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Santa may be delivering lots of gifts this Christmas, but the Grinch will be delivering holiday bills shortly after the New Year begins.

Overspending at the holidays is not that hard to do, especially when someone is living overseas, said counselor Denise Blount, of RAF Lakenheath’s family support center.

“We want to buy nice gifts for our loved ones,” she said. “If we’re buying a gift, we want them to know we’re thinking of them.”

And those nice gifts may become more plentiful, or more expensive, for those far away.

“You tend to overspend on the people you don’t see,” Blount said.

For those who shop locally at the exchange or out in town, Blount recommended having a purchasing plan before entering the store.

“Always decide what to get before you go to the store,” she said. “This saves from impulse buying.”

As shopper Annie Hafermann checked out from the Lakenheath base exchange recently, she said she always brings a list “so I don’t buy the wrong things.”

“I always stick to what’s on the list,” she said as the clerk moved Santa Claus wrapping paper and Christmas candles into her bag.

Holiday spending is expected to increase about 5 percent this year, according to the National Retail Federation.

Shoppers spent $27.8 billion over the Thanksgiving weekend either at stores or online, up nearly 22 percent from 2004’s $22.8 billion, the federation said in a news release issued last week. The average shopper, it says, spent an average of $302.81.

While the day after Thanksgiving traditionally kicks off one of the busiest shopping days of the year, “Cyber Monday” — the Monday after Thanksgiving, is “quickly becoming one of the biggest online shopping days of the year,” according to the federation.

That online shopping, which generally requires credit card payments, also can add to consumer debts, especially as the holidays get closer and people want to ensure that their gifts make it home in time.

“If you use your credit card, many people don’t realize how much they spend until the bill comes in,” Blount said.

Blount said FSC counselors recommend that people use cash for their Christmas gifts, whenever possible. Otherwise, they may face a financial holiday hangover.

People who find they can’t pay off all their bills, Blount said, can come to the FSC for financial counseling. She said they average a few people per week for the counseling, although not every case is for overspending.

“We’ll make a budget, look at their bills and see where they can cut down in other areas,” she said.

Nearly everyone who is having problems paying their bills can find a little extra if they make and follow a budget.

“Usually there’s always a way in someone’s budget to cut back on something,” she said.

If there’s room in the budget, Blount recommends starting to set aside money as soon as possible for next year’s holiday season.

Make a list,check it twice

Here are five tips to help avoid overspending during the holidays:

1Create a written plan for holiday spending and gift giving. That list should include the person’s name, what gift you’d like to give them, its price, details — if possible — on where and when that item will be on sale, and alternative gift choices in case that item isn’t available.

2Establish spending limits for the gifts and start looking for bargains as early as possible. Some organizations recommend doing holiday shopping throughout the year.

3Make more of your gifts at home. Arts, crafts, needlework, and family photographs can be cherished by a loved one, as well as family photographs. Even a freshly baked loaf of bread, cookies or desserts can be a thoughtful gift.

4Spend cash and avoid using credit cards. Charge cards can lead people to spend indiscriminately, giving them a total on what they spent only when they receive their monthly bill.

5Set aside money ahead of time so you don’t have to use a credit card. Keesler Federal Credit Union, which has branches on RAFs Alconbury, Lakenheath, Mildenhall and Croughton, offers a Christmas savings account. Money is deposited in the interest-bearing account throughout the year and can’t be touched until the end of October.

Source: RAF Lakenheath Family Support Center counselor Denise Blount


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