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7 Hidden Costs of the Holidays

Savvy holiday shoppers are careful to plan out how much they want to spend on their loved ones this month, and they've probably also factored in the price of holiday decorations or even food and drink should they plan on entertaining. But there are plenty of other items that can bust your holiday budget well before the new year arrives.

MainStreet breaks down some of the hidden costs consumers need to account for in December, and also provides some suggestions on how to avoid shelling more than you need to this season.

Utilities


Photo: somegeekintn

It's not the cost of purchasing holiday lights or assorted decorations that you should be concerned about — it's the damage they can do to your monthly utility bill.

"Electric bills can easily soar," warns Stella Louise, editor of the Savings.com blog. "The same goes for water bills if you're entertaining and have house guests for extended periods of time."

You can minimize costs by waiting to put up decorations and remembering to switch off the lights every night once they are rigged. If you like to leave your lights on from Thanksgiving through Christmas, you can cut costs by eliminating some other energy vampires.

Transportation Costs

You might have factored plane tickets or even that tank of gas for the trip to Grandma's place into your budget, but all of your holiday shopping trips are bound to add up as well, especially if your local shopping mall charges for parking.

To cut costs, consider carpooling to the mall, says Andrea Woroch, consumer savings expert with CouponSherpa.com. If you need help rounding up people to ride with, Woroch suggests checking the carpool matchmaking website Zimride to find friends and neighbors who need to get some shopping done. You can also use smartphone apps, like GasBuddy or Cheap Gas, to find the best gas station prices in your area.

Checked Bag Fees


Photo Credit: Kossy@FINEDAYS

Are you planning on traveling for the holidays? Before buying four or five suitcases of gifts that will need to be carted cross-country, you might want to consider the cost of checked bag fees, which can be around $25 to $40 each way, depending on the airline.

"If possible, ship it out all together or shop online and send it directly," Woroch says. "Otherwise, pick up a few gift cards to favorite stores and restaurants for your loved ones."

Sales Tax

Louise says that 45 states currently impose sales taxes on retail purchases with rates ranging from 4% to 7.25%. This means that consumers who spend about $700 in gifts can wind up spending anywhere from $28 to $51 extra in sales tax.

In some states, consumers can avoid this extra cost by shopping online. However, at the very least, they'll want to make sure to note whether or not sales tax is included in the price they are being quoted before making a final decision on the purchase.

Gift Wrap


Photo: Edenpictures

People don't forget they have to buy gift wrap, but they often wait until the last minute to get it and wind up paying much more than they should.

"Wrapping paper at the grocery store is usually overpriced," Woroch says. Instead, she suggests shopping for gift wrap at local dollar stores. "The quality may not be as great, [but] does it really matter when it ultimately gets trashed?"

You can also try using newspaper, gift bags and old greeting cards to wrap gifts.

Self-Gifting

Self-gifting is actually a huge holiday trend this year. According to the National Retail Federation, the average person will spend $130 on purchases for themselves in 2011, up from $112 last season. That's a pretty substantial chunk of change when you consider these same individuals are also spending around $704.18 on other people. Resisting the urge to buy everything on your own wish list requires discipline.

"To avoid these extra purchases, focus on your list and only buy for others," Louise says.

Child Care


Photo: Phil Sexton

Parents might not want to take their young ones with them when they brave the busy shopping malls this December, but they don't necessarily need to spring for a babysitter or pay for a later pickup at your child's school or day care.

"Ask your child's friends' parents if they may be willing to trade such services for free or set up a play date," Woroch says. "Otherwise, find out if any local malls or stores are offering free babysitting/childcare services as IKEA has been known to do."

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