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I'm on the naughty list of holiday shoppers Add to ...

It is a list of holiday-shopping sins that makes me blush because I have committed so many.

Using credit cards to finance holiday purchases? Check.

Buying gifts I know I really can't afford? Done that.

Buying stuff for myself while shopping for others? Still do that.

Today is Dec. 1, the day I finally allow myself to embrace the coming Christmas season and begin to plan - and buy. So in the spirit of the season, I offer up some numbers from TD Canada Trust's survey about the financial landmine that can be the holidays.

According to the survey conducted by Environics Research, 23 per cent of Canadians say they will finance their purchases of presents on credit cards, with an additional 4 per cent saying they will cash in some investments to buy gifts. Almost half (48 per cent) say they will pick something up for themselves while holiday shopping.

And for the most shocking result, 10 per cent of those surveyed say they have bought gifts that they knew the recipient wouldn't want. That is one sin I haven't committed - even though I'm a shopper who often leaves gift buying to the week before Christmas.

The survey asked Canadians what stresses them the most about the holidays and it works out to a virtual three-way tie: worrying about whether they can afford the gifts they want to buy (35 per cent), worrying about whether the recipients will like their gifts (34 per cent) and fretting about finding gifts for the people that are hard to shop for (31 per cent).

Dan Demers, associate vice-president for TD Canada Trust, which commissioned the survey, says it found that the average Canadian individual who celebrates Christmas says he or she spends a total of $587 on food, gifts and entertaining.

And while that's a lot, he says, "it's not about how much you spend but how much you prepare for it. It is a wonderful time of year so it's important to celebrate. But people need to plan ahead."

Mr. Demers has plenty of advice for how to navigate the season. The first is to spend on others, not yourself. "If you see something you like, put it on the list for someone else to buy for you," he suggests.

And always consider other ways to give. For example, Mr. Demers says that instead of giving new parents a purchased gift, you may want to offer babysitting services instead.

When you draw up your Christmas list, "check your list three times, not twice," he suggests.

"When you look at your Christmas list, there are things you need to put on that list. We always put the name and we usually put some kind of gift idea. Something we don't put, which is the third piece we should be putting on it, is the dollar amount - or range." Make the list and stick to it.

He advises that when you buy for a difficult person, make sure the store has a return policy or buy the gift on a credit card with return-policy insurance.

As for using credit cards, Mr. Demers says it's a good time of year to do so, as long as you have a plan to pay them off in January when the bills come in.

"This is a time of year when you spend more than usual, so if you have a card that has points or those kind of features, it's a great opportunity to put some points aside for something later in the year, maybe a trip."

Most of all, Mr. Demers suggests beginning to save for Christmas in January. Even putting aside $10 a week will mean that come Christmas you will have $500 to spend.

Every financial institution will allow you to transfer money each week into a savings account, he says, adding that you should make sure to put it in an account that's hard to access.

And for the 10 per cent of Canadians who say they've bought gifts for someone who probably won't like the present, Mr. Demers says do anything it takes to avoid doing so. He suggests a gift card or a personal service.

"Put yourself in a position where you don't throw away money," he says.

That can be your own gift for the season.

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