ith the excitement of the holiday season over, many consumers aren't feeling so joyous as they open their mailboxes and out fly the bills for their holiday expenditures. If this means you, you can avoid it next year by opening up a Holiday Club account—now.

"Now?" you ask. "Why would I worry about next holiday, I have plenty of time to save." And that's really the point—start now and next year will be stress-free.

Open an account now, well before next holiday season's money crunch. Figure out approximately what you spent this year, divide by 10 (most accounts pay out in October), and put this into the account monthly.

You can arrange to have that amount automatically deducted from your paycheck. That way you won't even miss the deduction.

There usually are few minimum balance requirements to Holiday Club accounts, and the money is available early enough in the season to use it for most of your holiday shopping.

Consumers are likely to leave the money in the accounts all year because early withdrawal penalties, while not steep, are good deterrents. Another convenience is that the total savings amount can be transferred directly into your savings or checking account on a specific date.

Because few people save for holiday purchases, many consumers use credit cards to finance them. A Christmas account is a good idea opposed to borrowing, or using a credit card, says Stephen Brobeck, executive director of the Consumer Federation of America in Washington, D.C. "It's far less expensive to save money in a Christmas Club, even one that pays little or no interest, than to finance purchases with a credit card. Interest earned on the accounts is comparable to other savings accounts.

"Through careful budgeting and smart shopping, consumers can enjoy much Christmas cheer without suffering a New Year's debt hangover," Brobeck adds.

© 2000 Credit Union National Association Inc.