Don't Have a Credit-Card Christmas, Says Money Expert



What better time than the holiday season to freak out about finances?

It's never too late (or too early) to start managing your money in a sane, grown-up manner, according to Peggy Green, an education specialist at Oakland's Money Management International. Green gives free financial-advice workshops around the East Bay. Her next one is next Wednesday, Dec. 8, at the Fremont Main Library.

"Develop a budget and live within the budget — not relying on credit to make ends meet," she said in a recent interview. "That includes setting financial goals — buying a home, paying for college, planning for retirement, a vacation, meeting holiday expenses, etc. — and putting money aside each month to reach those goals. A little bit set aside each month can grow over time.

"Have an emergency savings account —- especially with the high unemployment rates we have now. Maintain good credit: Our credit impacts our ability to borrow money, the rates we are charged when we do need to borrow money and it can impact our ability to find a job. Many employers look at credit reports as part of their hiring process."

And while you're waiting to get hired....

"It’s so important to address finances during unemployment, to put a budget together to meet expenses, reduce stress and to maintain credit," Green pointed out. "If there isn’t enough income to pay all the bills, pick up the telephone and contact creditors to work out a payment plan. Then, when the job offer comes through, revise the budget to include an emergency savings plan to build a 'safety net' to cover unanticipated expenses that may come up. Be a frugal spender and don’t get back in the habit of relying on credit to meet financial goals —- make it part of your budget instead."

Those little things add up.

"I worked in the mortgage industry for many years," Green said. "After looking at hundreds of credit reports where individuals relied so heavily on credit, teaching people how to use credit more wisely, develop a budget to meet expenses and pay off debts is very rewarding."

Think about that before you holiday-shop. Which isn't to say you shouldn't shop, but ... they sell cashmere sweaters and sporting goods at Goodwill, too.