Travelling, shopping, events, and surviving in-laws can seem like full-time jobs, leaving you stressed and frazzled. But that’s not what the holidays are about; they’re supposed to be a special season of taking time to enjoy the things and people you love and care about.
Try out these tips to take control of your time this holiday season. Trust me, your loved ones will thank you!
Write down your priorities and make a schedule
Make a list of all the things that you want (and need) to do for the holidays. These might be hosting a big family get-together, decorating the house and yard, attending a community parade or concert, or just enjoying some good food and drinks with friends. Mark them on your calendar and figure out what you need to do in preparation and when you can do it. Organizing a plan for how and when things get done will make you much more efficient and help prevent scrambling at the last minute to buy tickets or make reservations.
Accomplish what you can before the crunch
Get as much work out of the way before the holidays get hectic. Maybe that means wrapping up projects or having meetings a few weeks early, or prepping your family holiday cards a month in advance. Space out your work so that you can get the little tasks done before things start to pile up.
Learn to say no
This is especially important for extroverts and the super-social. Overbooking yourself during the holidays is one of the easiest ways to increase stress levels and torpedo productivity. Figure out your priorities, make your schedule, and stick with it. Tempting as it may be, saying “yes” to fifteen ugly Christmas sweater parties and eight New Years Eve bashes will whittle away your free time and limit your enjoyment of the season.
Most importantly, remember why you’re trying to use your time effectively. The goal is to make memories with the people you love by doing things you care about. Use these tips to avoid getting bogged down in the busyness of the season and to prioritize the things that matter most.
But the cost of travel, food, and gifts can add up quickly, making it hard to focus on the things that matter most. Here are some tips to help protect your pocketbook this holiday season so you can focus on sharing old traditions and making new memories with friends and family.
Play secret Santa
Secret Santa is an easy way to divvy up gift buying duties, especially if you have a large family or friend group. Have everyone participating put their names in a hat. Everyone then draws a random name out of the hat and must buy a gift for the person they’ve selected. It’s a simple and fun way to limit how many people you need to buy gifts for and control how much you spend on presents. Optional Secret Santa: Only do the gift swap with the kids and skip the adults this year.
Buy gifts with cash when you can
Watch out for credit card debt this holiday season. Purchasing presents with credit can be tempting (especially during the Black Friday frenzy), but how much you’re going to owe can quickly add up. Set a budget for yourself and then take that much cash out of the bank. Once it dries up, stop buying gifts! Your future self will be glad come January when you don’t have a whopping credit card bill to pay off.
Take advantage of sales and coupons early
Start collecting wishlists a few months before the holidays begin. If Aunt Margaret mentions a new cookware set she has her eye on in August, take note! Shopping early is an easy way of increasing your chances of finding sales and deals before the hardcore holiday shopping ensues. For online shopping, investigate couponing apps and add-ons. They can automatically add discounts to purchases, potentially saving you big money over a few gifts!
The holidays are about remembering what really matters, not worrying about money. The goal of these tips isn’t just to save you some cash, but to help you celebrate the things and people you love, free of financial distractions. Happy Holidays!
But sometimes it can feel like you simply don’t have enough resources (whether it be time or money) to contribute to causes you care about, especially with the usual yuletide expenses—and stress—of travel and buying gifts for friends and family.
Here are a few holiday generosity tips to help get you in the spirit of the season without sacrificing your peace of mind (or your pocketbook)!
Start a Budget
Creating and sticking to a budget is a great way to kickstart your giving. There are a couple of factors that might play into this, but it seems likely that having command of your spending will allow you to see how much you can realistically set aside for a worthy cause. You might find that you can accumulate enough throughout the year for a big holiday donation. Also, be open to the possibility of automated donations—it might be easier to regularly contribute a few dollars a week than to save up for a large lump sum contribution.
There are plenty of nonfinancial ways to be generous during the holidays. Look into volunteering opportunities with local charities or nonprofits that might need labor. You might be surprised by the diversity of positions that they need filled. Setting aside a Saturday morning to work at a soup kitchen with your family can go a long way towards spreading some holiday cheer and helping those in need.
Give but Verify
Don’t donate your time, resources, or energy to organizations that misuse contributions. Do your research—a quick online search may suffice. Nonprofits are required to publish how much they spend on advertising and overhead, so make sure you take a few minutes to verify that your generosity won’t get wasted.
Even if your time and money are tight this year, hopefully these tips will provide some practical insights into how you can support the causes and things you care about—without busting your budget.
This is a holiday roll-call that’s instantly recognizable: the reindeer that pull Santa’s magical sleigh. But what if things got so hectic at the North Pole (not a stretch when you’re in charge of delivering presents to every child on Earth), that when it was time to hitch up the reindeer on Christmas Eve, they were all out of order?
Prancer. Cupid. Dasher. Comet. Dancer. Vixen. Blitzen. Donner.
