Archive for December, 2012

The Folly of Holiday Stress

December 10, 2012

December 10, 2012

Written by: Deborah McGiffin, Durham County Extension Agent, Family & Consumer Sciences, North Carolina Cooperative Extension, North Carolina State University

No, no, no not ho, ho, ho.  Do you stress over your finances and spending during the holidays? Does holiday jolly seem like holiday folly to you?  Celebrating the holidays and other special occasions can often strain a families’ budget and cause them to expend large amounts of money and other resources. It’s no wonder that celebrating the holidays creates financial tension. Many people seriously underestimate what they will spend each year for holidays and special occasions. Spending can get drastically out of control with gifts, greeting cards, postage, gift wrap, decorations, food, drink, transportation, long distance phone calls, and other purchases during the holidays and can push a family into financial difficulty. The challenge of managing holiday spending is to enjoy the spirit of the season while avoiding the holiday financial hangover – that is, paying for it months or even years later. Keep the holiday spirit in and stay within your budget by using some of the suggestions below to help you plan, make the most of your resources, and avoid overspending.

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Look at the Big Picture  Review your current financial situation and determine a holiday spending limit that works with your family budget. The amount of money you spend should align with your family values. However, it is generally unwise to spend more than 1%-3% of your annual take home pay on holiday expenses. Once you know how much you can spend towards the holidays, develop a spending plan.

Develop a budget for gift-giving, food, travel and entertainment expenses. Additional expenses which can increase during the holidays and are often overlooked include gasoline, babysitter fees, special grocery items, and eating out more often.  Use the North Carolina Cooperative Extension’s Holiday Planner to be sure to account for these extra expenses.

Make a List and Check it Twice  Refer to your spending plan and use a planner to list all the people you wish to give gifts to, including family, teachers, babysitters, hair stylist, etc. Also, list other holiday purchases such as decorations, ingredients for holiday cooking, greeting cards, expected travel expenditures and so forth. Using your list, make entries into the planner for spending amounts allocated for each recipient, the amount you actually spend and the gift item purchased per person. Take the planner with you when you shop to help prevent impulse shopping. Save this planner in a “holiday file” for reference for future holiday budgeting and planning.  The information from this year’s planner can be useful in establishing a holiday account for next year.

Shop without Financially Dropping  Consider how you plan to pay for your holiday purchases. If you decide to pay in cash, divide the cash into amounts you plan to spend for each gift, select items within the price range, and stop shopping when all the cash is gone. If you plan to use a debit card, take your check register shopping and record each transaction in it, so you track your spending, maintain a current balance, and avoid overdrafts. Depending on your bank’s automated updates, your balance may not always be accurate and transactions may not be immediately deducted from your account. If you plan to use credit for holiday purchases, evaluate your overall credit before shopping. Charge only an amount you can safely repay in one or two months. As a general rule, never have credit payments that outlast the item bought. Limit charges to one card to facilitate easier bill paying and to have a clear picture of your total spending. Another option to consider: layaway plans. Layaway plans allow you to pay for purchases ahead of time with cash, checks or debit and then take procession of the purchase once the items are paid for.  Though layaway plans enable you to buy over time without debt, you will need to plan ahead to make purchases early enough to take advantage of this purchase method.  If you decide to use store layaway options, be certain to check their return policy and keep track of all payments. Shopping online can save time and gas. Many sites have free shipping deals. If shopping online, look for coupon codes or cash back offers.  Some sites that offer such deals are couponcabin.com, coolsavings.com, keycode.com, ebates.com and fatwallet.com. A google search for “promotional code” using a retailer’s name might also help you find deals.  Plan holiday shopping trips to stores or malls ahead of time, study store ads, and know exactly who and what you are shopping for prior to entering the store and don’t forget to take along your holiday planner. Impromptu shopping trips and meandering in stores looking for gift ideas can lead to impulse purchases and a derailed budget. Do your window shopping at home from catalogs or online, so that you know exactly what you plan to purchase. Finally, remember that holiday sales can be tempting, so once you are in the store, refer to your planner and holiday list.  Remember to account for each purchase you make in the planner so that you stick to your spending plan.

