(BPT) - The holiday season is often dubbed 'the most wonderful time of the year,' but for many Americans, it can be an incredibly stressful time financially. The National Retail Federation predicts a 4.1 percent increase in sales this year, with the average American set to spend an estimated $786 in the following categories:
* $459.87 on gifts for family
* $80.00 on gifts for friends
* $26.03 on colleagues
* $30.43 on the other people in their lives
Whether shopping online or in-store, there's often a temptation to spend too much on gifts, leading to a case of buyer's remorse come January. Regions Bank, one of the largest U.S. banks with 1,630 branches across 16 states, has advice for consumers on how to prepare financially for the holiday shopping season.
1. Begin with the golden rule.Spending on gifts shouldn't exceed more than 1.5 percent of your annual income. Use this rule as a guide to determine how much you should set aside to spend on gifts for your friends and family - and stick to it.
2.Separate and delegate. Consider creating a separate account to fund gift purchases and make regular contributions from your primary checking account in a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly basis.
3.Only buy what you can truly afford. To prevent overspending, never leave home without a list of what you intend to buy, and be sure you have the money needed to cover your purchases once you arrive in-store.
4.Use timing to your advantage. While things like airline tickets should be booked far in advance, other items - toys in particular - often drop in price during the first two weeks in December. Sometimes it pays to wait, other times it does not, so be sure to check for deals before you head out shopping.
As December nears, now is the time to start mapping out your shopping strategy. Establish a benchmark based on your income; create a holiday savings account, and fund it regularly; be sure you're purchasing within the parameters of what you can truly afford; and know when to buy and when to wait. And remember, the holidays are meant to warm the heart - not burn the wallet!