Kerri Cook: Staying Out Of Debt For The Holidays – December 21, 2011

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

It’s beginning to look a lot like… time to spend money on… Christmas. The stores are stocked, the tinsel and lights are aglow, and one can feel the hustle and bustle. The holiday season is upon us and we turn towards gift-giving and of course, to spending, spending, spending.

This year, however, people in our community, and all over the country, are struggling. Many are dealing with reduced incomes and lost jobs. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling’s November poll revealed that 40 percent of those polled are not looking to spend any money at all this holiday season. Certainly, it has not been the best year, financially speaking, and while many of us will indeed plan to spend less, I expect that the proverbial holiday show still must go on.

Some will simply shop less. Others are already shopping (and spending) as they always have for the holidays. And indeed some will overspend this season. If you have a tendency to fall into that latter category, here are some tips to help curb the trend:

Have a spending plan. Sit down and write out a plan for your holiday spending. Budgeting is the financially responsible thing to do throughout the year, and can really help in sticking to a plan during the holidays.

Make a list, (and check it at least twice) for all of your gift recipients. Include the amounts you can afford to spend for each. Also include as budget items all of the extras, like your Christmas tree, Hanukkah oils and candles, wrapping paper, any entertaining you may be doing, etc.

Knowing exactly how much you intend to spend helps to avoid making purchases above your holiday budget.

Pay as you go. Use checks, debit cards, or better yet, cash. Debit cards are interest free—there’s no chance to accrue interest on any new purchases you make. Using a debit card also keeps you honest as there is a record of exactly where your money is going that you can track. Limit the use of credit cards. Plan to only use them only for those bigger ticket items that you will pay back within three to six months.

You will feel a bit of a “holiday hangover” as you will then need to pay off that debt—just remember to add your credit card payment to your overall budget so that you really do pay it off!

Comparison shop. This seems like a simple idea but a lot of people feel a pressure to buy new or feel rushed and forget to compare prices. Instead, we buy the first article of clothing, electronic device, or wreath we see. In our local community, what we lack in huge shopping centers of metropolitan areas, we make up for with a variety of smaller custom shops, discount stores, and the option to diversify by shopping online.

Shop around downtown Arcata, and within our county, in order to make your comparisons.

Go online. If you do shop online or by catalog, remember to get more bang for your buck by taking advantage of free-shipping orders.

Get to the post office early! Postage costs can add up and really take a bite out of your holiday budget. Get to the Arcata Post Office a week in advance for the best price on shipping to get gifts to their destinations by December 25th. The Post Office is also now offering free package pick up as well as flat-rate box shipping, which is a great deal, especially if your gift is heavy.

And finally, if you just have too many people on your list this season, find alternative ways to give gifts. Engage in Secret Santa gift-giving by drawing names with your friends and family members. Make gifts or offer services (like babysitting or making a home-cooked meal). Volunteer or give to a charity in other’s names.

Kerri Cook is a Financial Counselor at Consumer Credit Counseling Service of the North Coast (CCCS), an accredited non-profit organization. Headquartered in Arcata, CCCS serves Humboldt, Del Norte, Mendocino, and Lake Counties and has been helping people with their financial concerns since 1987. The CCCS mission is to provide professional consumer credit education, confidential counseling and debt reduction programs to all segments of the community regardless of their ability to pay. Web: or via Facebook: