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Winter Park / Maitland Observer Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011 5 years ago

Debt-free holidays

Local group's tips for stress and debt free holidays
by: Richard Schram

With just a few shopping days left until Christmas, the malls are full of last-minute shoppers looking for just the perfect gift—or maybe any gift—for the special people on their list.

But putting your holiday shopping off to the last minute can result in added stress to you and your budget. Last-minute shoppers often succumb to impulse purchases and spend substantially more than they planned. Even if you haven’t purchased a single gift, you still have time to pick out just the right present for everyone on your list and stay within your budget.

CredAbility, one of the leading nonprofit credit counseling and education agencies in the U.S. with a major presence in Central Florida, offers these tips to help consumers:

-Review your gift-giving list. Jot down all the people you still need to find gifts for and how much money you can allocate to each gift. This will help keep you on target to stay within your holiday spending budget. If there are people you won’t see until after the holidays, you may be able to postpone purchasing their gift and take advantage of sales in late December and January.

-Look for retailer discounts over the coming days, which are crunch time for retailers and many are or will be offering steep discounts and other incentives to encourage shoppers to buy. Retailers are competing for your business and are offering great deals, particularly on electronics and toys. While these deals can help you save on items you already planned to buy, try and avoid making impulse purchases just because something is on sale.

-Order online. But be mindful of the timeframe to get your items delivered when you want. You will pay substantially more for overnight delivery, so be sure to factor those costs into your budget. Look for last-minute discount codes at sites such as or, which can help you find deals for dollars off, a percentage off, or free shipping that can add up to hundreds of dollars in savings. Many items may also be eligible for rebates. To find out if your purchases are eligible, visit If you’re looking for a special item, don’t forget auction sites such as Ebay as a place to find the perfect gift.

-Make it personal. When you make your list, make notes about each person’s interests. If you’ve got a movie junkie on your list, a gift card to the local video rental place along with some popcorn and candy might be just the ticket. Download some tunes and make a custom CD of a friend’s favorite artists. Know someone who loves to cook? Wrap up a single issue of a cooking magazine with a note letting them know they’ll be getting one every month.

-Be creative. Framed photographs or inexpensive scrapbooks that you put together or have done online are always a hit. Spend an evening baking and give containers of goodies to neighbors and coworkers. Maybe the people on your gift list would prefer a service to a tangible item. Who wouldn’t like a commitment for getting the car washed, a free night of babysitting or even the dinner cooked? Remember that some of the most appreciated gifts don’t cost a thing.

Still not sure what to buy? Avoid adding to your stress by asking for ideas. You can also opt for a gift card, which will allow the recipient to choose something you know they will like. Be sure to read the fine print on using gift cards, including what happens if it is lost or if it isn’t used right away.

Avoid using credit cards for last minute purchases. It is very tempting to spend more than you’ve planned, especially when you are rushed for time and feeling the stress of holiday shopping. Leaving your credit cards at home will help ensure that you will stick to your budget and avoid the post holiday blues.

Time with family and friends is the best gift you can give this year. The memories you create will long outlast any gift you can purchase. So make a plan, finish up that shopping, and start enjoying the true gifts of the season.

For more information budget and credit counseling, debt management and other programs or services, visit or call 800-251-2227.

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