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Say "Bah, Humbug!" To Holiday Debt

Ah, the holiday season! Turkey and dressing, pumpkin pie, Santa hats, jingle bells, and lots and lots of eggnog make the season a delight. But all fun and reindeer games aside, you have to be careful to make sure you donít wind up as poor as Tiny Tim! Americans can spend as much as $1,000 a year on gifts for family and friends. That is a big chunk of money that can hit you pretty hard come January, but only if you donít plan ahead. There are some tips and tricks you can do to keep your holidays bright and debt-free this year. Before the holidays arrive, do some careful plotting and planning. A few hours spent in preparation can mean less money spent on gifts.

You donít have to be Scrooge, you just have to be smart. Decide how much you are willing to spend, and stick to it. Pretend you are spending cash. How much can you afford out of pocket this month? If you cannot afford it right now, consider that you cannot afford it at all. Budget non-gift and after-Christmas items too.

Remember to include other things you buy over the holidays--cards, stamps, candles, a tree, decorations, and food galore. Plus, plan ahead to save some money for next year by taking advantage of after-Christmas sales. It is all part of your holiday spending, so plan for it in your holiday budget. Make a list of everyone you will be buying gifts for, and estimate how much you want to spend on each person. Include the smaller gifts for teachers or your mailman. Include the price of cards and stamps, because Christmas cards count as gifts when it comes to your budget. Then, add it up and compare the total to your budgeted amount. Make the necessary adjustments. Your brother-in-law may only get socks this year. Cut down your list.

This may sound harsh, but look closely at who you are buying gifts for. When saving money is an issue, it is ok not to give gifts to everyone you know. Be creative. Determine if maybe some people wouldnít be happy with a nice card or maybe some home-baked cookies. Remember, the holidays arenít about presents, but about good will towards man. Good will comes in many forms and does not always need wrapping paper. If you have a skill or a hobby, use it: needlework, knitting, art, poems. Burn a CD, make a photo album, or offer to plant their garden. Carry your shopping list with you. Take every opportunity to shop.

Start early and try to get things before the rush, before highly sought, hard-to-find items go up in price, and before you canít find what you need. This gives you a chance to comparison shop. It also takes away some of the stress and reduces your risk of overspending just for the sake of getting shopping over with. If a store offers free gift-wrap, go for it! Itíll save you time and money on buying wrapping paper, tape, bows, and cards and struggling with it all yourself. Have willpower. Stick to your estimates and you wonít go over budget. eBay is a wonderful shopping tool if you remember to start early enough to account for shipping time. Find the right item, bid your budget price and leave it. If someone outbids you, donít get into a bidding war, just bid on something else within your price range. Increase your income for the season.

During the holidays there are lots of ways to make a little extra money. Many stores hire part-time workers for the holidays. Since it is a party season, babysitting is in high demand. Be imaginative. You could be the Official Gift Wrapper in your neighborhood and wraps gifts for friends and neighbors for a small fee. Use your credit cards. Yes! If you stick to your budget and only spend what you are able to pay for in the next 30 days, then yes, you CAN use credit cards. The key is to use them as you would cash. Using your credit card is not a way to buy things you canít afford, it is a way to organize your spending and possibly get some rewards and discounts along the way.


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