Jeanette A. Tucker | 10/31/2006 1:23:11 AM
"Ideally, you would have planned and budgeted for the holidays all year," Tucker says. "If you started last January by developing a holiday budget – determining how much you wanted to save by the end of the year and setting it aside monthly – you'll be ready to head to the mall.
"Unfortunately, most of us don't start thinking about how much we are going to spend and where the money will come from until the holiday decorations begin to go up," she notes.
The result is that seasonal expenses strain our personal finances.
"It can be especially hard for some people not to overspend during the holidays because of an emotional need to express love, appreciation and friendship," Tucker says, adding, that you can avoid stress and strain on your budget by following these tips on holiday money management.
• Create a written plan for holiday spending and gift giving. Include possible gifts, dollar amounts and alternative choices.
• Establish spending limits for gifts for each person on your list, and start looking for bargains early.
• If it has been a challenging year financially, you need to shrink your holiday gift list. Talk with those you exchange gifts with, perhaps suggesting not exchanging gifts or at least mutually observing much lower dollar limits on gifts.
• Separate shopping trips (when comparing prices, quality, value and so forth) from spending trips (when making a purchase), and resist taking cash, credit cards or a checkbook on the shopping trips.
• Ask retailers when the items you are interested in will be on sale. Many retailers will reveal sale dates because they don't want you to shop their competition.
• Spend cash and avoid using credit cards. Charge cards tend to promote impulsive spending. Many credit card users have no idea how much they spend on the holidays until the credit card bills arrive in January.
• Instead of giving money, especially to younger children, give U.S. Savings Bonds. They cost one-half the face value, will not be immediately spent, encourage savings and, because they are interest bearing and tax free until redemption, the gift keeps on giving.
• Even though you're in the middle of this year's rush, it's not too early to begin thinking about next year. Saving in advance sounds simple – and it is – but you must discipline yourself to save a few dollars from each paycheck during the year. If you aren't disciplined enough to save regularly on your own, consider joining an interest-paying holiday savings club at your bank or credit union.
"The key to controlling holiday spending is to allow time for planning your purchases," Tucker says, adding, "Always keep your budget in mind,and shop carefully to get the best selection and price.
"Taking control of your holiday spending helps you avoid seasonal stress."
For more information on creative ways to manage your finances, contact a home economist in your parish office of the Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service, the educational branch of the LSU AgCenter. Also, log on to the Family and Consumer Sciences section under the Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service at the LSU AgCenter Web site: http://www.lsuagcenter.com/.