Holiday season impacts students' pocketbooks
Holiday gift giving used to be much simpler. As a child, you could offer a coloring-book page or macaroni glued onto a sheet of construction paper, and the recipient was thrilled. If you tried the same approach as a college student, the recipient would be puzzled -- perhaps worried.

The winter holidays are an expensive season. Aside from the gifts, there are decorationsand parties to worry about. College students -- who are traditionally low on funds -- will have to start planning early to have the most enjoyable holiday experience possible.

The holiday season has always been costly, and with rising costs, this will be the most expensive year yet.

Each year PNC Bank Corp calculates the cost of the presents from "The Twelve Days of Christmas." This season, the price tag on ten lords a'leaping, seven swans a'swimming and all the other stuff comes to an astonishing $58,405.09. For those of you keeping track at home, that is 6.5 percent more than last year.

Fortunately, Alan Greenspan just lowered interest rates and the current inflation rate is only 1.5 percent. So the average consumer might fare better than the Christmas carol's shopper.

Hopefully most Aggies will not be spending $58,000 on gifts this winter, but even more moderate expenditures will be easier to bear with a little advance planning. Though the shopping days are dwindling away faster than Santa circumnavigates the globe, there is still time to prepare financially for the holiday burdens.

Students should glance over their budgets -- students who do not have budgets should seriously consider one -- and see where they can save money until the end of December. Maybe you can cut back on the alcohol purchases or pick up 99-cent movie rentals instead of new releases. Consider the sacrifices as part of the gift. Besides this will only continue for about a month. After the new year students can begin spending in the normal, frivolous manner.

The next key to low-income gift giving is searching for more meaningful gifts instead of more expensive gifts. Aggies may not have a lot of money, but they often have plenty of time. Students can spend that time finding presents that closely match the recipient. Gifts can be memorable because they were a perfect selection, not because they cost a bundle.

Students should also be careful to spend within their means. It is better to buy an inexpensive gift or a simple card than to stiff your roommate for your half of the rent or phone bill.

The average Aggie is inundated with credit card offers. As holidays approach, card companies also begin mailing out "convenient" checks for cash advances. They may be tempting, but they are also dangerous. Students should not use holiday gifts as an excuse for accruing greater debt. If a meager income prohibits purchases, it will also prohibit payments of debt. Many students will leave school with student loan and car payments. It is unwise to unnecessarily increase those burdens.

These are the holidays -- time for friends, family and fun, not a time for Chapter 11. Students should not allow an obsession with price tags to dim the season. Though it is cliche, it is the thought that counts.

There is one last tip for Christmas card fans. Be sure not to mail your cards late this year. With the holiday rush, many people postpone their annual card mailout until after the New Year. That is not a good idea this year. Postal rates are increasing on Jan. 10, so a delay will mean having to buy new stamps. It is only a penny a stamp, but enough of those pennies could mark the difference between Taco Bell and Ramen.
Dave Johnston is a senior mathematics major.