FORT RUCKER, Ala. (October 25, 2012) -- Avoiding a holiday money hangover can be difficult with the pressures of gift giving, but the financial counselors at Army Community Service offer help staying on track while being a responsible consumer.

The holidays are coming up, and for some people it can be an expensive time with the tradition of making expensive purchases for friends and Family members, but there are a lot of ways for people to stay within their financial means, said Mike Burden, Army Community Service accredited financial counselor.

He suggested people should plan ahead, make lists, make and stick to a budget that they are comfortable with, 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.

Planning ahead is Burden's No. 1 tip, though.

"If you haven't got 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. Your dollar can only go so far," he said.

There are some repercussions to overspending that Burden said can hinder a Soldier's career as well as the Army mission.

"The Army requires Soldiers to be financially responsible. 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, so there are many safety concerns there. 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," he said.

There are also a few things people should be wary of, according to Burden.

"Don't wait until Black Friday to purchase the majority of Christmas gifts. There are sales just as good all year long. I would also suggest to not sign up for a store card," he said. "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."

Eggnog isn't the only overindulgence during the holidays, so Burden advises people to stay on track with spending.

"Just because 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.

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

"People resort to credit cards this time of year. Last December people charged more than $851 billion, according to the Federal Reserve Board, but the holidays can be a good time to charge," he said.

Burden said 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 run across a good deal on a big item, like a tablet, you can use a credit card and use the extended warranty on the item," he said. "On top of that, if the tablet doesn't work once out of the box and the company won't issue a refund or exchange, people can 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."

Burden also said it's OK to use a credit card if within a person's budget to pay the charges off quickly.

"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.

The rewards that many credit cards offer shouldn't be forgotten about when it comes to pinching pennies during the season.

"Some high-end cards have gift-card rewards where you can buy gift cards or other gifts with your reward points. Save those rewards for holiday gifts instead of having to pay for them out of pocket or charging them," said Burden.

An Investment 101 class will be held Nov. 15 at the Bowden Terrace Community Center for people interested in financial security.

For Soldiers or Family members concerned about holiday spending, financial counselors are 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.