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Holiday Stress Magic Number? $646

December 8, 2011

BALTIMORE – With the holiday shopping season entering the homestretch, financial planners say now is a good time for a checkup for the family budget.

The average Maryland family is expected to drop $646 on gifts this year, according to the American Research Group.

People can save themselves a lot of stress by sticking to good rules about spending, says Kelli Hinkle, director of the Alliance For Sustainable Families. Although she admits it can be hard for families to manage their money during this time of year, she stresses that it's important.

"Establishing a budget and sticking to that budget. Know in advance what your limitations are for spending for the holidays, and stick to it."

It can be more difficult to stick to those plans when using credit cards, Hinkle says. Paying cash for purchases isn't very convenient these days, and sometimes not even possible - especially with online retailers. Even when using plastic, she says, use a cash mindset to avoid pitfalls.

"If it's not paid off, you end up paying tons of fees, and then if you can't pay them on time, paying fees on top of that, and that's money you could be saving."

She says the basic financial lessons of the holiday shopping season are really the same as the rest of the year.

"Don't wait 'til the holidays to do the budget. Do your budget in January and then have that all laid out by the time the holidays come around."

Holiday spending on gifts is expected to be down about 2 percent this year, and down more than $400 from 10 years ago.

Holiday spending forecasts and history are online at americanresearchgroup.com/holiday.

Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - MD