PARKERSBURG - As legions of shoppers flock to Thanksgiving Day sales and Black Friday specials many will regret that while the presents are opened Dec. 25 they realize they spent too much.
Tammy Gaston, executive director of the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of the Mid-Ohio Valley, said the best way to avoid overspending on Christmas purchases is to make a plan before heading out to the stores.
"Make a budget, and on that budget you need to list who you will buy for and how much you are spending for that person and stick to it," she said. "One thing to avoid is buying things for yourself."
Gaston said that is difficult for some because while shopping many shoppers come across bargains on things they want and then blow their budget on that item.
"A lot of times you'll see something and think to yourself I really need that and then buy it," she said.
Gaston said shoppers have asked for and stores have brought back lay away programs that allow customers to make a downpayment and then make payments until the full price is paid. She added the upside is there is no interest on the purchase.
Gaston said it is also helpful to put a time limit on how long each shopping trip will last to avoid overspending and losing track of what is spent.
"If you use credit cards, consider how long it will take you to pay back what you've spent and try to use that as bonus points so you earn gift cards to make purchases," she said. "You might want to consider debit cards that will limit your spending; of course, make sure you have the money in the account to cover the purchase."
Debit cards make it possible to spend cash without the risk of carrying cash in crowded stores, malls and shopping centers.
Gaston said there are a number of other strategies people have been using since the 2008 financial crisis.
"You might have gift cards you haven't used from last year and many people are regifting," she said. "Sometimes that might be a good thing depending on what the item is."
Gaston said other money savers would be to go online and look for special offers that are not made available in the brick and mortar stores or coupon offers on line to be used in the stores.
"You could also be creative in gift giving," she said. "Many times the best gifts are homemade that is some meaning to it. Other times you can find good prices on antique or rare items.
If you find you've over spent and have trouble keeping up with payments, Gaston said credit counselors like Consumer Credit Counseling Service of the Mid-Ohio Valley can help.
"You can call us and we can work with you to set up a budget and then we can work with your creditors to make a payment schedule and maybe even lower the interest rate."
Gaston said some creditors may have in house debt management programs, but sometimes that might not work and credit counseling can help.
"A credit counseling program can help reduce interest and eliminate late payment fees and over limit fees that can really add up sometimes as much as $70 to $100 per month plus interest added on to the balance that keeps growing," she said. "They pile up and you are so far in debt you can't get yourself out."
Gaston said it all goes back to having a plan.
"Plan ahead and you'll avoid a lot of the common problems," she said.