Monday, October 27, 2008

Have you budgeted for the holidays?

Yes, it's Halloween, but it marks the beginning of your wallet's most frightening event known as "the holidays." There are just 58 days until the big spending season. You've got nothing to fear if you are one of those people that prepares all year long. But for the rest of us, I'll be taking this week to look at ways we can prepare our finances. We'll look at quick ways to set aside some cash and stick to your budget. We'll explore some smarter shopping strategies. You might have noticed that Wednesdays are usually dedicated to small business articles, so we'll take a look at how the holidays affect small biz retailers. I'll give you some ideas for non-traditional gifts that keep giving. And we'll wrap up the week with an appropriate Friday Encore.

Saving up for the HOliDAys

Maybe you might think it's too early to start thinking of Christmas. Or you're nauseated by the appearance of holiday items in the store. I have to ask, "Have you budgeted for the holidays?" Typically the same people who are organized enough to shop early have also budgeted and saved throughout the year. For everyone else this is the ultimate savings challenge.

I just read this article distributed by Kiplinger entitled, "There's Still Time to Save $1,000 for Christmas Shopping". The most unique idea in this article is to Adjust your tax witholding.

The average tax refund last year was about $2,700. If you got a refund, that means you paid Uncle Sam too much money! Keep it for yourself to pad your holiday fund instead. You simply need to change your tax withholding by filing a new W-4 with your employer's human resources department. To find out how many withholdings you should be claiming, try our Easy-To-Use Tax Withholding Calculator. The changes will go into effect on your next paycheck.

The smart thing about this is that by now you've paid your tax dues for the year. Why loan the money to the government? If you eek out 2 months of average witholdings you could put $450 toward your holiday budget. But don't forget to change it back or you'll end up oweing Uncle Sam a bundle the next year.

Other ways to save might sound cliche, but now is a great time to test them out. There are tons of tips on how to be more frugal. Apply just a few and stuff the savings into your holiday budget. Who knows, you may even be able to use these savings tricks in the future and reach your savings/investing goals.

Some other simple ideas:

Skip holiday movies. The movie industry always pumps out their holiday movie fare right about late October. They know that colder nights leave you with less entertainment options. Be creative and you can find plenty of ways to occupy your Friday night and save a bundle.

Split dinner. Eating out doesn't have to reduce your wallet and increase your waisteline. You can enjoy a night out at your favorite restaurant and save money by splitting an entre.

Adjust your daily budget. Gas prices are sliding down for the short-term and chances are that we'll see them rise again. So take the money that you've budgeted for gas and allocate it toward your holiday shopping.

Speaking of the "B" word--Set a holiday budet. Most people overspend for the holidays because they haven't set a budget. So follow these basic steps to keep your spending under control.

  1. Review your monthly budget for adjustments to put toward the holidays.
  2. Establish a total amount for the season.
  3. Make a list of the people you'll be giving to and divide your budget accordingly.
  4. If your giving list outweighs your cash flow either cut down your giving list or adjust your spending per person.
  5. Avoid borrowing from future earnings by using a credit card. Use your credit card for online purchases and for items that could be insured by the card. Don't use your card to push holiday purchase payments to your 2009 paychecks.
  6. Most important-Spend within your means.

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