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Archive for Monday, October 8, 2001

Smart holiday shopping

Consumers should stick to budget

October 8, 2001

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It's not yet Thanksgiving, and Karen Brown has finished most of her holiday shopping.

"I buy gifts whenever I see something I know a family member or friend will like," she said. "I only get in trouble when I forget I have something special stashed in the Christmas closet for someone and see another perfect present."

She even has a layaway plan to help pay for presents that consists of collecting spare change from her pocketbook at week's end.

She does what financial experts advise: Plan ahead and budget year-round for the holidays, whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or simply are bidding farewell to 2001.

Otherwise you can wind up with the sort of credit card hangover that has you paying December credit card bills the next June.

The 2001 holidays will hit when Americans are more strapped than ever for credit: We're collectively more than $7 trillion in debt more than our annual disposable income for the first time ever, the Federal Reserve reports.

That's why it pays to be pennywise this year, even if you're just getting started with holiday shopping.

"The first holiday tip is to establish a budget and stick with it," said Timothy Barrett of Consumer Credit Counseling Services.

Like Santa, start with a list and check it twice, starting with a list of your holiday priorities, said Dara Duguay, author of "Please Send Money" and head of the Jump$tart Coalition, a non-profit group devoted to educating children and parents about running their finances.

Duguay said decide first if you prefer to spend your holidays being with family, going to parties or seeing old friends. Then, you can get an overview of how to budget so you and yours get the biggest bang for your holiday bucks.

After you decide how you like to spend your time, make a holiday budget worksheet that starts with gifts for family members, friends, co-workers and others.

List what you'd like to buy, what it costs and what you wind up spending. Take the list with you whenever you shop, and write down what you spend as you spend it.

The fastest way to control holiday spending is to cut back on the gift-giving. Don't be a Scrooge: Know that children come first during the holidays and that the average child gets $350 in toys, the toy industry reports, although Duguay's gift list is long on piggy banks, change machines, savings bonds and mutual fund shares for youngsters.

If you come from a large, extended family or circle of friends, maybe it's time to switch to a gift exchange. Financial adviser Nancy Dunnan said you not only save money, but you put more time and thought into the present you buy that one person.

If penny-pinching lacks the holiday spirit, make baked goods, give a couple in need of a night out a gift certificate for baby-sitting, or give a tribute in the family's name to a favorite charity.

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