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THE LATEST BOOK YOU SHOULD READ MAY CURE YOU OF HOLIDAY OVERSPENDING

My grandmother had a word for me when I wouldn't take her astute advice: hardheaded.

Big Mama used that word often to describe people who just wouldn't do what they knew was right. Hardheaded is defined as someone who is stubborn, unreasonably or perversely unyielding.

I think hardheaded aptly fits the folks who will deck their life with more debt this holiday season. Some of these debt-laden people were probably at the retail stores at the crack of dawn the Friday after Thanksgiving because they had to take advantage of the early bird sales. If they had some common sense, they would have stayed in bed.

There are people out there (and you know who you are) who lose their minds when Christmas comes around. They give until it really does hurt -- their bank account.

So it is with a nod to the hardheaded people out there that I chose the Color of Money Book Club selection for December. This month's book is "Wealth Happens One Day at a Time: 365 Days to a Brighter Financial Future," by financial adviser Brooke Stephens (Harper Business, $14, paperback).

If you feel the need to spend money, put those dollars to good use and buy this book. It's perfect for people who need easy-to-read, bite-size, daily inspirations to stop being hardheaded. Just so you know, you can get the book for less online at Amazon.com ($11.20). If you don't mind a used book, various sellers on Amazon had it for as low as $3.50. Wal-Mart is selling copies for $10.08 on its Web site. And of course there is always the library.

It will take you just a few minutes a day to read each entry. For some of you, it takes longer than that to find a credit card that you haven't maxed out.

"Consider these daily pages to be little kernels of financial wisdom to be planted in your thinking process in order to point you in the right direction," Stephens writes.

And it's certainly a direction that many people need at this time of year.

Consider this statistic from a survey conducted recently by NFO WorldGroup, a marketing research company. The average consumer under the age of 35 now carries a credit card balance of more than $3,500. That translates to 10 percent of their annual gross income, according to NFO. Finance charges for that age group average $456 per year, NFO found when it surveyed 4,100 U.S. consumers between September and November of this year. That might not seem like a large amount of money, but consider what the young consumers could have done with it:

On average, college students spend $370 to $390 an academic year on textbooks, according to National Association of College Stores.

Five hundred dollars would make a nice down payment on a used car or could be used toward the security deposit of their first apartment.

But it's not just the young people who get into credit trouble.

Consumers filed for bankruptcy protection in record numbers during the 12-month period that ended Sept. 30. Personal bankruptcy filings totaled 1.51 million -- up 7.8 percent from the same period last year.

According to the Florida-based Consolidated Credit Counseling Services, 56 percent of the 850 people in its buying and spending survey this year said they're planning to spend less this season because they are still paying off debt from the last holiday season.

Spending less? They shouldn't be spending at all.

"Yes, Christmas comes just once a year, but why do you have to spend the rest of the year paying for it?" said Stephens during an interview.

Because they are hardheaded.

According to Consolidated Credit, consumers usually spend up to 30 percent more when paying with plastic rather than cash.

I've heard every excuse there is for excessive spending during the holiday from "I want my kids to have what I didn't have" to "I don't want my friends or relatives to think I don't care about them."

Every year, debt experts provide tips on how to control holiday spending. They recommend you budget. Make a list. Use cash instead of credit. Comparison shop. Avoid last-minute shopping.

This year, don't just try to follow the advice. Do it. Don't be hardheaded. Ask yourself what's more important: making sure your children are living in a home where debt isn't strangling the family, or buying them a Chicken Dance Elmo doll.
For a chance to win a free copy of "Wealth Happens One Day At A Time" send me your name, address, and daytime and evening phone numbers on a postcard or blank index card. No envelopes; no e-mails. Send the card in care of the Color of Money Book Club, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. Include the name of the current book selection. Entries must be postmarked by Dec. 16.

While Michelle Singletary welcomes comments and column ideas, she cannot offer specific personal financial advice. Her e-mail address is singletarym@washpost.com. Readers can write to her c/o The Washington Post, 1150 15th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071.

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