox says. "With these tips, you can celebrate the spirit of the season with your loved ones - with less financial stress."

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