Hmmm, someone’s missing…. what happened to Rudolph? (Looks like he got left behind at the North Pole. In all the hubbub one of Santa’s elves forgot to review the pre-flight checklist.)
Since so much can change during the year from one crazy “Happy Holidays!” to the next, your ducks – or reindeer, that is – may not even be in a row at this point. They could be frolicking unattended in a field somewhere! And who knows where your Rudolph even is.
We can help with that. An annual review of your financial strategy is key to keeping you on track for your unique goals. Lots of things can change over the course of a year, and your strategy could need some reorganizing. I mean, did you hear about everything that changed for Prancer? (What do you call a baby reindeer, anyway?)
Here are some important questions to consider at least once each year (or even more often):
1. Are you on track to meet your savings goals? A well-prepared retirement is a worthy goal. Let’s make sure nothing drove you too far off track this year, and if it did, let’s explore what can be done to get you back on the right path.
2. Do you have the potential for new savings? Did your health improve this year? Did that black mark on your driving record expire? Changes like these have the potential to positively impact your life insurance rate, but we’d need to dig in and find out what kinds of savings might be in store for you.
3. Have your coverage needs increased? Marriage, having a child, or buying a home are all instances in which your life insurance coverage probably should be increased. Have any of these occurred for you over the last year? Have you added the new family member as a beneficiary?
If you haven’t had a chance to review your strategy this year, we can fit one in before Santa shimmies down the chimney. Which of your reindeer do you need to wrangle back into the ranks before the New Year gets going?
When we’re young, it seems like our parents and older siblings are just relieved that we’re learning some manners to offset our little legs swinging wildly off the chair under the dinner table, narrowly missing people’s shins. (Hey, it’s hard to sit still at big family meals when you’re that little!) All the grown up talk about far away jobs or how much you’ve grown wasn’t as stimulating as the tooth that had started to wiggle ever so slightly when you bit into some turkey… But at least you remembered to say thank you when someone passed the cranberry sauce!
As we got older, though, those conversations became easier to participate in as we shared our own stories, watched our extended family grow and mature, and then tried to wrangle our own kids into saying “thank you” when they were given a gift by a relative they hadn’t seen in a year.
The biggest lesson we learn about being thankful as we get older? It’s important to show the people we love how thankful we are for them – not just say it. We learn more about the responsibility we have to take care of the people we are thankful for. And at this time of year, we can give our thanks to them by making sure they are financially prepared if we suddenly aren’t around anymore.
Here are 3 ways you can give thanks for your loved ones:
1. Consider getting life insurance. Replacing lost income, covering funeral expenses, gaining potential tax advantages, having early access to money – these benefits of life insurance will give your loved ones a bit of financial stability and let them know how thankful you were for them. However, many of these benefits can depend on what type of life insurance you have, so taking the time to find the right type and amount of insurance for your particular needs and goals is important. Which leads us to the second way to give thanks…
2. Get the right type and amount of life insurance. Life insurance policies are not “one size fits all,” so investing your energy into this step is a key way to give thanks for your loved ones. Different types of policies have different kinds of coverage, benefits, and uses. Having the right policy with adequate coverage is the key to protecting your loved ones in the event of a traumatic event – not just the loss of life. Adequate life insurance coverage can help keep you and your loved ones afloat in the case of an unexpected disabling injury, or if you’re in need of long term care. Your life with your loved ones isn’t going to be one size fits all, and your life insurance policy won’t be either.
3. List the right beneficiaries on your policy. This question is particularly important if you haven’t looked at or updated your beneficiaries in a while. Why? Because listing the correct beneficiary will help ensure that any insurance payout will get delivered to the them. You may need to review your policy’s beneficiaries if you have recently married or divorced, had kids, or maybe even met with a cousin over the holidays who you’d like to leave a little something to!
If you can’t say that the 3 ways above are how you’re going to give thanks for your loved ones this year, give me a call. I’d like to give my thanks to you by assisting you with a whole new way to say “thank you” – tailored life insurance!
*Neither World Financial Group nor its agents may provide tax or legal advice. Anyone to whom this material is promoted, marketed, or recommended should consult with and rely on their own independent tax and legal advisors regarding their particular situation and the concepts presented herein.
Any guarantees associated with a life insurance policy are subject to the claims paying ability of the issuing insurance company.*
Bills, bills, mortgage payment, another bill, maybe some coupons for things you never buy, and of course, more bills. There seems to be an endless stream of envelopes from companies all demanding payment for their products and services. It feels like you have a choice of what you want to do with your money ONLY after all the bills have been paid – if there’s anything left over, that is.
More times than not it might seem like there’s more ‘month’ than ‘dollar.’ Not to rub salt in the wound, but may I ask how much you’re saving each month? $100? $50? Nothing? You may have made a plan and come up with a rock-solid budget in the past, but let’s get real. One month’s expenditures can be very different than another’s. Birthdays, holidays, last-minute things the kids need for school, a spontaneous weekend getaway, replacing that 12-year-old dishwasher that doesn’t sound exactly right, etc., can make saving a fixed amount each month a challenge. Some months you may actually be able to save something, and some months you can’t. The result is that setting funds aside each month becomes an uncertainty.
