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NEWS | Dec. 15, 2006

Shirt shares helpful tips for managing holiday debt

By Master Sgt. Brent Freeman 15th Airlift Squadron first sergeant

Thanksgiving and Christmas are two of my favorite holidays. It is a time to gather with family and friends to relax and unwind. Unfortunately, it is also the time of year when people tend to spend a little too much money buying gifts or other items for the holidays. Since the holiday season is upon us, I thought it would be a good time to offer some helpful tips for managing holiday debt.

You're more than likely not thinking about your debt while you are shopping. You should be. While the holiday spirit is about giving, it is very easy to go overboard. Keeping your finances in mind now can save you from headaches and worry when the bills start arriving in January. The following tips can help keep your debt at a manageable level:

-- Decide how much you can spend
If you haven't created a budget for your holiday spending, determining how much you can afford to spend and how much you want to spend can help keep you from going into debt. Be sure to track your spending as you go so you have a clear idea of how much you've spent and how much more you can afford to spend. If you plan to shop using a credit card, try to stick to one card - preferably the one with the lowest interest rate.

-- Make a list
Making a list of the people you would like to buy holiday gifts for, as well as what you'd like to purchase for each person can help keep you from overspending. Making a list in advance also allows you to take the time to comparison shop and look for bargains.

-- Look for areas where you can save
If the holidays are putting a strain on your monthly budget, look at your spending habits and see if there are some areas where you can cut back. It may mean eating out less, turning the heat (or air conditioning) down, or brown bagging your lunch. Look for areas in which you can cut back on the holiday festivities as well -- hang fewer holiday lights in order to reduce your electric bill and if you plan to purchase a Christmas tree, consider buying a smaller one

-- Don't be tempted by credit cards
Beware of credit card offers that encourage you to skip payments, or offer you an immediate discount on your purchase if you're approved at the store; high interest rates usually go along with these offers. Before signing up for a credit card, check the fine print. If the incentive to get you to apply seems too good to be true, it probably is.

While the above steps will help you manage your debt, it still requires self-control and discipline on you and your family's part. I would like to wish you a happy, safe and debt-free holiday season.