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CCCS recommends caution in shopping for holidays

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The holidays are rapidly approaching. Soon we'll be indulging in favorite seasonal rituals decorating hearth and home, baking traditional treats, singing carols and corresponding with faraway friends. Then there's that most popular holiday activity of them all ... shopping.

According to a press release from Consumer Credit Counseling of Springfield, indulging in that last endeavor is what often lands consumers in financial trouble.

"It's easy to get caught up in the holiday spirit and buy, buy, buy," said CCCS' Jerry Jones in the release. "But it's the Grinch who appears after January 1st when you're facing a stack of bills you can't pay."

CCCS added that holiday merrymakers can best avoid the financial Grinch by shopping carefully and sticking to a spending plan.

To that end, Consumer Credit Counseling offers the following tips on preventing overspending:

Get a plan. You should develop a workable holiday budget. To do so, first list all holiday-related expenses, starting with the obvious gifts and decorations. However, remember items such as postage, charitable donations and travel. Add up the total and compare it with what you have available to spend. If it's more than you can afford, look for areas to trim expenses.

Evaluate your gift list. Your list should be limited to family and perhaps close friends, depending on your budget. For those you are unable to buy for, send a personal holiday card or note. Determine how much you want to spend on each person and keep in mind that some of the most thoughtful gifts cost next to nothing.

For instance, give time or services, such as baby-sitting, or create a handcrafted item instead of a store-bought one. Often these gifts can mean more to a recipient than something on which you've spent a lot of money,

Shop smart. Never shop in a rush or under pressure, because that can lead to overspending. With extra time, you can comparison shop and search for the best possible deal. Before you buy, reflect and ask yourself if the gift is appropriate for the recipient and within your spending limit.

Use credit wisely. Decide what items you will buy on credit and remember these tips:

1. Limit your credit purchases to one or two cards.

2. Try to use cards with the lowest interest rates.

3. Keep track of your credit purchases by writing down each one on a 3-by-5-inch index card or by paper clipping charge receipts together.

4. Monitor your credit purchase totals daily or weekly so you know the total amount you have charged.

5. Don't charge more than you can afford to repay within three months.

Don't tempt yourself. Sometimes we can't resist the "one extra little gift," But these small items often break our budget. Just staying away from the mall can keep you from making unnecessary purchases. Plan non-shopping-related outings instead.

If you need help keeping away from the financial Grinch or in developing a holiday budget, you may contact Consumer Credit Counseling of Springfield at 889-7474.

CCCS is a nonprofit, community service organization that provides confidential counseling, guidance, debt management and education programs to financially troubled consumers.

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