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Timely Tips:  Smart Ways to Spend and Save

( ARA) Even if you love to shop, dealing with the credit cards bills a month later isn't pleasant. But there is a way to get control of your finances. The first, and most important, step is to draw up a budget for your spending.  "Make a list of everything you need, compare it to your financial situation and then set a realistic budget," says financial expert Hilary Kramer.

Limiting yourself to spending only what's in your wallet is a built-in safety mechanism. Services like AOL Bill Pay (part of AOL Money & Finance) serve a similar function when you’re shopping with a credit card – it will send you a "money alert" if you spend more than what you’ve allotted.

In addition to a budget, it’s also good to have a general idea of what you’re looking for. That way, you won’t be tempted by an expensive impulse purchase. Knowing what you want also gives you the advantage of shopping online – and avoiding crowds.

“The Internet has made it easier than ever to be a comparison shopper,” says Kramer. “You can visit half a dozen Web sites in the time it would take to find a parking spot at the mall. And you may even score extras like free shipping or gift wrapping by shopping online.”

Shoppers can also go to AOL Money & Finance which features “Smart Shopping with Consumer Reports” to see an extensive library of product buying guides. By turning to trusted names shoppers can view unbiased reviews and comparisons of everything from baby products to electronics, appliances, home and garden items and more.

As you shop, be aware of the dangers of identity theft. A little shopping savvy goes a long way toward keeping you and your personal information safe. “When buying online, use a secure site, (you can tell at the checkout page if the link says https:// instead of http://) and shop with companies you know,” advises Kramer. Be sure to print out a record of your order and your confirmation number.

At the mall, pay attention to your wallet and your purse at all times. When making a purchase, don’t give out any more personal information than necessary – you can refuse to give your phone number when checking out, for example. When using the ATM or the credit card device at stores, always cover the key pad when entering your PIN number.

Always shred bills, receipts and anything else with your account numbers before throwing them away. And pay careful attention to your credit card statements. If you notice any unusual transactions, report them to the credit card company immediately.

Using services, such as AOL Bill Pay, that provide you with an e-mail alert when a large transaction is made, are a great idea to help you manage your account. The service provides an early warning system with an authenticated e-mail “Money Alert,” protecting you if your credit card number is stolen and also helping guard against identity theft.

Paying bills online is a great way to keep track of your finances and to avoid hard copies of documents containing your personal information. With AOL Bill Pay, you’ll get an online summary of your charges via e-mail, and in most cases you can link directly to the supplier Web site to pay online.

 

For more information on the resources available through AOL Money & Finance, visit http://money.aol.com/.

Hillary Kramer is a noted financial expert, contributor to Wall Street Journal, CNBC, Fox News and others. You can read her daily stock tip blog, Hilary on Stocks, online at http://money.aol.com/.

Courtesy of ARA Content