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Courier-Journal: Debt-Free for the Holidays

Chris Harris, Ken Combs Running Store

This year is a cash-only, pay-as-you-go holiday for Chris Harris. He knows what he will spend — about $50 in all for a family gift. Otherwise, the Ken Combs Running Store salesman said that in December he will be “in baking mode,” producing up to eight dozen cookies for co-workers and friends.

“The most valuable gift I can give for Christmas is my love and attention,” Harris, 49, said of his baking marathon. “Everybody gets chocolate chip cookies and Christmas cards from me. My house smells wonderful for hours and hours.”

Unlike most Americans, Harris is a longtime saver with established habits that prevent impulse spending. He carries no revolving credit card debt and pays cash whenever possible.

“When I am getting ready to buy something, the thought always running through my head is, ‘Do I really need that?’ ” he said. “I am not stressed out of my mind all the time worrying about where the money is coming from.”

Americans will spend, on average, 30 percent more than normal in the six weeks leading up to New Year’s Day, for an average household expenditure of about $700, social worker Reeta Wolfsohn said.

Shoppers, on average, spend 15 hours in stores or online making purchases during that time, and many will work until June 2013 to pay down credit card debt incurred during their holiday binge, she said. The founder of the Center for Financial Social Work in Asheville, N.C., Wolfsohn trains mental health professionals on techniques to help people gain control of their finances.

“It is supposed to be a joyful time, except we are stressed out about money and shopping,” Wolfsohn said in an interview Tuesday. “It is our habits that determine our lives and our financial circumstances, during the holidays in particular.”

Sondra Powell, the owner of Red Hot Roasters, a coffee drive-through at Payne Street and Lexington Road near downtown, says she tries to choose gifts that are “thoughtful and don’t cost a lot of money.”

For two nieces, for example, Powell said she will be giving a picture frame with a coupon for a special activity together. This year, the gift coupon is for a boxing lesson. After that experience, she will frame the picture as a cherished family keepsake.

“It doesn’t cost a lot of money at all. That gift is not going to get lost with all those other material things they are going to get,” Powell, 37, said. Her nieces are 10 and 5 years old, and boxing lessons for the three of them, she estimates, will run about $60 with pink Everlast gloves or $30 without.

Powell also shops during the year for nostalgic items mentioned by family and friends. If a friend said he or she played with a Magic 8 Ball toy as a kid, Powell said she will look for that item during her regular hobby of frequenting flea markets and garage sales.

“Giving a gift is not fun if it comes with a heavy price tag later. It is super stressful to worry about it,” she said. “Budgeting it throughout the year helps me manage the stress.”

From: The Courier-Journal


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