… A Very Happy Holiday Season! May you enjoy this special time of year with your friends and family and trust we are keeping an eye on your money.
Kurt Schuller, Wisconsin State Treasurer
Tired of starting the new year with a pile of debt? Shop smart, and you can enjoy the holidays without putting yourself in the poor house. Here are 14 tips to help you make the most of your time and money:
1. Decide how much you can spend.
“Most people go about it all wrong,” says Ric Edelman, author of “Financial Security in Troubled Times.” “The first thing they do is come up with a list of people (to buy for).”
Instead, Edelman recommends setting your holiday budget before you go near a store.
One big mistake? People overlook the little extras when they draft a budget. Include everything from postage for Christmas cards to holiday party favors and home decorations to the cost of boarding a pet if you’re traveling.
2. Make a list and check it twice.
Armed with your budget, take a cue from St. Nick by making a list of all the people you want to buy for. Then go over the list and decide how much you can spend on each, Edelman suggests. Don’t have enough money to cover your holiday budget? Go through it again, and cut names or amounts. Once you settle on a dollar amount for each person, that’s it. “If you can’t afford a sweater, get something else,” says Edelman. “Focus on the amount you’ll spend, not what you’ll buy.”
For big families, develop a gift list with other relatives, advises Mark Gorkin, a licensed clinical social worker known as “The Stress Doc.” “You shouldn’t have to buy something for everyone,” he says.
3. Pay cash.
“If you know that you’ve had trouble in (years) past, do a cash-only Christmas,” says Clark Howard, co-author of the book “Get Clark Smart: The Ultimate Guide for the Savvy Consumer” and host of a nationally syndicated consumer call-in show. His holiday advice: set a limit, take that money out of your credit union or bank, “and when that (money’s) gone, it’s over.
4. Think of credit cards as short-term loans.
Ideally, you’ll want to pay everything off immediately. Have a choice of cards? Always use the card that offers the lowest interest rate. A good idea is to track your credit card spending just as you would if you were writing a check. Remember: It’s really easy in the flurry of the holiday spending to run around and not keep track.
5. Put yourself on your shopping list.
It sounds selfish, but it’s really smart. “There are things you would not have bought for yourself that you end up, on impulse, buying (for someone else),” says Howard. The best antidote is to give yourself a little splurge, too.
6. Allow enough time for all your holiday preparations.
Who hasn’t run out for a gift at the last minute and ended up paying top dollar? But whether you’re shopping, baking or wrapping presents to send cross-country, budgeting your time can end up saving you tons of money.
7. Don’t overlook the value of intangibles.
Do you want to give someone a gift but don’t have the money? If you’re already baking cookies for your family, making an extra batch as a present for a neighbor is fairly economical. Want to help a friend who’s got a lot on her plate? Offer to baby-sit, walk the dog or take an elderly relative for an outing. The cost is next to nothing, but the gift is priceless.
8. Send e-cards.
They’re free, don’t require postage and no one has to wash their hands after opening them. Some even play music, making them a fun, free way to catch up with far-flung friends and family.
9. Just say “no” to toy lust.
If your kids still believe in Santa, help them draft real-world wish lists. In the post-Santa years, set some financial boundaries, and give them some choices. “The child still gets a chance to choose,” says Gorkin. “But you help the child remember there are still real limits.”
10. Look for meaning over glitz.
“Especially when you get into your 40s and you’ve got everything you need, words and gestures mean more,” says Rachel Ashwell, author of “The Shabby Chic Gift of Giving.” A thoughtful gift can be anything as simple as a set of dice (message: life’s a gamble) to a few beautiful bottles collected for minimum cost at various flea markets or antique marts, Ashwell says.
11. Shop for weddings at Christmas.
Even if your big day is a year away, holidays are a great time to get a deal on bridal gowns and bridesmaids’ dresses. “This is the slowest time of the year for bridal apparel shops,” says Fields, who also co-authored “Bridal Bargains: Secrets to Throwing a Fantastic Wedding on a Realistic Budget.” “No one goes shopping for wedding dresses in November or December.”
12. Get married during the holidays.
Shopping for a wedding date? December offers some pluses in the budget department. “Most churches are already decorated for Christmas, which means you get to save a lot on flowers,” says Fields, who estimates that couples can cut at least $500 from their budgets by planning Yuletide nuptials. The downside is that because of holiday parties, many caterers, bands and DJs are booked for the season, which means it’s not a great time to plan a huge event. But if you have your heart set on an intimate gathering, you can have the wedding of your dreams and a nice nest egg to start your new life together.
13. Take a vacation.
Resorts and cruise ships are hurting for business, says Edward Hasbrouck, author of “The Practical Nomad: How to Travel Around the World,” which makes this a great time for a luxury getaway. “They’ve paid for the hotel (rooms), and that’s a cost they’re stuck with,” says Hasbrouck. “Similarly, cruise lines are in particularly bad shape.”
“If you want to get away, you will see all kinds of hotels offering truly unprecedented bargains,” says Hasbrouck. “For not much, if anything, more than Motel 6 prices, you can have a much nicer hotel. This will make it quite tempting to get away over the holidays.”
But shop around. The same room at the same hotel can fetch vastly different prices depending on how it is booked. Look up the hotel online, through a broker and through the hotel chain’s website; chances are the prices will be different, and you might need the special codes listed on those sites to get the deal, according to Howard.
“What I like for people to do with hotels is try various online search sites, then call the hotel directly and call central reservations,” says Howard. “No matter what price is quoted, act shocked. Say, ‘Don’t you have anything better than that?'” Just like hotels, rental car companies are hurting for business and offering some good deals — daily rates for less than $20, according to Howard — so do your homework.
