Many people now avoid the crowds and do their Christmas shopping online. Experts predict that this Christmas season, consumers will spend more money that ever buying gifts on the internet. Last season set new records of internet spending, and this year more of the large retailers are targeting internet shoppers with bargains. This means that there will be more competition among these retailers, which will help bring down prices. This is good news for shoppers who use debit cards to make these discount purchases, but for those who use their credit cards, it may not be such a good deal.

Easy to overspend

The danger when using a credit card to make Christmas purchases is always the same. “With credit, you almost always overspend,” says Rick Zapata, a regional agent in Family Resource Management and Workforce Development with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. “The temptation is always the greatest when you find that special something for that special person on sale on the internet.

Do the math before purchasing

If you sit down and do the math on your credit card purchase, the numbers just do not add up. You may not be saving any money. In fact, you will probably lose the savings when you pay a higher interest charge. For instance, the item you want is discounted 10 percent on the internet. If your credit card charges 29 percent interest, you automatically lose 19 percent of the value of the item. Now, would you knowingly pay 19 percent more for an item as a present for someone? If you have to pay shipping or sales tax for the purchase, it will add another cost that will reduce your savings. Just because something is on sale does not mean that you should buy it, especially if you have not paid off last year’s Christmas shopping on your credit cards.

Save on shipping

The only way that you can save on an internet purchase is if you use your debit card and get free shipping. There are some internet sites such as Wal-Mart or Home Depot that ship to a local store for free. This is another way to save with the discount price on the item and free shipping.

The closer Christmas is, the lower the prices will be. Expect to get the discounts before Christmas this year. Look for these bargains the week of Christmas. With local store pick-up, you may be able to save a bundle on some of your purchases.

Stick to a budget

The best way to shop for Christmas is to have a budget for your gifts and set a limit. Then, leave your credit cards at home and when you are out of the money that you budgeted, you are finished shopping.

Give gifts that don’t cost money

Also, consider giving gifts that don’t cost money. You can always recycle things that you do not use anymore. Another great idea is to send someone special a recorded personal Christmas message on CD or DVD. You could send them a history of your family or tell them things that you would want to pass on, such as an ethical will. These are special and personal messages for your family and friends that they will treasure forever.

Upcoming Extension Programs:

• Any young person ages 9 to 18 interested in learning more about livestock or horses is asked to contact the Extension Office. Sign-ups are underway for Livestock Skill-a-Thon and Quiz Bowl, as well as the Horse Club and Equine Quiz Bowl. There is no to little cost to participate.

• Dec. 12-13, Auburn — Alabama Row Crops Short Course; call the Extension Office for registration details.

• Dec. 14, 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., Extension Office — 4-H CPR and First Aid Workshop; cost is $10 and includes a meal; class is limited to 25 participants; call the Extension Office to sign up.

• Feb. 22, Sand Mountain Research and Extension Center, Crossville — Sand Mountain Forage and Weeds Meeting; more information will be forthcoming.

For more information on this topic and many others, contact the Etowah County Extension Office, 256-547-7936 or 3200 A W. Meighan Blvd., Gadsden. Amy Burgess is extension coordinator for the Etowah County Extension Office.