Linda Tucker

With Halloween over and the retail stores rapidly changing their floor displays to holiday decorations, Family Service Agency Consumer Credit Counseling Service has assembled for consumers some money management advice to keep the holiday season happy and free of debt stress.

With this in mind, FSA-CCCS offers the following information and advice on how to avoid overspending and maintain good financial health during the upcoming holiday season:
FSA-CCCS Tips for holiday shopping:

Develop a spending budget
Write down household and personal expenses for November and December. For each month, subtract the total amount of expenses from your monthly take-home pay. The amount left over each month becomes a starting point to gauge how much you can afford to spend. Make a list of purchases from gifts to decorations.

Make a list
Follow Santa's example. Make a list of all the people you need or want to buy gifts for, including small gifts for babysitters, teachers, newspaper deliverers, etc. These small gifts can add up and are often the cause of going over your gift budget. Include money you'll spend on Christmas cards, postage, holiday parties, decorations, holiday entertainment, etc.

Consider creative gift-giving
When it comes to gifts, some people still believe, it's the thought that counts. Consider gifts that have a personal touch, such as hand-made and homemade gifts like tapestries, quilts, pastries or other prepared foods. Don't forget about fruit baskets, which are both economical and healthy.

Look for shopping deals
Check out retail sales, special discounts and coupons in circulars or newspapers and deals online. Consider purchasing holiday decorations in-bulk and splitting the costs with friends and family members. These deals can add up to substantial savings.

Avoid last-minute shopping
Shopping under stress can lead to more spending. Plan your shopping trips in advance and shop as early as possible before the December holidays. Avoid shopping for convenience, which may not be most economical.

Pay with cash when possible and spend wisely
Stick to your spending limit! Pay with cash when possible and leave your checkbook and credit cards at home to avoid temptations for unplanned and unnecessary purchases. If using credit is a must, limit purchases to one card. Use the credit card with the lowest interest rate and don't use more credit than you can afford to pay off in 90 days or less. Remember, credit card debt amounts to a short-term loan. The longer the length of the loan, the more you will pay.

void the post-holiday debt hangover and don't overspend
Tally the receipts from all holiday expenses, including gifts, postage, meals, entertainment and decorations. Once you've completed your shopping list, stop shopping! More mall time can amount to more spending. Those who have kept to their budgets will start the year with less debt and less stress. Adopt and practice a new resolution to keep your household budget balanced for the next 12 months.

Linda Tucker, Director of Education for Family Service Agency Consumer Credit Counseling Services says, "Carefully follow these tips and you should be able to start 2007 with less debt and feeling better overall."
Even with the best of intentions you may end the holiday shopping season with more debt than you planned. Remember, you don't have to solve your financial problems alone. Family Service Agency Consumer Credit Counseling Service has trained and certified credit counselors who offer financial management and debt reduction services that are low-cost - and free. FSA-CCCS is a nonprofit, community-based organization and a Member of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC). For more information on FSA-CCCS, call 1-800-255-2227 or locally 501-753-0202 or visit www.helpingfamilies.org.