Consumers locate their inner Scrooge

Coutney Hamilton’s mound of credit card debt turned her into a first-rate penny pincher this year.

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Hamilton, 29, a legal secretary from Los Angeles, has $200 to stretch across six gifts.

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“I’m hard-pressed for some cash, and I’m trying to live beneath my means.”

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Frugal gift-shopping is nothing new, but it will likely become the norm this year, recent consumer research indicates.

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Although the plastic rectangles will still be among the most popular presents.

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For many facing tighter budgets, paring back the number of people they give gifts to is the first plan of a attack.

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People on the fringe of a gift giver’s social circle, such as teachers, should expect cookies or nothing at all this year.

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Groups are going in together on gifts so individuals won’t have to shell out on their own.

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Some shoppers trawl sales for gift items or set aside case each week for presents to avoid overspending with credit cards.

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Slovakia revs up in its bid to be Europe’s Detroit

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Ex-communist Slovakia is fast becoming Europe’s Detroit: A humming automotive haven.

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Maria Novakova forecasts the creation of up to 30,000 new jobs between now and 2010 as the country’s fledgling automotive sector prepares to shift into higher gear.

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To be sure, the U.S., Canada, China, Japan and Russia all dwarf Slovakia in sheer number of cars produced.

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The Big Three churned out just under 10.8 million.

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But the tiny nation leads the world in per capita production.

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Contrast that with the gloom settling over General Motors Corp., …

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A lifeline they contend is needed to stave off even deeper layoffs or bankruptcy.

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The payoff: its economy is one of Europe’s most vibrant, with 7.4 percent growth in 2008 despite the global meltdown and a solid 4 percent projected for next year.

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Pension and health care costs are also a fraction or what the Big Three pay out.

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“We are listening to our employees, trying not to have confrontations.”

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The Hingarian subsidary of Japan’s Suzuki Motor Corp. is planning to cut 1,200 jobs.

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