Albany-- It's what many call the most wonderful time of the year but your Christmas cheer could lead to Christmas debt. Americans are expected to rack up a record amount of debt by the end of the year. That could add up to financial trouble at the beginning of 2008.
It's the season of spending, much of it with the gift of plastic. That makes it easy to swipe now and think about it later.
"I used to take my grandchildren to the mall and probably spend at least $2,000," said shopper Marie Lasseter.
At the Albany Mall, we found Marie Lasseter taking a shopping break. After several years of breaking the bank to fund Christmas shopping, things had to change.
"I have learned. I'm 66 years old and I've learned not to do that but I used to," laughed Lassiter. She's happy she learned before it was too late. Others aren't so lucky.
"We here in this agency have seen some debts, credit card debt, between $130,000 and $150,000," said Irma Whitten.
Irma Whitten with the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Southwest Georgia says lots of times it's Christmas that has clients knocking on her door come January. "In January, all the bills start coming in and our clients look at those bills and say whoops I spent too much money," said Whitten.
So to prevent the shock, Whitten says be strict. "Have a Christmas budget and then assign a dollar amount to everyone that's on your list," said Whitten. And once you make that budget and list, go ahead and be specific. Put on paper what you intend to buy for that person. Once again, be strict.
"Make sure it doesn't exceed the budgeted figure that you have," said Whitten.
But what possibly is the best advice is come January, begin planning for November and December. "Always establish a Christmas savings account and they are commonly referred to as Christmas clubs and some of the banks still offer those," said Whitten.
Marie Lasseter offers her own advice. "You've got to settle down and remember Christmas isn't going in debt so that next year you're struggling, causing trouble in marriages and the pressure of Christmas causes that," said Lasseter.
She reminds us again that she's learned from experience.
"I'm 66 years old and it took a long time for me to learn," said Lasseter. It was a hard earned lesson but now her holidays are happier and cheaper.
Another piece of advice is to just take one credit card with you when you go shopping. That way, you won't be urged to pull out another one for that impulsive purchase. And if you do go a little overboard with the shopping, make sure you pay more than that minimum payment.
If you do find yourself in a deep financial hole, there are options to help you get them under control. CCCS of Southwest Georgia offers a debt management plan that could help get payments and interest rates lowered. For more information, call 229-883-0909.