Ho, ho, hold up be­fore you spend this sea­son

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - BUSINESS - By Sarah Skid­more Sell AP Per­sonal Fi­nance Writer

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of hol­i­day shop­ping, but it’s not al­ways as easy to foot the bill.

The Na­tional Re­tail Fed­er­a­tion says con­sumers plan to spend an av­er­age of $935.58 dur­ing the hol­i­day shop­ping sea­son - the sec­ond high­est level on record. Whether that is a lit­tle or a lot for you, we have some ex­pert tips on how to find a com­fort­able spend­ing level and stick to it this year:

As­sess

Be hon­est with your­self about your fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion be­fore you be­gin.

If you are al­ready strug­gling to pay bills or car­ry­ing debt, you prob­a­bly shouldn’t take on more.

Avoid ex­treme mea­sures to pay for the hol­i­days. A re­cent sur­vey of more than 1,000 par­ents by T. Rowe Price found that while the bulk save for the hol­i­days through­out the year, about a quar­ter have at some point pulled money from

their re­tire­ment ac­count, emer­gency fund or taken a pay­day loan to cover hol­i­day spend­ing.

Not sure where you stand? The Na­tional Foun­da­tion for Credit Coun­sel­ing has a web­site that can help you as­sess your fi­nan­cial well-be­ing be­fore you start to buy at www.MyHol­i­dayCheckUp.org .

Talk

Start by say­ing “no” to some of the more costly hol­i­day tra­di­tions that might bust the bud­get, said Bruce McClary of NFCC. It can be hard to chal­lenge those ex­pec­ta­tions, but it will be even harder to dig your­self out of a fi­nan­cial hole.

Par­ents have a par­tic­u­larly hard time when it comes to their kids, said Marty Al­len­baugh, a fi­nan­cial plan­ner at T. Rowe Price. He said that par­ents some­times find it eas­ier to get every­thing on a child’s wish list rather than have a more chal­leng­ing con­ver­sa­tion about wants and needs.

This is a big mis­take as these talks can help them de­velop a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing about money. That doesn’t mean you have to be a scrooge though. “It’s OK to splurge a lit­tle, but just don’t go over­board at the ex­pense of your own well­be­ing,” Al­len­baugh said.

Bud­get

Set and stick to a hol­i­day spend­ing bud­get.

The first part is easy: fig­ure out how much you want to spend and keep track of your ex­penses as you go. The sec­ond part is harder: stick­ing to this once you are in the store or on­line and get ex­cited about the deals. To com­bat this, Heather Bat­ti­son of Tran­sUnion sug­gests writ­ing your bud­get and shop­ping list out and car­ry­ing it with you or putting it on your smart­phone as a re­minder.

Be savvy

Credit cards are one of the most pop­u­lar ways to pay for hol­i­day gifts and that’s fine, un­less you can­not pay it off im­me­di­ately. Think twice be­fore ac­cept­ing the of­fer for a store card at check­out, as those of­ten have very high in­ter­est rates. They also have low spend­ing lim­its, which can in­crease your uti­liza­tion rate — the amount of avail­able credit that you use. And that can hurt your credit score.

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