Strictly Business: Want to save? Join the club

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter

Published:

 
photoCami Joner, Columbian business reporter

If you're like me, you love shopping for holiday gifts and hate using charge cards.

It's a familiar paradox every year, as I wrestle with my inherent financial caution (I was raised by children of the Great Depression) and my desire to give wonderful gifts to the people I love. It was especially disconcerting this year, as visions of the fiscal cliff danced in my wee little head.

Ah, but the malls, the local stores and the websites all featured a gleaming selection of cool and practical gifts that I wanted to buy. So, I shopped sales, clipped coupons and purchased online for the pile of gifts now wrapped up in shiny paper.

The sight was pure satisfaction until I took a closer look at the corresponding pile of receipts. Ugh. I'll be paying off part of my holiday shopping spree in 2013, with interest.

I suspect I'll have plenty of company.

In November, the National Retail Federation expected 28 percent of shoppers would use credit cards as their primary means of payment this year, up 7 percent from those who used plastic last year.

The federation also forecast retail sales to rise 4.1 percent this year, along with the slowly rebounding economy.

Next year, the cost of buying presents will likely be higher, according to the latest projections by the Federal Reserve, which expects core consumer inflation to run between 1.6 percent and 1.9 percent next year.

Forgive me for ruining your holiday, dear readers. But the truth is, those of us who love to shop for gifts must find something other than plastic to help us accomplish the task next year.

Fortunately, some credit unions are offering answers — if we'll only listen.

Though it's too late for this year, we can avoid running up at least some of the holiday debt in 2013 by planning ahead with an old-fashioned Christmas club account, says Ed Seidenberg, president and chief executive officer at Clark County-based People's Community Credit Union.

"It allows members to have some discipline for the holidays, to know that they will have savings when the season comes around," he said.

Seidenberg recommends prudence when setting it up. Consider this year's holiday budget, plan out what you'll need for next year and don't cut into your annual living expenses. The account won't help that much if you have to reach into it for emergencies during the year.

"They can make a withdrawal, but there's a $5 penalty," he said.

The Credit Union National Association also cautions that some holiday savings accounts are different from traditional savings. Christmas accounts often come with a limit on the total balance or a cap on how much you can deposit each month.

They also don't always pay the best rates.

People's Community opened holiday accounts for 167 members in 2012. The group saved an average balance of about $880 this year, Seidenberg said.

He said the accounts are offered as a service to members, who are trying harder than ever these days to save.

The activity isn't necessarily great for the economy, Seidenberg noted. "But it's great for the savers," he said.

Sounds like a good New Year's resolution.


Cami Joner is a Columbian business reporter. 360-735-4532, http://twitter.com/camijoner, http://www.columbian.com/weblogs/strictly-business, or cami.joner@columbian.com.