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Make a list, check it twice, to avoid debt during the holidays

Since the official kickoff of the holiday shopping season, many Florida families are scouting out the best deals and looking for fun surprises for their loved ones. While gift shopping can be fun and exciting, it's also important for Florida families to be wary of special offers and deals that might make them spend more than they can afford.

The "once a year" savings deals are often big discounts, but if shoppers overburden themselves this holiday season, the interest rates on their credit cards will erase the savings and bring on a big headache.

Consumer debt can be hard to discharge, and spending sprees for borrowers already in distress (even for gifts) are not looked upon kindly. However, there are a few simple things Florida shoppers can do to help control their spending and still get all the things they need to make the holidays cheerful and fun this year.

One way to avoid racking up too much debt is to take advantage of layaway programs at reputable stores. Borrowers should read the fine print and make sure they understand the terms of the agreement, but some layaway programs are a good alternative to using a credit card to pay for a big item. Stores like Toys R Us and Kmart have introduced programs with low or no interest and no fees to try to bring shoppers into the store, and using the smaller payments over time can make purchases more affordable.

Another simple way to avoid getting into spending trouble this year is to make a shopping plan and create a list of what you need to buy. Look online and in the newspaper before you set out so that you know where the good deals are, and stick to the list once you arrive at the store. Impulse purchases are a major source of stress for many holiday shoppers, so if something isn't on the list but you think you need it, wait a few days, go over your budget, and consider whether or not you can go back for that item.

Source: Associated Press, "5 tips to steer clear of debt in holiday spending" Dave Carpenter, Nov. 14

Florida borrowers who struggle with overwhelming debt and are looking for relief can find information about debtors' rights on our law firm's website.

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