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KNOXVILLE –- Concerned your holidays may leave you in the red — without much green?

There’s good reason to be concerned: The National Retail Federation predicts the average shopper will spend $832 on holiday merchandise this year. With many Americans using credit cards to purchase gifts, holiday expenses can quickly devastate personal finances.

However, debt doesn’t have to be part of the holidays. Ann Berry, assistant professor of family economics with University of Tennessee Extension, offers a few tips for enjoying the holidays without breaking the bank:

1. Make gifts and decorations –- Bake cookies for the office or make holiday tree ornaments instead of buying expensive gifts and decorations.

2. Cut back on holiday cards –- Greeting cards and postage can add up. Consider sending cards only to friends and relatives you will not see during the holidays. Or, consider sending electronic cards to friends and family.

3. Save on entertainment –- Try to attend free concerts and plays, instead of movies or expensive productions.

4. Watch for sales and promotions –- The National Retail Federation says retailers are emphasizing sales and promotions to drive purchases this year. Take advantage of those cost-saving opportunities. Set a spending limit and avoid impulse buying to keep expenses in check. Remember to budget not just for gifts, but also for hidden expenses like office parties, teacher “thank-you” gifts and food for holiday meals.

5. Rethink gift giving –- Instead of purchasing gifts for everyone in the office or family, draw names and set spending limits for purchases. Gifts do not have to be pricey to be appreciated.

6. Use credit wisely –- Charge amounts you can quickly repay and use one credit card to simplify bill paying. Keep receipts to keep track of expenses.

7. Make entertaining easy –- Consider co-hosting a holiday celebration with a friend, neighbor or family member to save time and money. Other ideas include hosting a potluck or only serving appetizers instead of a full meal.

8. Budget travel expenses –- People need to remember to include travel expenses such as food, lodging, gas and car maintenance in the holiday budget. If flying, book early and compare prices to find the best rates.

9. Share with those less fortunate –- Sharing time, money or food with charitable organizations will help people in need and bring holiday spending into perspective.

10. Save for next year –- Prepare for next year’s holidays by saving a little each month throughout 2009. Keep track of holiday spending in 2008 and use the information to plan how much to save for the holidays in 2009.

UT Extension operates as the off-campus division of the UT Institute of Agriculture. It is a statewide educational organization, funded by federal, state and local governments, that brings research-based information about agriculture, family and consumer sciences, and resource development to the people of Tennessee where they live and work.


Amy Blakely, UT media relations, (865) 974-5034,