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Tips to stay afloat during the holidays

The holiday season is portrayed as a time of joy and giving. The giving aspect, however, is throwing some people further into debt and possibly toward bankruptcy. Experts have a few tips to help consumers avoid the shock of high credit card bills that may quickly become unpayable for next year's holiday season.

· Avoid layaway. If you cannot afford to buy the item outright, it is probably out of your budget. Layaway fees can also add more to the ultimate price.

· Consider a holiday fund. Taking $50 out of each paycheck leads to $600 for gifts. Make a budget and do not exceed the amount in your holiday coffer.

· Make a purchasing plan. Having a list will reduce impulse buys and likely cut down on time and money.

· Think ahead when decorating. Seasonal items tend to be 50 to 75 percent off after the holidays, so stock up and save for next year.

· Don't bother with ribbons, bows or fancy wrapping paper. They are disposable items. Getting rid of the frills saves money. Consider hand-decorating plain paper or reusing old bags.

· Don't host a holiday party alone. While people like to treat friends and family to a nice party, it can cost several hundred dollars. Host a potluck and, if there is going to be alcohol, encourage people to bring their own festive drinks.

· Don't be discouraged by debt. Make the largest payments possible and you will see the improvement from month to month.

· Get into the true spirit of the season. The point of the holidays is not to wow people with the most extravagant gifts, but about spending time with loved ones and being thankful for what we already have.

While these are all good tips, for some people accruing a mountain of debt can be unavoidable because of prolonged unemployment or a stack of medical bills. There are options out there, including bankruptcy protection, that can give people a fresh financial start.

Source: Daily American, "Growing debt a big holiday concern," Dan DiPaolo, Dec. 17, 2011

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