FORT RUCKER, Ala. (November 27, 2013) -- Many Americans feel the sting of holiday spending well into the new year, so the financial counselors at Army Community Service offer help for people to become responsible consumers while still having a Christmas full of gift giving.

Before drowning in tinsel and debt, people can take advantage of the financial services that the installation offers by learning of the ways to stay within designated financial means, said Mike Burden, ACS accredited financial counselor.

"The holidays are usually an expensive time with the tradition of making expensive gift purchases for friends and Family members, but if people plan ahead, make lists, and make and stick to a budget, then they can really head off some of the financial hangovers that many experience in February," he said.

Some of Burden's tips are to buy in bulk, make homemade gifts, reuse gift bags, use reward points, keep receipts, shop at discount stores, buy gifts all year long at sales and squirrel them away, participate in secret Santa games and take advantage of bargains.

"If you don't have a plan or list now, you need to make one. People need to prepare for the holidays long before the season gets here. People need to have a spending plan and set aside money all year long for holiday purchases," he said.

It can be hard for many people to stay financially disciplined during the holidays, so Burden warns, "If you make $5, don't spend $6.

"If you wait until the last minute to buy something you're going to pay more for it. So spend your money wisely. Take advantage of the after-Christmas sales by buying stocking stuffers, small gifts, wrapping paper and decorations to prepare for next year, and know how much you can spend," he said.

Overspending repercussions can not only hinder a Family's springtime activities, it can affect a Soldier's career, as well as the overall Army mission.

"The Army requires Soldiers to be financially responsible," said Burden. "Overspending can cause a number of stressors. Soldiers may be distracted from their job or the overall mission if they are thinking about their money problems. It can also cause relationship issues with a spouse. And lastly, overspending and a bad credit history can interfere with a Soldier's security clearance."

People should not wait until Black Friday to purchase the majority of Christmas gifts, said Burden. Instead, he advises people to take advantage of sales all year long and to avoid signing up for store cards.

"Stores will give you a discount for opening a new account, and while it might seem like a good deal, the interest rate is usually higher and encourages spending money that you know will be difficult to pay off later," he said.

But staying on budget and planning ahead, said Burden, are people's best chances of staying financially fit during the holiday season.

"When you see something that you think you just can't live without, step back and think about the purchase and see if it is something that is within your budget. You might have to sacrifice another item," he said.

Using a credit card to offset the burden of buying gifts is a tactic often used by parents this time of year. Burden said that using a charge card during the holiday season could be a smart thing to do, if done correctly.

"If you can pay the amount charged in two to three months after the holidays, then you are basically borrowing money for free," he said.

Burden added that everything from challenging purchases to taking advantage of big ticket item deals are benefits to using a credit card during the Christmas season.

"If you buy a gaming system on your credit card, and it doesn't work once out of the box and the company won't issue a refund or exchange, call the credit card company and challenge the purchase.

"You can tell them to not pay the company until the dispute is settled," he continued. "Also, if a person purchases something online and it is damaged or never shows up, the credit card can be used to challenge the shipping fee."

For Soldiers or Family members concerned about holiday spending, a financial readiness training class will be held Dec. 6 from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Bldg. 5700, Rm. 284. Financial counselors are also available during business hours in Bldg. 5700 on the third floor in Army Community Service and can be reached by calling 255-9631 or 255-2594.

Page last updated Wed November 27th, 2013 at 00:00