Don’t be a Scrooge, Just be Creative  The best gifts don’t have to be expensive or even be purchased. The best gifts are fun, useful and chosen with the recipient in mind. Use your talent, skill and love to create meaningful gifts from the kitchen, garden or home.  The gift of time is a precious gift. Give certificates with the promise to fulfill a personal service for special loved ones. General purpose (VISA or MASTERCARD) gift cards are good choices for out-of-town giving because they reduce packaging and shipping expenses.  Instead of buying separate gifts for members of a family, buy one family or household gift everyone will enjoy. Drawing names is a good way to celebrate the holidays while reducing the number of gifts for a large family or group of friends. Giving family treasures or heirlooms is a good way to make the holidays meaningful and institute estate planning goals. Don’t forget about giving practical gifts like smoke detectors or motion lights.  Elder relatives who have “everything” may appreciate these helpful gift choices.  Giving to a charity in someone’s name in lieu of a gift is a way to honor a special person. Pictures of past family or festive events placed in attractive frames make inexpensive yet thoughtful gifts.  Though it may be too late for 2012, shop throughout the year for gifts, as good deals for items can be found during end of season sales.  Set up a special shelf or box to collect and store gifts bought months in advance for holiday or special occasion giving, and don’t forget to write down the name of the intended recipient!

Season’s Greetings  The time and expense of sending out holiday greeting cards can add anxiety to anyone’s schedule.  Look for ways to alleviate this stressful holiday tradition.  Send out cards only to out-of-town family and friends whom you see infrequently. Send holiday postcards instead of regular cards and envelopes to save on postage.  E-cards have become a popular way to save time and money and send holiday greetings to those you care about. Consider sending out “Happy New Year” cards in early January to add more time to your holiday schedule and to accommodate for diverse faiths and beliefs among cherished family and family members.

Deck the Halls  The best time to buy holiday decorations along with wrapping paper and greeting cards is after the holiday season. Try to take advantage of the after holiday sales and store decorations until the next season. Other options include creating decorations using items from around your home, like old ribbons, buttons, and greenery from your yard.  Make children apart of the holiday planning by asking them to make decorations and display their artwork.  Make your own wrapping paper using brown parcel paper or left over paper bags, stickers, stamps, glitter, glue and your imagination.  Let decorating your home be a fun and creative event that promotes family resourcefulness and togetherness.

Home Sweet Home  Family gatherings and holiday parties can add emotional stress and a financial wrinkle to your budget if you feel compelled to host them.  Make social events fun and enjoyable for you and your guests by co-hosting an event with another friend or family member.  For special celebrations, evaluate the need for a meal.  Consider alternatives like hosting a late afternoon party and providing only appetizers or sponsor a potluck dinner that involves others and saves on time, expense and personal stress.

Over the River and Through the Woods   Traveling and visiting family and friends can be the most expensive part of holiday plans.  Shop early for the best deals on airfares and hotel stays. Try to avoid travelling during peak travel times like on weekends or the day prior to a major holiday.  Consider gathering with out-of-town family several days prior or several days after a holiday to avoid heavily congested roads and airports.  Also, think about celebrating family events during other times of the year when travel discounts are more available and traffic less hectic.

Seasonal Giving   Remembering the less fortunate is an important part of many holidays. While a contribution of money is always appreciated, a donation of time is also valuable. A realistic and affordable charitable goal should be included in your holiday spending plan or a donation of time should be part of your holiday schedule. Make your holidays a time for living, laughing, loving, sharing, caring, and learning. These are the things that money can’t buy, but they make for precious, memorable and meaningful holidays.

Remember the Spirits of Holidays Past, Present, and Future   Remember, don’t throw away your holiday budget after the holidays. Keep it along with holiday receipts and credit card statements then make it a New Year’s resolution to develop a 2013 holiday and a special occasion spending plan in January that can be followed throughout the year.  Establish a dedicated holiday or special occasion account without an ATM card at a local financial institution.  This will enable you to set aside funds that can be used not only during holidays but also for other occasions like weddings, birthdays and anniversaries.  You also will have more flexibility if you come across great gift deals that can be purchased at any time during the year and stored away until you wish to give the gift.  Avoid holiday folly.  Put jolly in the seasons to come, and “ho, ho, ho,” holiday stress away.

National Financial Management Core Competencies: Spending, Saving, Borrowing

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