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Understanding credit utilization

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Strategies for Financially Surviving the Holidays

Q. I love the holidays, but I always overdo it and end up with debt I didn’t plan on.  What can I do to keep this from happening this year?

A. Recognizing that you have a tendency to overspend at the holidays is a good place to start. And the best way to combat overspending is to make a holiday spending plan.

First, make a list of everyone you plan to buy gifts for. If you have a significant other or a spouse, make this list together.  As you create your list, think back to last year. Who did you buy a gift for?  Did you purchase gifts for extended family members, teachers, co-workers, or neighbors?  What about people who provide services for you, such as your mail carrier?  Will you plan to give him or her a gift? 

Once you have a complete list of names, the next step is to write down a tentative amount you plan to spend on each person.

You aren’t done with your list yet, though. Next, you need to consider a number of other expenses as part of your holiday spending plan. What do you plan to spend on holiday decorations?  Will your utility bills increase when you light up your house and tree this year?

Will you be traveling during the holidays?  Where will you stay, and what will this cost?  How much do you think you will spend on travel expenses?  How much extra will you spend on gas during the holidays?

What about food?  All of the extras for a holiday meal can quickly add up. Are you planning to bake holiday goodies?   Will you host a holiday party or send out cards? Add these expenses to your list. 

Now add up the total of your anticipated holiday expenses.  How do you plan to pay for all them?  Will you pay cash or charge them?  If you plan to charge your purchases, how long will it take you to repay what you borrow?

Taking a telescopic view of your holiday expenses is essential to help you plan ahead. But a more microscopic view can be helpful, too. Review your list and pause.  Ask yourself what you remember most about last year’s holiday season. Ask your family, too. Do you remember what you gave and received, or do you have other, stronger memories? 

Given these reflections, it’s time to consider if you need to adjust your list. Be realistic as you consider what you plan to spend in the season ahead.  Are you spending your hard-earned money on things you value? Are you going into debt for gifts that people don’t remember?  Are there alternatives that will let you celebrate the season without overspending? 

If you are going to charge your expenses this holiday season, use only one card. Otherwise, it is easy to fool yourself about what you are spending; spreading out expenses over several cards can make it easy to break your budget.  Use one card so that you can stay in control of your finances and follow your plan.

When you shop, keep your list with you—and stick to it! Sticking to your list is your great defense against overspending.  If you do deviate from your list, know that you will need to modify your spending elsewhere. 

The better you plan, the more you’ll be able to relax and enjoy the holiday season. Come January, you’ll be glad you did.

Bonnie Spain is the executive director of the American Center for Credit Education and Consumer Credit Counseling Service of the Black Hills. For more information, email acce@acce-online.com.

The material in this transmission is provided for personal, non-commercial, educational, and informational purposes only. ACCE makes no representations or warranties with respect to the accuracy or completeness of the contents of this transmission and assumes no responsibility for errors, inaccuracies, omissions, or any inconsistency herein. You should consult a professional where appropriate.