10 Tips to Help Handle Holiday Spending: Experts in Consumer Credit Counseling Offer Advice for Cash-Strapped Shoppers

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Springboard Nonprofit Consumer Credit Management offers advice to shoppers about saving money during the holidays and planning for next year.

It's that time of year again, when consumers pull out their wallets for the holiday gift-buying binge and retailers breathe a sigh of relief as sales soar. Dee Ann Chandler, Education Director at Springboard Nonprofit Consumer Credit Management, advises, "By following our tips you'll avoid starting the new year with new debt and the accompanying guilt about how much you spent."

She offers the following tips for shoppers who are feeling the gift-giving pinch this season:

1. Create a budget and a list for holiday spending and gift giving in advance of buying. Include possible gifts, dollar amounts, and alternative choices. Don't forget expenses like holiday decorations, wrapping paper, cards, and postage, plus extra food costs for parties and family gatherings. Knowing how much you can truly afford to spend is a crucial first step in controlling costs.

2. Establish spending limits for gifts for each person on your list and start looking for bargains early. Stick to your list and spending limits to avoid overspending. Don't be tempted by impulse buys or eye-catching point of purchase displays in stores.

3. If it has been a challenging year financially, you may need to shrink your holiday gift list. Begin by talking with those you exchange gifts with, perhaps suggesting not exchanging gifts or mutually observing much lower dollar limits on gifts.

4. Separate shopping trips (when comparing prices, quality, value, etc.) from spending trips (when making a purchase), and resist taking cash, credit cards, or a checkbook on the shop-ping trips. Think of the shopping trip as a reconnaissance mission--you are getting a feel for the shopping landscape, what's out there, and how much it costs. Later on, when you've made your final list and compared it to your spending plan, you'll buy.

5. Pay with cash and avoid using credit cards. Charge cards tend to encourage indiscriminate spending. Credit card users often say they had no idea how much they spent on the holidays until the credit card bills arrive in January or February. Remember to save receipts or get gift receipts in case something must be returned.

6. Plan ahead - shop year-round and make a "gift drawer" or box with all your pre-holiday presents inside. Don't forget to make a list of who gets what so you can keep track of what you've already bought. Keeping the holidays (and birthdays!) in mind year-round can help you stretch your spending throughout the year and pick up bargains when you see them.

7. Wait for those sales! Watch the advertising and sale flyers for items you intend to buy. Comparison shop through newspaper ads or online. Ask retailers when items you are interested in buying will be on sale. Just remember, if it's really over your spending limit, it's not a bargain at any price.

8. Liquidators, buying clubs, and factory outlet stores usually offer lower prices. Bulk buying with other family members or friends can also yield savings. Shop at off-peak times such as early morning or mid-week to avoid crowds and pressure.

9. Do it online. Online auctions such as eBay are great places to find bargains, but be aware of how much similar items cost at retail. Many retailers have clearance sections on their shopping sites where you can save big. And get the latest online coupon offers by visiting sites such as Couponcabin.com, Ebates.com, Keycode.com, and Ecoupons.com. Don't forget to add in the cost of shipping (and sometimes sales tax) to Internet and catalog purchases.

10. Make more of your gifts at home. Handmade craft items, special desserts or breads and other "goodies" can help stretch a holiday budget. A photograph in a decorated frame or a collage of snapshots can mean more to a friend or loved one than a tie or a CD. Gift "coupons" for tasks such as watching a friend's children or a day alone for Mom while Dad takes over the kids can be the best gift of all.

Chandler says, "Next year, make it a point to start shopping early, so the expenses you have in December will be less. And if you also save money regularly during the year, you might have enough extra put away for something special for yourself or your family."

Springboard Nonprofit Consumer Credit Management has been counseling consumers for over 30 years on how to control spending and recover from overindulgence in credit. For more information on managing debt and credit, visit Springboard online at credit.org or call Dee Ann Chandler, Education Director, at 800-WISE PLAN (800-947-3752) x 750.

About Springboard Nonprofit Consumer Credit Management

Springboard is a nonprofit credit counseling and education organization founded in 1974 that offers assistance with money and credit management through confidential counseling and credit remediation and education programs. Springboard is accredited by the Council on Accreditation, signifying high standards for agency governance, fiscal integrity, counselor certification and service delivery policies that ensure low-cost confidential services are performed in an ethical manner. The agency is approved by the EOUST to provide bankruptcy counseling and debtor education. Springboard has several locations in California and offers face-to-face, online and nationwide phone counseling services. For more information on Springboard, call 1-800-947-3752 or visit their web site at http://www.credit.org or http://www.bkhelp.org.

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