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Enjoy the holidays without going bankrupt

By Lilly Flores-Janecek | 37th Training Wing Public Affairs Office | Nov. 9, 2007

LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, TEXAS — Traditionally, the big holiday shopping day is the day after Thanksgiving, but according to a Team Lackland financial expert, now is the best time to do your shopping if you have budgeted for the extra expense.

"If you can shop early that is the best time to get a real bargain," said Tony Davis, financial consultant with the Airman and Family Readiness Flight. "The stores are stocked right now and the prices are low. If you can afford to do it now, early is better than waiting till the end."

According to the National Retail Federation's 2007 Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, conducted by BIGresearch, consumers plan to spend an average of $816.69 for holiday-related shopping.

Shoppers plan to spend an additional $106.67 on "non-gift" purchases by taking advantage of special promotions and discounts to treat themselves. This brings total planned holiday-related spending to $923.36, an increase of 3.7 percent from 2006 and in line with NRF's economic forecast of 4 percent.

"Set a budget before you go shopping," said Mr. Davis. "How much money do you have set aside now? The holidays are not about getting into debt or spending money you expect to receive later like a tax return."

If you have not planned for the extra expense, Mr. Davis says you need to chalk it up as a lesson learned and start setting aside money for next year.

"Don't punish yourself because you didn't plan for it. Don't skip paying a bill so you can buy someone a gift," said Mr. Davis. "Buy what you can afford within your pay grade."

According to Mr. Davis, it's important to compare prices before you shop, and he said a good place to start is the base exchange since items there are tax free. He also cautions against impulsive buying and so-called "sales."

"Look for coupons and do not be ashamed to use them," said Mr. Davis.

Another holiday expense that should be factored into developing a budget and avoiding the pitfalls of overspending is travel.

"Did you save up money to go home? If you didn't save up money to go home, buy a lovely card, put a picture of yourself in it and send it to wherever you were hoping to go," said Mr. Davis. "Tell the family, you will be there next year and start planning for it."

He said it's important to keep in mind that Airmen must pay their debts in a timely fashion or they run the risk of being released from the Air Force.

"Don't be afraid to ask for help. Don't let your pride set in, if your budget is tight," said Mr. Davis. "Talk to your first sergeant. They know what it's like and won't tell everyone."

The Airman and Family Readiness Flight is also available to assist Airmen and their families with financial advice and budget planning. For more information, call 671-3722.