DEAR READERS: Since advice is my business, and the season for gift-giving is upon us, I offer these suggestions to help avoid financial stress and holiday burnout:
-- Because the Internet makes shopping easy, there is a danger of losing track of holiday expenses. Take control by making a gift list with how much you can afford to spend on each, and stay as close to the list as possible.
-- Consider giving "family gifts" instead of individual gifts, especially to those who are not immediate family. It could save time and trouble, not to mention a bundle. Announce that you think it is time to scale back a bit -- and you'll probably hear many sighs of relief.
-- Give home-baked goodies or gift baskets you create to neighbors and co-workers with whom you traditionally exchange gifts. Encourage them to do the same. Remember, it's the thought that counts, so put on your thinking cap.
-- Be a smart shopper and compare prices. Items may be offered for a cheaper price at a store you don't usually frequent. Compare Internet pricing with catalogs and local retail store ads. The price advantage may warrant the extra time and trouble to shop locally.
-- Shop early. Don't wait until the last minute when you're desperate and willing to overpay just to have a gift. If possible, shop on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday during nonpeak hours, such as mornings or late afternoons. Shop the Internet a few weeks in advance of the holidays to avoid paying "rush shipping" charges and to guarantee that the items are in stock and your packages won't get bogged down in the holiday shipping overloads.
-- Shop carefully when using credit cards. For some, using plastic doesn't seem like spending "real money," so the totals can get out of hand. Write down everything you charge to more easily keep spending in check, and check the bills when they arrive.
It's easy to be seduced by the idea that you don't have to pay "until next March." Ask yourself, if I can't afford it now, will I be able to afford it in March? (The answer is probably "no.")
-- If you shop online, use a secure browser, order only from companies with which you are familiar, and print out copies of all purchase orders and confirmation numbers. This is invaluable if you have to dispute an order.
-- Once you have purchased a gift for everyone on your list, STOP SHOPPING. With stores and ads so festive, it's tempting to buy extra gifts. If you don't go shopping, you won't have to exercise your "won't power."
Everyone will be happier without an overabundance of gifts that only feed the "greed gene." Trust me.
Happy holidays, one and all. -- LOVE, ABBY