Early Start to Holiday Shopping Season Leaves Chicago Spenders in Debt

Once upon a time, the day after Thanksgiving marked the official start of the holiday shopping season. Lately, it seems more like the day after Halloween. And as for this year? Red and green goods were pushing black and orange merch off the shelves by the beginning of October.

Welcome to holiday shopping in an economic downturn. At a time when folks have less money in their pockets and more debt looming overhead, retailers are pulling out all the stops to keep our minds wandering to material things. But we don't have to take the bait.

As usual, retailers have a hidden agenda. Stores aren't merely advertising their products; they're creating an atmosphere. In this case, an atmosphere that feels happy and familiar, but has the added effect of making shoppers feel rushed. Many stores are already running ads for Black Friday, forcing us to think about spending for the next two months. Others are sending out e-mails for special, secret holiday sales for only their "best" customers - for instance, maybe those of us who have a store credit card or club card. The message is: buy now, so you don't miss out on our great holiday deal.

When dealing with debt, people tend to react in two different ways. They confront the problem head on, or they ignore - worse, deny - that it exists. Retailers push you to do the latter. They don't care whether or not you can ultimately afford a purchase, or how long you'll be stuck paying interest for it after you charge it on your credit card. Their strategy is to distract you long enough so that even you won't worry about those things, and instead just blindly put their products in your shopping cart.

Your best money saving strategy this season isn't clipping coupons or scouting out sales - it's simply staying aware of your budget and what things you actually need. Make a shopping list, give yourself a spending limit and then stick to them. It might not be as much fun as playing dumb, but it will reward you in the end. And consider giving yourself the ultimate Christmas gift - lower debt and, as a result, lower stress. If you're up to your neck in debt, bankruptcy might be an effective way to free your finances. And here's a bonus: it's free to learn more with a complimentary one-on-one debt analysis by a Chicago bankruptcy attorney. Now that's a holiday special.

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