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Lynn Little: Think before reaching for your wallet this holiday season

December 04, 2009|By LYNN LITTLE / Special to The Herald-Mail

During the holiday season, opportunities to spend are plentiful. In addition to buying gifts and their wrappings, we incur expenses for holiday meals, travel, decorations, snacks and party foods, greeting cards and postage and more.

Given the uncertain economy and employment situation, it is important to give some thought to what you can spend before you begin spending.

Making the decision to hold the line on spending is an important gift you can give to yourself and your family.

To help focus on what's important, ask family members what holiday traditions mean the most to them. You may be surprised to learn that a child's favorite traditions are relatively simple, such as baking cookies with Grandma.

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Children also might opt for spending less on holiday gifts and saving more for a summer vacation.

Let family preferences guide the decision-making process. Can your family come to agreement on a spending limit? Should your family draw names, or choose to give gifts to children but limit gifts for adults? No one decision is right for everyone, as each family is different.

When you are ready to shop, be smart. Give yourself plenty of sleep the night before, eat a full meal, put together a gift list and go at a time when the stores are least crowded (usually early in the day or toward closing).

Shopping when you're tired, hungry, buying spontaneously or in a hurry might lead to hasty decisions and unnecessary spending.

Applying for a store card to earn an immediate discount can prompt unnecessary spending. Pay with cash or a debit card, leaving your credit cards at home.

Shopping with a credit card can give you an inflated sense of buying power. If you view your credit limit as your spending limit, you are likely to spend more than you planned and more than you can reasonably pay off at the end of the card-billing cycle.

The downturn in the economy has prompted shopping in thrift shops and second-hand stores. Bargain hunting can be practical and fun, as well as less costly.

Volunteering your time to help others can benefit your family, so consider volunteer opportunities during the holiday season.

Helping to stock a local food pantry or providing holiday foods for a family in need can help others in your community.

Serving at a community holiday dinner, or adopting a family with children similar in age to your own can engage your children in helping meet the needs of others.

Holiday gifts need not be costly, as it truly is the thought behind the gift that counts. People like to know that they are remembered.

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Extension in Washington County.

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