The Boston Globe

The holiday season is here, when so many Americans
traditionally spend to excess, shelling out an
estimated $150 billion over the next few weeks on
everything from gifts to travel, entertainment to

While that kind of spending spree could do wonders for
retailers and the consumer-driven US economy, it could
hurt people's personal finances, especially when the
purchases are added on to existing credit-card

But maybe this year will be different, with the first
recession in a decade officially announced just last
week and the uncertainty in the wake of the terrorist

Indeed, some people seem ready to tighten their purse
strings, if a slower estimated rate of growth in
credit-card charges and the wealth of money-saving
advice being offered this holiday season are an
indication., a credit-card research firm, estimates
that consumers will charge $121.4 billion between
Thanksgiving and Christmas, for both holiday and
non-holiday expenses. That's still a lot, but it's
only 7 percent higher than last year's dollar volume
of charges, "and the most sluggish growth in a
decade," according to the firm.

That percentage growth would have been even lower,
only 3.4 percent, if not for the fact that there's an
extra shopping day this year because of an early
Thanksgiving. Some of this year's growth is also a
result of the continued displacement of checks and
cash by major credit cards.

By contrast, in the same period of 2000, the dollar
volume of charges grew by 23 percent over 1999, to
$113.7 billion, according to

Overall, estimates consumers will spend
$150 billion on holiday-related expenses this shopping
season, whether they pay by cash, check, or charge.

The other possible indication of a change in consumer
sentiment: There's plenty of money-saving advice being
offered this season from a variety of sources, ranging
from counselors and business professors to
bargain-hunting specialists.

The Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Southern New
England recommends that people develop a holiday
spending plan, save a little toward the cost of gifts
each week, and pare down the holiday shopping list,
among other things.

A few Pennsylvania business professors have teamed up
to offer observations and advice about consumer
holiday spending. For instance, Bill Sauer, professor
of management at Susquehanna University, suggests that
people have alternative gifts in mind to prevent
impulse buying when their first choice isn't
available, avoid using credit cards, and keep the
non-material aspects of the holidays in mind.

And the authors of the "Wholesale by Mail & Online
2002" promise to help you save between 30 and 90
percent off retail if you shop using the resources in
their book, subtitled "The Consumer's Bible to Bargain
Shopping." Items available at a discount range from
luxury items such as caviar and diamonds to basics
including clothing and tools.

But buying at a discount is still buying, so make sure
the intended recipient really needs or wants that

Last call for tax rebate checks

If you haven't received your share of the
much-ballyhooed $300 to $600 federal tax rebates yet,
and you think it may be because you've moved recently,
time's about to run out on you.

Wednesday is the deadline for people in this situation
to notify the Internal Revenue Service of a new
address, or they won't get their rebates, also known
as an advance payment check, this year.

Instead, they'll have to claim the amount as a credit
after Jan. 1 on their 2001 tax returns, because the
new tax law that created the rebate prevents the IRS
from issuing checks after Dec. 31.

"Those who are eligible for a check will still get
their payment, but they'll have to wait longer for it
if we can't get their check to them before the end of
this year," IRS Commissioner Charles O. Rossotti said
when he announced that more than 295,000 such rebate
checks, totaling $95 million, have been returned to
the agency as undeliverable.

Taxpayers should file Form 8822, "Change of Address,"
with the IRS. The form can be found at, or
requested by calling 1- 800-829-3676.

Taxpayers can also call the IRS help line at
1-800-829-1040 if they think they may also be missing
a tax refund check from this year or previous years. A
total of 95,500 regular refund checks, totaling $88.5
million, were returned this year to the IRS as

Socially responsible investing

For the first time ever, assets being invested with a
social purpose in mind have topped $2 trillion,
according to a new report on what has come to be known
as socially responsible investing.

The growth has come despite a two-year slump in the
markets, with a 36 percent jump in the amount of such
socially invested assets between 1999 and 2001,
according to the Social Investment Forum's "2001
Report on Responsible Investing Trends in the United

"This data would be remarkable at any point in time,
but it is particularly striking when you realize that
we had bearish markets for most of the time period
covered by this study," said Steve Schueth, spokesman
for the Washington-based nonprofit forum. "Defying
conventional thinking, social investing has grown
considerably over the past two years."

Socially invested mutual funds and other
professionally managed accounts may refuse to own
tobacco and gambling stocks or companies that violate
human rights or harm the environment. They may also
use shareholder advocacy to try to make corporations
more socially responsible.

SIDEBAR: Ready, set, charge!
During the 32 shopping days between Thanksgiving and
The average US household will charge more than $1,150
Californians will be the most active card users,
charging nearly $17.4 billion
Massachusetts residents will put $2.8 billion on their
Consumers in Connecticut will charge $1.6 billion; in
New Hampshire, $833 million; in Vermont, $641 million;
in Rhode Island, $619 million; and in Maine, $406