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Don#039;t be haunted by ghosts of Christmas

It's easy to over spend at Christmas time.

People tend to forget about hidden holiday costs such as clothing, extra groceries, carpet cleaning, wrapping supplies, postage and travel.

Added to the cost of presents and other seasonal expenses, serious financial problems can result.

To give yourself the best Christmas gift ever – peace of mind – plan more and spend less.

Here are a few suggestions to minimize your Christmas costs and stress.

* Figure out how much you can afford to spend, total.

Be sure to include all of the holiday expenses mentioned above.

* Make a gift list, and just like Santa, check it twice to see if you can afford what you are planning to spend.

* Never shop for Christmas gifts without your list of total costs; stay within your planned budget.

* If you get an urge to go overboard while spending, leave the store immediately while you still have control of yourself.

It's even a good idea, if you have time, to shop twice doing so the first time without any money.

* Avoid last minute shopping.

The stress will weaken your resolve to stick to your list and budget.

* Select presents big in thought and not in price.

* Make as many gifts as you can.

For others, give your time in the form of IOUs for services (such as house repair, yard work, cleaning windows).

Older people especially appreciate such gifts.

* Use one credit card for all your Christmas purchases to keep track of what you're spending.

* Attach half an index card to your credit card and keep a running total.

Looking at the total before you charge something new can keep you from spending.

* Protect your credit cards as if they were cash.

* Make sure salespeople record credit and cash purchases accurately before you accept your receipt.

* Make sure that the credit card handed back to you is your card.

* Take with you or tear up any carbon copies of credit card slips.

* Never list your social security number, address, or phone number on a credit card receipt.

It is illegal for a store to ask you to do this.

* Save sales receipts and check them against your monthly statements.

Report any discrepancies to the credit card provider right away.

* Do not give your credit card number over the phone unless you initiated the contact with a company you know and trust.

* This season is the perfect time to discuss money matters with your children if you haven't done so.

During Christmas, kids are bombarded with commercials telling them what they should have.

Without sounding like Scrooge, parents must convey to children the importance of setting financial limits and of making choices.

You might say, "If you get the $50 computer game you can't get much else."

The real message is that money is limited and you have to be satisfied with a finite amount.

* Let children make a list of the things they want and then have them choose.

Ask your child which three items are most important.