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Holiday Spending Tips
When it comes to holiday spending, planning ahead is absolutely essential. A basic budget of how much can be spent can prevent the headache of holiday overspending in the following months. Of course, it is all too easy to spend too much money on gifts.

The day after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday and it is a once a year shopping phenomenon; the biggest of all shopping days. Black Friday has traditionally been a great opportunity for big savings on many items such as TVs and other electronics. DVDs and Blu-ray discs, for example, are typically discounted 50 percent or more. TV shows such as “The Big Bang Theory” might normally cost $30 or more, but might be found on Black Friday for perhaps $9 a season. Generally, the best deals on Black Friday are in the morning rather than later in the day, as retailers want consumers to shop early before spending their money elsewhere. Researching prices online at retail stores’ websites can help spot the best savings deals.

With bargain hunting shoppers counting down the days until the Black Friday bonanza, it is important to have a financial game plan in place to avoid overdoing it. Overspending can rob people of some of the joy of the season when struggling to pay normal monthly bills or to repay credit card debt.

It is vital to be proactive with a spending plan. The two most important things to do are to figure out an affordable holiday budget and stick to it.

Here are a few additional holiday spending tips:

• A holiday spending plan should include more than just a dollar amount for gifts, but also factor in costs for postage, cards, decorations, etc.

• Give a family gift instead of individual gifts. Give something the whole family can enjoy, such as a family-friendly DVD or game.

• Families on a budget may want to draw names rather than buy a gift for everyone in the family. This can help control spending.

• Wait to buy presents after Christmas at huge discounts for family or friends you won’t see until after Christmas anyway. Many items are often discounted 50 percent or more.

• Be careful not to buy expensive items that you cannot afford to show your love for someone. Instead, make a sentimental gift such as a photo collage of personal photos, or give a experience that person will treasure, such as going to their favorite restaurant and to a concert or movie of the person’s choice. A gift of a family photo collage or copying VHS tapes of home videos over to DVD can mean a lot more to someone than an expensive gadget, yet it won’t cost much money to do it yourself.

• Make your own gift certificates for baby-sitting, house or car cleaning, or some other service. Many people will appreciate this far more than some knick-knack you got for them at a store. It’s a valuable gift, but costs you nothing but some time.

• Make a homemade food gift. Homemade goods seem to be more rare today than in years past, making it even more of a special treat now. Some ideas include: cookies, cakes, or fudge.

• Re-gifting parties are becoming more popular. After the holidays, some groups gather to exchange gifts that may be nice but that aren’t a good fit for that person. Exchanging a gift for another one can get you a gift that you will like and use.

For next year, consumers should consider using layaway plans or getting a Christmas Club account or second savings account to set aside money throughout the year for holiday purchases. Another way to prepare for holiday spending would be to save up coins during the year which could easily amount to a few hundred dollars by next Christmas. Buying gift cards throughout the year to give as presents can help spread out the spending so it isn’t all at once.
Springdale Woman Named the National Housing Client of the Year
Working for a non-profit is a very rewarding experience; making a difference in people’s lives every day. Non-profit Credit Counseling of Arkansas made a positive difference in Linda Burton’s life. Linda, a 78-year-old widow, was recently named the National Housing Client of the Year at the annual National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) conference in Seattle. Five and a half years ago, the Springdale, AR resident started fighting to save her home, eventually turning to CCOA for help.

For years, Linda has cared for sexually abused and special needs children. She took Samantha, a special needs child, into her home 14 years ago. When Samantha reached age 18, the foster care support ended and without a committed caregiver, Samantha would have to be institutionalized. Burton would not let this happen. She became Samantha’s full-time caregiver and incurred additional expenses. Her good deed had negative financial consequences – she became late on her mortgage payment and was in a battle to save her home.

When she ran into initial trouble, she didn’t ignore it; she worked the problem. Before she went to CCOA, she talked to her mortgage company, to elected representatives, and others to find a solution to her problem. She wasn’t looking for a handout. She just wanted to find a way to bring the loan current and fulfill her mortgage obligation.

Never a wild spender, Linda was tempted on occasion to use credit to purchase things she needed for the house or to care for Samantha. After Linda and her CCOA financial counselor discussed the true cost of credit, she resolved to only purchase things after she had saved cash for them.

Knowing that she needed to raise income and reduce expenses, she began to raise several chickens on her property. She cut down grocery costs as a result, and sells the extra eggs to bring in added cash. Linda is a very energetic senior citizen with an almost limitless desire to help others. With her background as a caretaker at a local special needs school, she knew that special needs children are often able to connect with animals even when they can’t connect with other people. So she adopted a pair of goats, a small horse, in addition to the chickens. They graze on her property, so the upkeep costs are minimal. She hosts the children from The Sunshine School, where she used to work, from time to time.

After a long struggle, Linda was offered a mortgage modification. It was quite a battle, but with CCOA’s help she received a $38,000 reduction in her home loan principal debt, a 1.25% reduction in interest and a $352 lower monthly payment. She and Samantha are secure in their home and welcome frequent special needs children that visit to see their animals. View Linda sharing her story at click here. Are you struggling to stay in your home or know someone who is? If so, contact CCOA to help.
Create and Grow Your Emergency Fund Safety Net
Emergencies are a fact of life. A lot of things in life aren’t planned – a flat tire, an emergency room visit, or a broken air-conditioner, for example. The question isn’t whether an emergency will pop up, but whether someone is prepared for it or not. Many people are not financially ready for an emergency. In fact, 39 percent of American adults have no savings to cope with a financial emergency. Almost 60 percent of adults age 45 and under have less than $500 saved to deal with any emergencies.

Arkansans are struggling with personal finances. A CCOA website poll found 67 percent of participants stating that they have absolutely nothing saved to deal with emergencies. Nothing. These people are living on the edge of financial disaster.

Families who have little or nothing saved for an emergency will face an even bigger emergency when they don’t have the savings to pay for that ruined tire, hospital bill or broken appliance. That is a very stressful way to live, without any security.

For some security and peace of mind, people need to create an emergency fund which will be a helpful safety net if they encounter a problem. Non-profit CCOA recommends:

• Open a savings account if you haven’t already.
• Regularly deposit money into your account.
• Automatic deposit is the best and easiest way to save.
• Set a specific goal, such as $750, and write it down.
• Post your emergency fund goal where you will see it so it will be an ongoing reminder for you to save.

Having a savings safety net will go a long way to cover the financial emergencies that will eventually happen
Education Survey
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Money Check Up
Take the My Money CheckUp! Answer some basic money and credit questions to get a snapshot of how you are doing financially and what areas you may need to work on. Best of all – it’s FREE! Check Up
Help For Homebuyers
CCOA’s next free Homebuyer Education class is Saturday, November 1, at Washington County Extension Sign Up
Credit Counseling 101
Ever wonder what a credit counseling session looks like, or what exactly is a debt management plan? These short videos show you.
Website Updates
CCOA is committed to continually improving our service to you. Several clients have suggested that we add a new feature to our Web site that allows clients to access their quarterly client statements, rather than receive it in the postal mail. We heard you. This year we have been diligently working on creating this new capability for your convenience. Simply go to our Web site at www.CCOAcares.com and click on the “Client Log-In” tab on the top right of our home page.

Your username is your CCOA client number and your password is the primary’s last name plus the last four digits of the social security number.

If you have any questions please email us at ccoa@ccoacares.com or call 479-521-8877 or 800-889-4916.
Credit Counseling of Arkansas, Inc., Credit & Debt Counseling, Fayetteville, AR