14. Remember the reason for the season.
Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, keeping the holiday’s spiritual message front and center is a good antidote to the holiday gimmies. “Instead of spending weekends leading up to Christmas in the mall, it would be a lot better gift to spend your time with your family,” says Howard.
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Most parents wonder how much is too much to spend on Christmas gifts for their children. Our friends at mint.com share some ideas in their latest blog.
Family holiday gatherings that include aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents can easily result in massive piles of gifts, even for children who are too young to really understand the concept of Christmas gift giving.
Of course, many families will buy one of these game consoles for “the kids” rather than for each child, but that’s still a big chunk of money for a lot of families.
The Rebound Since the 2008 Recession
After the global recession that started in 2008, the combination of high unemployment and a devastated housing market caused people to spend a lot less at Christmas.
Gallup surveys said that Americans spent 29% less on 2008 Christmas gifts than in 2007.
While spending in the US has not yet topped 2007 spending levels, it has gone up from its low of $681.83 in 2009.
In 2012, the average family spent around $750 on holiday gifts, and spending is expected to be up again in 2013, as unemployment has eased and the housing and automobile markets have started recovering.
Holiday Spending in 2012
In 2012, gift cards were at the top of a lot of wish lists.
People like getting them because of their flexibility, and people like giving them because it’s a lot easier to buy a gift card than to fight other shoppers for popular items and Black Friday specials.
In 2012, people spent just over $400 on gifts for family, around $75 on gifts for friends, and closer to $25 on gifts for co-workers.
Close to 60% of consumers bought gifts for themselves in 2012, and the figure is expected to remain the same in 2013.
The most requested items for Christmas last year were gift cards, clothing, media (books, CDs, DVDs, video games), electronics, jewelry, home décor, and sporting goods.
Discover Card Polls Holiday Spending
Released at the end of October, Discover Card’s holiday spending survey found that the average family will be spending 20% more this Christmas than last, with the average family spending just over $1000.
This includes gifts and other things, like holiday food, clothing, and dining out.
Marketing professional Dave Brennan of the University of St. Thomas says regional holiday budgets may be up by less than 20% over 2012, because in some regions, the rebound from the recession came early, causing some regions to experience a bigger bump in holiday spending in 2012.
Brennan told CBS Minnesota, “We have lower unemployment, we have good paying jobs, and things are coming back a lot faster here than they have in other places.”
What the National Retail Federation Says
The National Retail Federation’s numbers are a bit less optimistic than those collected by the Discover Card survey.
The NRF survey says the average shopper will spend $737.95 on gifts, décor, greeting cards, and other holiday items. This is 2% less than in 2012.
This year, the NRF asked shoppers if the government shutdown and general Washington gridlock would affect their holiday spending, and 29% of respondents said that it was “somewhat or very likely to affect” holiday spending.
Fifty-one percent of consumers said the general state of the economy would affect holiday spending, with 79% expecting to spend less overall.
Overall holiday spending this year is expected to make $602.1 billion for retailers.
The Prowl’s Survey of Shopping Moms
Shopping experience website The Prowl conducted a survey of 511 mothers on 2013 holiday spending and made some interesting discoveries about how much moms are spending, and how they’re spending it.
Their survey found that mothers expect to spend $224 on average for gifts for each child, and almost exactly the same amount ($221) on gifts for their husband or partner.
Compared to last year, moms planned to spend roughly the same, with 55% saying they would spend “the same” as last year, 23% saying they would spend more, and 22% saying they would spend less than in 2012.
As for how they plan to shop, 49% of mothers surveyed said they would make purchases on mobile devices this year, either on a phone, tablet, or both.
Clearly, braving the Black Friday crowds is not for everyone.
If you’re conflicted about how much you spend during the holidays, you’re not alone. Keeping holiday spending reasonable may require steps like:
• Not buying “presents” for yourself
• Making a spending plan before shopping
• Giving group gifts
• Drawing names for gifts at large family gatherings
• Using cash rather than debit or credit cards for holiday shopping
No parent should spend more than they can afford at Christmas, whatever holiday advertisements and peers say.
Kids can be remarkably practical when it comes to holidays, and most understand that they can’t get everything they want. In fact, seeing altruistic behavior often influences even young kids.
Children in the early elementary grades can understand the basics of how budgets work, so there’s no reason your children have to grow up with a blind expectation of getting everything they want at Christmas time.
Teach this lesson early, and you can expect less holiday guilt and less of a January spending hangover in the years to come.
This week, we travel to Kewaunee County. Here’s a look at the Top 5 people and businesses there with unclaimed assets. Do you see anyone on this list you know? If so, have check out www.wismissingmoney.com and search their name to make a claim. They can also call 855-375-CASH (2274)
We Wash Windows, Inc.
Estate of Ernest Leist
Elizabeth Stott Estate
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This week, we travel to Jefferson County and offer a nod to law enforcement there who will likely be busy this Halloween week with all the “ghoulish” things ghost and goblins do this time of year! Here’s a look at the Top 5 people and businesses there with unclaimed assets. Do you see anyone on this list you know? If so, have check out www.wismissingmoney.com and search their name to make a claim. They can also call 855-375-CASH (2274)
Mary and Suzanne Brawn
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Ok, so you aren’t the shop-til-you-drop, elbow-throwing, Black Friday type. Maybe you’d rather re-watch 90′s TV on NetFlix while you browse for deals. Don’t fret, the web is full of people trying sell you stuff. Our friends at www.wired.com shared their collection of holiday gear deals!
CLICK HERE to see them!