Good Question: Keeping a hold on holiday spending

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Question: With the holiday season upon us, I'm looking for ways to minimize my spending this year. Do you have any suggestions?

Answer: It's hard to believe that it is November and Thanksgiving is less than two weeks away. If you haven't started to already, now is the time to begin preparing for holiday expenses.

First, start by making a list for everyone who you plan on purchasing a gift. Do some research before heading out shopping. Try to list several gift ideas and a price range for what you want to spend.

When possible, set a budget for the family and friends on your shopping list. Once your budget is set, stick to it.

Before you start, plan out the stores where you will be shopping. If possible, purchase gift cards for these stores from local grocery stores to take advantage of gas discount programs. This will not only save you money at the gas pump, but it is a good way to stick to your budget.

Consider utilizing the layaway option most retailers are offering this holiday season. Using layaway may help you avoid shopping with credit cards by making payments on purchases every two weeks. Some stores offer free layaway up until Thanksgiving, so research programs and determine if it makes sense to use layaway.

Try to start your shopping as soon as possible. The more time you give yourself to shop, the less likely you will be to make impulse purchases that don't fit your budget. Also, when out shopping, try to avoid applying for the store credit card just to save an additional percentage on your purchase. Applying for credit frequently lowers your credit score, and if you have the ability to pay for the purchase at the time of sale, it's best to do so.

If your gift-giving budget is very tight this year, consider gifts other than material items. Maybe make a donation on behalf of your friends and family to a charity or give someone the gift of your time doing a chore they don't like to do.

When planning for your holiday expenses, it's important to consider everything that goes into the holidays, not just the gift buying. We typically tend to entertain more this time of year or attend more events that could result in additional expenses.

Try tracking your expenses between now and the end of the December. Notate everything you spend or keep an envelope to stash receipts for all purchases. Total everything up and separate out purchases made specifically for holiday celebrations and gifts. Divide this number by 10 and set that amount aside every month until next November. It will provide a head start on your holiday expenses for next year.

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Heather Murray is manager of education and resource development for Advantage Credit Counseling Service (dba Consumer Credit Counseling Service). For more information about the agency's services, please visit If you have money or credit management questions, you can email Ms. Murray at Please provide your name, address and daytime telephone number with all inquiries. Ms. Murray tries to reply to all inquiries but, because of the volume of questions she receives, she cannot always respond.


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