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5 ways to keep your spending in check

5

Ed Donner, CFP

How to Be Financially Prepared for the Holidays

For many of us, the holiday season is a time of joy and rest. However, holiday planning can feel hectic and create financial stress. According to a 2014 survey from the Consumer Reports National Research Center, top holiday stressors include gift shopping, crowds and long lines, traveling and taking on debt. So how can you give generously but not go overboard on your budget? Here are five ways to keep your spending in check while still having a fun and memorable season:

Set a budget

Set a limit and stick with it. Use what you spent last year as a baseline. Did you spend more or stay on budget? While gifts and travel may be the first items that come to mind, also consider what you’ll spend on food, decorations, charitable giving and traditions, such as sending holiday cards.

Use credit cards wisely

Gifts, travel and festive meals can add up. If you plan to charge holiday expenses, try to spend at a level that enables you to pay the bill when it arrives. Otherwise you’re “borrowing” and will slowly pay down the debt with high interest. If you have multiple credit cards, think about using one that will give you cash back or airline miles.

Focus on more than price

Consider giving meaningful gifts — experiences that create memories like bringing your family to a holiday play or making reservations for a special dinner you can enjoy together. If you have a large family that tends to give gifts to each other, suggest drawing names to make the process less demanding on everyone.

Shop strategically

Get a head start on gift buying to save. It gives you time to explore options and compare prices. If you’re an online shopper, consider sending gifts directly to the recipient’s home so you won’t have to ship them a second time. If you prefer to shop at the mall, look up each item online — many stores have a price-match policy, so it’s worth your time to do research.

Consider party alternatives

If you typically host a seasonal bash, consider another option — inviting friends to volunteer together instead. Contact your favorite charity or search volunteer sites such as All For Good (allforgood.org) to find opportunities that would allow your group to spend time together without the big cost. If festive parties help you get in the spirit, put a spin on tradition by asking guests to bring their favorite holiday dish or suggesting a round-robin dinner. With either option, you’ll enjoy the party without the big price tag.

If you feel like you’ve overspent in the past, look at this holiday season as an opportunity to be creative as you find ways to have fun while keeping your spending in line.

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