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Planning Early Helps Reduce Holiday Debt
By Amy Woolfolk
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Smiles and shrieks of joy fill the holiday season as gifts are given, but many of those smiles turn upside down when the holiday bills start rolling in.
Dr. Beverly Howell, family economics and management specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said holiday shoppers often get so caught up in buying gifts for the people they care about that they overspend and end up with holiday debts.
"It is wonderful to want to do special things for the people we care about," Howell said. "When it comes to gift buying, though, shoppers have to balance their emotions with the reality of their individual financial situations."
Howell said many shoppers choose to pay for holiday expenses with credit cards. Charging purchases leaves the shopper paying for gifts long after the joy of giving has worn off. The specialist said budgeting and making wise decisions can help minimize holiday debt.
"Decide at the first of the year how the holiday season will fit into your yearly budget," she said. "Determine early on how much you can afford to spend and save that money throughout the year."
Howell suggested a special account for saving your holiday money. Putting money in this account and knowing it has a specific purpose makes people less likely to dip into it for other spending situations.
Once the total amount of the holiday budget is set, decide how to divide the money.
"People who only include gifts in the holiday budget find the holidays end up costing more than they had planned," Howell said. "A complete holiday budget includes other related expenses such as cards and postage, decorations, extra food and travel."
After the items in the budget are decided, make a list of the items and how much can be spent on each one. Carry the list at all times.
"Keeping a detailed list with you can help you make quicker decisions with less headache," Howell said. "Include dollar amounts, possible options for gifts and other items, sizes and color preferences. The more information you have, the better decisions you will make."
The specialist also recommended shopping early to help minimize spending. This allows for a better selection and more time to compare prices. As the holidays near, selection runs low and some people may be forced to spend outside their budget. Emotions also run higher as the holidays approach, which may prompt costly emotional spending, she said.
Another way to minimize holiday spending is to be creative in gift-giving and decorating.
"Gifts created especially for the recipient often have priceless value," Howell said. "Making gifts or giving IOUs for special services can save the giver money while adding sentimental value to a gift. Decorations and cards also can be created inexpensively."
As the holidays rapidly approach, do not let the joy of the season become buried under piles of bills and debts. Plan ahead and budget carefully to maximize your holiday enjoyment