'tis The Season -- To Find Ways To Avoid Falling Into Debt

Financial Counselors Report Surge In Clients

December 23, 1990|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff writer

The pressure is there, from children who are hoping for the latest trendy toy and a dinner as hearty as their schoolmates have, from relatives who expect to receive presents on par with those they give, from department stores teeming with shoppers seemingly fueling their own temptations to consume.

Perhaps most of all, pressure comes from within not to disappoint during the time of year when we tend to judge our merits by our abilities to please others.

That often equates to spending money, even when the checkbook is tilting into the red and credit cards are pushing their ceilings.

For those who aren't careful in their holiday season financial planning, those magnificent purchases made in December may be reincarnated as haunting reminders of a busted budget come January.

It's not only the gifts, entertaining and special meals that tax families' bankbooks at this time of year, said Judy Stuart, an agent specializing in home economics with the County Cooperative Extension Service.

Hidden costs such as decorations, wrapping paper, cards and postage, travel and long-distance phone calls should be taken into consideration when planning a budget, she said.

The Extension Service provides financial counseling year-round for county residents, but Stuart said that the office traditionally receives the most requests for help just after the holidays.

Stuart and eight volunteers serving as counselors advise clients on how to plan a budget, how best to manage credit card debts and how to save money for emergencies.

December is usually the "dead time of year" for financial advising "because people are in the spending mode," Stuart said.

However, the Extension Service has received many more pre-holidays requests than usual this year from families having trouble making ends meet, she said.

People are calling with stories of layoffs, lost jobs or reduced hours, she said, seeking advice not only for holiday pressure, but for more dire needs, such as housing and food expenses.

"Right now we're overwhelmed with the downturn in the economy," she said.

She's available for counseling by appointment at 848-4611.

For further counseling for people who have overspent, Stuart sometimes recommends calling the Consumer Credit Counseling Service, which has several offices throughout the state.

Jim Wise, vice president and director of marketing for Carroll County Bank and Trust Co., offers several general guidelines to help customers avoid overspending.

Consumers should avoid "impulse buying," or purchasing without knowing their monthly expenses or having planned budget in mind, he said. The bank advises clients to maintain a minimum reserve of two months' income set aside for unexpected expenses.

Many banks, including Carroll Bank and Trust, offer a Christmas savings plan -- money dedicated for a specific purpose -- to help people avoid going into debt.

The bank recently distributed more than $1 million to about 2,300 customers who took advantage of the plan, said Wise. About 1,700 already have opened Christmas accounts for next year, he said.

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