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Make a List, Check It Twice and Have a Debt-Free Christmas

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With the holiday season just around the corner, it's that time of year when your credit cards come out of hibernation and play "Santa's Elves" to make sure that everyone in your family gets what they asked for.

It's easy to spend and spend (and spend!) during this season. While generosity is a good thing, going into unmanageable debt is not. It's like coal in your stocking and it will be an unpleasant "gift" if you're still paying it off months from now.

Here are 5 ways to add a dash of organization to your holiday shopping to help you avoid the credit agencies' "Naughty" list.

  • Don't just go to the store and look for inspiration! Get your family to make a list of what they want for Christmas. This will keep you focused and help you to avoid impulse shopping on other peoples' behalf!
  • Sit down with those lists and do some comparison shopping online. Sure, there might be Christmas sales at stores but you might find the same stuff cheaper if you buy it altogether online (like at Amazon.com for example). End result? You save money plus you avoid the shopping mall headaches and hassles.
  • For the stuff you can't get online, organize your shopping trip(s) to the mall. Minimize the trips (to avoid excess fuel and eating-out costs). Know what you want to buy and where it's available and how much it should cost. (A chart would help but that sounds like it will suck all the fun out of Christmas. Believe me when I tell you: it may make Christmas seem less festive but it will keep you merry through the spring when you don't have as much debt to pay off.)
  • Create a payment plan! This is something that almost no one does but it will help you. Decide up-front how much you can spend (based on what you want to get people) and how you will pay for it. For most people, paying for Christmas is a mix of cash and credit. (More cash than credit is better but I'm also realistic enough to know that this is improbable.)
  • Keep all your receipts. This is critical for two reasons. First, if that sweater you bought your husband doesn't quite fit, it's easy to bring back for a refund or exchange. Second, when your credit card bill arrives in January, you can pull out your receipts and confirm the amount. There won't be any surprises and you might catch any problems (such as overcharging or even credit theft).
Meryl Starr (http://www.merystarr.com) a personal organizer, offered these tips:
  • Keep it simple! Give out gift cards. If you know someone likes a certain magazine, give them a subscription.
  • Save on wrapping and look for old fabric napkins you have and wrap up a gift.
  • This season of the year is always chaotic -- the kids have school plays, you've got holiday parties to attend, there are family dinners and extended family dinners and who-are-these-people dinners you have to go to. But when the tree comes down and the giftwrap is cleaned up, you'll enjoy your spring a lot more because you rose above the chaos with a little organized Christmas debt-management.

Please let me know any holiday credit questions you may have: Jeanne.Kelly@TheCreditOwl.com