With "black Friday" upon us, consumers need to make a plan, shop carefully and stay within their budget.

The Institute of Consumer Financial Education website and Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston Financial Readiness offers these tips:

Create a written plan for holiday spending. The American Financial Services Association Education Foundation has a useful holiday spending plan people can print out to keep track of their gift buying, visit

Establish spending limits for each person on your holiday shopping list and start looking for bargains early.

"You want to maximize your spending. The way to do that is by planning ahead. Set your limits," said Karla Carter, instructor for the 502nd Force Support Squadron Financial Readiness Program Holiday Spending class.

"Utilize every resource that you have -- the internet, flyers, newspapers -- everything."

Save the circulars from the paper so you can compare prices. Make a list and cut out any coupons for the items you are planning to buy and clip the coupons to the store ad so they are easily assessable.

"Get all your advertising circulars together and circle items that you are interested in," Carter suggested.

Compare prices, quality and value, and wait for sales.

Ask retailers when the items you are looking for may be on sale. Most retailers will tell you because they do not want to lose your business to a competitor.

When making large purchases compare prices between at least three stores before making your purchase.

Ask about military discounts and find out which stores will price match.

"Many local stores offer military discounts and the Exchange will price match items," Carter said.

Exchange retail stores will match a local competitor's current price on any identical stock item. "Identical" is defined as: same brand, same manufacturer and same model number. Clothing has to be the same size, color, brand and style.

The Shoppettes, Class Six, Car Care, and troop stores follow this policy as well.

To get a reduced price, a customer must bring in a current competitor's ad. However, the Exchange will accept the customer's word if the difference is less than $10.

Liquidators, buying clubs and factory outlet stores may offer lower prices. Consider buying in bulk or with other friends or family members.

Talk with the people you normally exchange gifts with, suggest not exchanging gifts, lowering the dollar-limit on gifts or exchanging homemade gifts or services.

"Homemade gifts are more from the heart. Bake cookies or make personal coupons for services like babysitting or cooking lessons or house cleaning services," Carter said.

"Some people may like that better than a store bought gift. A handwritten note is even something very special."

If you are buying gifts, spend cash, avoid using credit cards and limit the number of cards you carry on shopping trips.

Be an educated consumer and use your credit wisely, she advised. "If you don't have to use plastic, don't use plastic."

Keep an eye on your credit and debit cards. Conceal your card while waiting to pay for your purchase and put your cards in a secure place.

"Review your statements. Make sure you know exactly what you purchased and when," Carter said. "You always want to make sure that what's on your statement is purchases you have made and report any missing cards or unrecognizable transactions immediately."

When dining out, fill in the blanks on the receipt and total the amount before signing.
"If you shop online be sure to only shop on secure websites," she advised. "Identity theft is a very big issue in this day and age."

Another tip is to shop after Christmas, take advantage of the after Christmas sales and give gifts to adults on New Year's Day.

JBSA-FSH Financial Readiness Program offers several classes including bank account management, budget development, couponing and holiday spending to name a few. Service members and their families can also schedule an appointment for one-on-one financial counseling.