(WOMENSENEWS)–Overcoming the societal message that encourages over-spending at year’s end is no easy task, but many resources provide help. A number of books, Web sites and initiatives aim at finding the true meaning of the holidays.

A major resource, the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement, or WISER, provides information to women to help improve their economic circumstances. The Washington-based organization has research materials, a quarterly newsletter and reams of resources related to financial planning.

Alternatives for Simple Living, a religious non-profit that was started to protest the consumerism of the holiday season, offers guidebooks for Christmas that range between $2 and $16.

Alice Tepper Marlin of Social Accountability International, a New York-based accreditation organization that focuses on improving workplaces and communities, is author of "Shopping for a Better World." Tepper Marlin advocates that consumers make socially responsible purchases, and her book is a guide to products and companies that are rated based on their policies, including the advancement of women and minorities.

There are also movements to counter the consumerist trend, such as "Buy Nothing Day" from the Adbusters Media Foundation in Vancouver, British Columbia. The organization encourages people to refrain from shopping the day after Thanksgiving as a way to counter consumerism. 

The students at St. Elizabeth School in Ottawa have made their own Web project called "Be a Consumer Hero!" at  based on the themes of International Buy Nothing Day and offer suggestions for taking action.

Resources to help women are quickly populating the Web. These include iVillage’s Debt Support Group.

The London-based Citizens Advice offers financial advice with a British slant.

A student-led group at Oregon State University called Consumers Anonymous ties consumerism to environmentalism and offers quick advice based on the 12-step model. Debtors Anonymous and Spenders Anonymous, which help women recognize spending as an addiction.

Three prominent Web sites focus on charitable giving. The Chicago-based American Institute of Philanthropy rates charities on their fiscal responsibility. Williamsburg, Va.-based GuideStar.org permits registered users to verify a nonprofit’s legitimacy and access financial information. The Better Business Bureau runs BBB Wise Giving Alliance at Give.org and offers tips to donors.

Credit Card Advice

If advice on spending and credit cards isn’t enough, consider the Scrooge-like potential consequences.

Edmund Mierzwinski, consumer advocate with the national office of Illinois Public Interest Research Groups, urges credit-card holders to pay off the debt as quickly as possible, and never pay only the minimum required.

Many credit-card companies will dramatically increase your interest rate after only one late payment. "They claim you are now an increased risk," he said. The increased rate will come on top of late-payment penalty fees, said Mierzwinski.

He also advises: Reject all offers to skip a month’s credit-card payment; reject all offers to use "convenience" checks–the blank checks that often accompany a bill–because they come with higher fees and refrain from using debit cards for online shopping because you are responsible for any money lost in a fraudulent transaction, unlike credit cards in which your maximum exposure is $50.

The Consumer Federation of America and the National Foundation for Credit Counseling are two national resources that have broad overviews of financial issues, credit counseling, debt and bankruptcy.

Other tips can be found at TruthAboutCredit.org.

Sandra Guy, a 22-year veteran journalist, is a business reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times. She has covered business, politics, education, technology and peace issues, and served as a former president of the Chicago chapter of the Association for Women Journalists.

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