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Tools for Creating the Life YOU Want!

7 Strategies for Playing Santa ...
Without Cooking Your Financial "Goose"
by Marc Eisenson

For far too many of us, the true holiday spirit gets lost in a frantic search for gifts -- and we use high interest credit cards to pay for them. Consider these startling facts about the shopping frenzy we're in the midst of:

  Last year, over 5,000 credit card transactions were processed a second during the peak holiday season ... and that's just on Visas! (This year, they're expecting over 6,000!)

  We charged $3 million a minute between Thanksgiving and Christmas last year.

  This year, holiday spending is expected to reach $220 billion.

  A $1,200 holiday tab charged on your credit card at 17% will take almost 20 years to pay off and cost $2,076 in interest, if you only make the required minimum payments.

The depth of your love is not synonymous with the depth of your debt! If you enter each New Year with a holiday spending hangover, maybe it's time to change the rules. You can cut back on the cost of Christmas -- without depriving yourself and your family of the spiritual and personal joys of the season.

Every dollar we charge today (on often meaningless gifts) can mean $3 we don't have for college, vacations, retirement, and the other important gifts we can give ourselves and each other. Actually, it's even more than $3 -- once you factor in taxes. Then it's more like $4 that you'll have to earn for each dollar you've spent.

As you try to avoid falling prey to a last minute shopping binge, remember what you're up against, starting with the constant barrage of holiday advertisements. Christmas decorations are everywhere we look. Christmas carols take over the radio. Presents are being exchanged all around us -- and we're receiving gifts, sometimes from people we never would have thought of giving one to ... Yikes! No wonder we all feel the pressure to buy, buy, buy.

And last minute desperation to buy can produce the least appreciated gifts at the highest possible cost. Try to have a few inexpensive presents in reserve for those inevitable tit-for-tat situations, so you won't need to bust your budget.

To survive the holiday season with your finances intact and your stress level low, here are some ways to invest in yourself and your family, by creating some new gift giving traditions:

1) Decide what's really important. It's not too late to have a family "holiday sanity" meeting. Many folks hate the frenzy of gift buying, and would rather spend the time enjoying seasonal activities with family or friends. How about creating an inexpensive tradition? Something that really celebrates what the holiday means to you. Everyone will enjoy themselves, and your pocketbook will appreciate it, too.

2) Set some ground rules. Could this be the year you finally say, "Enough!" and from here on, set a dollar limit, agree to give each other homemade goodies, or even agree to stop exchanging gifts? Or how about deciding to only buy presents for people under 21? Or 18? Or 12?

3) Have a lottery. Let every family member choose one name from a hat, then buy that person one carefully selected present, instead of a lot of meaningless junk for everyone. You'll all end up with more special gifts and you won't have to be "malled" nearly as much in the process.

4) Give the gift of time. There's nothing that's more valuable, when you think about it, than gifts of time, be they home-cooked meals, babysitting, or guitar lessons. We'd rather learn a skill than get a hideous tie. Wouldn't you?

5) Leave the plastic at home.Shop carefully, just like Santa does. Figure out how much you can afford to spend before you go shopping. Then stick to your budget, no matter who gives you what. If you shop from a carefully created list, and pay in cash, you'll enter the new year blessedly debt-free.

6) Reschedule the holiday. Plan a special family gathering after the holiday. Airlines charge a bundle to fly at holiday time, and airports are maddeningly crowded. You can discuss your travel plans in detail over Christmas, and then have a wonderful, warm celebration while everyone else is facing the winter. Sounds like a good plan to me!

7) Shop all year long -- at tag sales, auctions, and consignment shops. There are all sorts of wonderful bargains to be found, and treasures to be rescued and restored. Last Christmas, our Invest in Yourself co-author, Gerri Detweiler and her family agreed to only exchange homemade or recycled presents. "We all saved money, the gifts were much more personal, and everyone had a great time!"

If you keep your plastic under control, Santa will bring you delight rather than debt.

For more of our good advice on holiday spending, click here.

The Pocket Change Investor
The Secrets to Getting Ahead -- Even If You Have a Pile of Credit Card Bills, Hefty Mortgage Payments,
Loans Out on a Clunker or Two, & a Bad Case of the "I'm Tired of Living Payday to Payday" Blues.

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Reprinted from The Pocket Change Investor
© 1998, Marc Eisenson & Nancy Castleman
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