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I'm going to let you in on a little-known technique used by those of us who have been on the consumer finance beat for a while. Around this time every year, we dig into our article archives, dust off the previous year's "How to Survive the Holidays" column, rework a few paragraphs, replace the dated pop culture references, and send our revised prose to our editors to pretty up and post online alongside the 1,430,000 other articles you get when you Google "holiday savings tips."
It's not that we're bored with the topic, or that we're trying to get out of the office early. It's just that barring any major technological developments (the invention of e-commerce, for example), the advice is pretty much the same every year:
- Plan ahead.
- Make a budget.
- Remember to turn off your headlights after you get to the Wal-Mart parking lot on Black Friday morning.
Hey, at least I'm willing to fess up to this annual writer ritual. (See paragraph seven of the 2010 version of my "Holiday Savings Tips..." article.)
It must be a slow news holiday
This year, I'm going to try something different. I'm not going to delete the roughly 483 holiday-related PR pitches piling up in my inbox, making it difficult to conduct personal business on my work computer. Nope, instead of emptying my e-trash, I'm going to share the contents, and let you decide whether there's breaking-news material the public must know this very minute.
I've got nothing against any of the folks pitching their services or sites or books to me to write about. Some make great sources -- just not on this particular topic. But maybe it's just me. So please tell me in the comments area below if:
- I'm robbing the public of any earth-shattering new holiday savings advice by failing to disseminate the information currently being circulated to the personal-finance press corps, and/or...
- You've got a holiday-related survival tip that you're surprised to see ignored by the mainstream press. (Seriously, share it in the comments area! That's what's going to make this article live up to the headline, after all.)
Presenting 2010's top holiday survival tips PR people asked me to share
The following are excerpts from a handful of the 13 holiday-related press pitches sent to my attention. On Wednesday alone. (I'm focusing on a single day's emails, since I assume you have someplace to be eight to 46 hours from now.)
Tips for shopping with a credit card
The folks at Lowcards.com have some prudent advice for those packing plastic this holiday season. Stop me if you've heard these before. Actually, stop me if you haven't heard these before:
- "If you can't afford to pay off your credit card balance in November, then you can't afford to add a lot more to it."
- "Start saving now for the January credit card bill. Look at what you spent last year. If you are still paying that off, then you should reduce spending this year."
- "Use your rewards points for holiday shopping. These can be used to buy gift cards with many retailers."
I guess that it's still a bad idea to rack up credit card debt over the holidays. That said, the Lowcards.com press release did contain this tip that, while not new, is worth reminding readers about:
- "Verify your credit limit before you shop. If purchases push you close to your credit limit, this increases your debt utilization ratio, a major component of your credit score. Holiday shopping could cost you even more if your credit score drops and your interest rates go up. The goal is to keep debt utilization under 30%."
To get reporters' attention -- while touting the various rewards and discounts you can get using the UPromise World MasterCard -- the folks from UPromise.com, an affiliate of Sallie Mae (NYSE: SLM ) , suggest writing up the following tips for budget-minded readers:
- "Make a list and check it twice. Create a shopping list and a budget for how much you want to spend. Then, look for sales and coupons to make your money go further. Always track your purchases and keep your receipts for easy returns and full refunds."
- "Shop early and often to get the best deals. Watch for sales and discounts, and spread your purchases out over a longer period of time."
- "Buy online and look for coupons and free shipping offers. Coupon use is on the rise as more consumers click or clip to save. Thousands of coupon codes and free shipping offers are featured at Upromise.com so you don't have to hunt or miss valuable savings."
8 smart ways to shop for the holidays
The debt management company DebtGoal.com makes its money when you sign up to fix the stupid things you do with yours. Still, in the spirit of the holidays, the company doles out eight tips to prevent you from becoming a customer. They include, well, all the stuff you've read before:
- Make a plan.
- Know what your people want.
- Avoid credit.
- Use layaway.
- Track as you go.
- Avoid store credit cards.
- Don't forget the hidden holiday costs.
- Negotiate your rate.
- Actually, do the opposite of all that stuff we just said, and then contact us. (Just joking ... this isn't one of their tips. But I bet it crossed someone's mind when composing this press release.)
What you're getting for the holidays, according to American Express
It's hard to know the appropriate amount to spend on a gift -- until you know what a research sample of 2,001 adults from "the general U.S. population, as well as two subgroups -- the affluent and young professionals" says they're going to spend. You're in luck: The latest American Express (NYSE: AXP ) Spending & Saving Tracker survey happened to ask 2,001 random adults just that!
Answer: "The average American will spend $710 on holiday gifts this year with that figure nearly doubling to $1,384 among those who earn $100,000 or more per year."
Spoiler alert! Avert your eyes if you want to be completely surprised on Christmas morning. (Unless you're not expecting a gift from any of the 2,001 survey participants.) The people who answered the phone when the Amex survey folks called said that the most popular gift-list items were:
- Gift cards (53%)
- Clothing/accessories (50%)
- Toys and games (43%)
- Electronics/Gadgets (34%)
- Books or magazines (31%)
- Music (29%)
- Cash (26%)
Maybe we should just cancel Christmas this year
When Citigroup (NYSE: C ) conducted its national holiday spending survey, it must have caught consumers before they had their morning coffee:
A new nationwide survey issued today by Citi revealed that Americans across all income levels are planning to decrease their holiday spending. A full 45% expect to spend less than last year while 47% plan to spend about the same and just 7% intend to spend more.
And just in case you missed the memo, according to Citi, "Americans are rediscovering financial prudence. This means Americans want to spend smarter this holiday season by hunting for bargains, making homemade gifts and finding unique ways to give back."
I really hope that my friends and relatives were the ones surveyed by American Express.
What am I missing? Tell me!
So there you have it: a glimpse into the news the people who want to influence the news want you to know. I've done my duty. Now you can help me do it better!
Chime in below with your best holiday saving/spending/survival tactics and tips. Make this news all of us can use to prosper and ring in the New Year!
Shhhhh! Don't spoil it! No matter how much Fool.com writer Dayana Yochim begs to know what's in the wrapped box, don't tell her. She doesn't own any of the companies mentioned in this article. American Express is a Motley Fool Inside Value choice. In a cheap ploy for attention, the Motley Fool's disclosure policy likes to hang out under the mistletoe during the office holiday party.