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Don’t Let Gift Giving Leave You Overspent

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126_homespun_web.jpgRISMEDIA, Dec. 6, 2008-(MCT)-Consumers plan to spend an average of $832 on holiday shopping this year, according to a national survey, but gift giving doesn’t have to put financially strapped families deeper in debt.

“When finances are tight and job stability uncertain, controlling holiday spending is not only a good idea, but doing so will prevent big headaches come 2009,” said Martha Lucey, president of ByDesign Financial Solutions.

Credit counselors at ByDesign encourage consumers to take steps to prevent overspending.

The nonprofit organization, which offers free and low-cost financial advice to Northern San Joaquin Valley residents, recommends taking the following steps to ensure consumers don’t overspend this holiday season:

- Create a written plan: Determine how much you realistically can afford to spend. The goal is to avoid carrying debt into the new year. List people for whom you wish to buy, along with related expenses such as cards, postage, decorations. Allocate a portion of your budget to each item until the numbers add up to your budget’s total.

You may need to reduce the number of people you buy for or reduce the budget for each gift. To develop the best plan, get creative. Perhaps send e-mail updates with a family picture to save on card and postage costs, or bake a plate of cookies for co-workers.

- Brainstorm sentimental gifts: A framed photo of you for your grandmother to display is more thoughtful and has much more sentimental value than another sweater.

One ByDesign client has fond memories of collecting sea glass on the beach with her father when she was a child. As an adult, she nested a small glass inside of a larger one, lined the space between the two with pieces of sea glass and put a candle in the interior glass. He loved it.

- Think practical: Useful gifts usually cost the giver less and save the recipient, too. Personalization is key.

A gift certificate for a few car washes may be suitable for a city dweller. For a preteen girl, a “Hannah Montana”- or “High School Musical”-themed lunchbox, water bottle and school supplies are a treat.

A mother might be thrilled with the installation of the new dining room light fixture that’s been in its box in the garage for months.

Packaged playfully, these gifts are more fun to give — the car wash certificate could be wrapped up with a small toy car and bar of soap. Install the light fixture in private a few days before the holiday, drape it with fabric and unveil it only when guests arrive.

- Shop secondhand: Visit flea markets, yard sales and thrift stores. In addition to antiques and collectibles, you’ll find many gift-worthy items well below retail prices. Many of these items have not been used.

A few possibilities: a 1940′s lusterware teapot in the shape of an elephant for the aunt with an elephants collection; a vintage rhinestone brooch for the trendy teen; or a distressed leather jacket for your husband.

- Don’t buy for yourself: The seasonal sales will undoubtedly present temptations, but now is really not the time to buy for yourself. Doing so is a surefire and common budget-buster. Keep a mental list for yourself in case others ask what you would like as a gift.

- Take a list and track what you buy: To stick to your spending plan, if the gift for one person exceeds your budgeted amount, cut back on the price for another gift or category.

- Spend cash not credit: Use cash whenever possible. If you charge, use only your card with the lowest interest rate and plan to pay it off within the year.

- Start early: Many goods cost more nearer to the holiday and you are more likely to overspend when you are running out of time.

Copyright © 2008, The Modesto Bee, Calif.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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