Although this situation might appear at first benign (i.e., it’s just the way things are), the impact of this uncertainty can have far-reaching negative consequences.
Here’s why: If you don’t know how much you can save each month, then you don’t know how much you can save each year. If you don’t know how much you can save each year, then you don’t know how much you’ll have put away 2, 5, 10, or 20 years from now. Will you have enough saved for retirement?
If you have a goal in mind like buying a home in 10 years or retiring at 65, then you also need a realistic plan that will help you get there. Truth is, most of us don’t have a wealthy relative who might unexpectedly leave us an inheritance we never knew existed!
The good news is that the average American could potentially save over $500 per month! That’s great, and you might want to do that… but how* do you do that?
The secret is to “pay yourself first.” The first “bill” you pay each month is to yourself. Shifting your focus each month to a “pay yourself first” mentality is subtle, but it can potentially be life changing. Let’s say for example you make $3,000 per month after taxes. You would put aside $300 (10%) right off the bat, leaving you $2,700 for the rest of your bills. This tactic makes saving $300 per month a certainty. The answer to how much you would be saving each month would always be: “At least $300.” If you stash this in an interest-bearing account, imagine how high this can grow over time if you continue to contribute that $300.
That’s exciting! But at this point you might be thinking, “I can’t afford to save 10% of my income every month because the leftovers aren’t enough for me to live my lifestyle”. If that’s the case, rather than reducing the amount you save, it might be worthwhile to consider if it’s the lifestyle you can’t afford.
Ultimately, paying yourself first means you’re making your future financial goals a priority, and that’s a bill worth paying.
Martin, Emmie. “Here’s how much money the average middle-aged American could save each month.” CNBC*, 11.8.2017, https://www.cnbc.com/2017/11/08/how-much-money-the-average-middle-aged-american-could-save-each-month.html.
In Part 1, we learned that any object pulled into a black hole will be stretched into the shape of spaghetti through a process called – wait for it – spaghettification.¹ If you threw your shoe into it, the black hole’s gravity would stretch and compress your footwear into an unimaginably thin leather noodle as it was pulled deeper and deeper into the hole. Your shoe would be unrecognizable by the time gravity had its way.
The same thing can happen to the money in your checking account. Having a child, replacing an old automobile with something newer and more reliable, or taking a last-minute trip to see the grandparents in Florida over the holidays can put a strain on your finances and stretch your reserves farther than you might have anticipated. As new bills create a bigger and bigger hole in your budget, your financial strategy may become something you don’t recognize.
Here in Part 2, let’s talk about how assigning an identity to your money can keep your financial goals on track, and help reduce the stretching of finite resources.
For example, say you keep all of your money in your checking account. Simple is better, right? If you want to go on a family vacation, you’ll just withdraw the funds from your account. Paying in cash to secure a “great” package deal up front? You’re all over that. But what happens if you pick up some souvenirs for Uncle Bob and Aunt Alice? Hmmm…if you get something for them you’ll have to get something for Greg and Susan, too. (You’ll never make that mistake again.) And you just have to try that chic little cafe that you read about – you may never pass this way again. (But how can they get away with charging that much for a mimosa?!) Buy One, Get One all day pass at “The Biggest Miniature Museum in the World”? Let’s do it!
When you’re on vacation – having fun and enjoying yourself – it might be hard to resist taking advantage of unique experiences or grabbing those unusual gifts you didn’t account for. On the other hand, you may have no problem being thrifty when traveling, but what if someone gets sick or injured and needs hospital care on the road, or the car breaks down, or there is unexpected bad weather and you have to stay an extra day or two at the hotel?
After it’s all said and done, when you return home from your fun-filled trip, you may find a gaping hole where you had a pile of cash at the beginning of the month. If you had given your money a specific role before you planned your vacation, you may not have had such a shock when you got home – and you can enjoy your memories knowing you stayed on track with your financial goals.
Give your money identity, purpose, and the potential to grow by separating it into designated accounts. Try these 3 for starters:
1. Emergency Fund. Leaky roof? Flat tire? Trip to the emergency room? Maybe you’re great at resisting impulse buys (like those great shoes you spied the other day), but sometimes things happen that are out of your control. Your emergency fund is for situations like these. Unexpected, unplanned-for expenses can derail a financial strategy very quickly if you’re not prepared.
The most important thing to keep in mind about this account? Do. Not. Touch. It. Unless there’s an emergency, of course. Then replace the money in the account as quickly as possible until it’s fully funded again.
How much should you keep in your emergency fund? A good rule of thumb is to shoot for at least $1,000, then build it to 3-6 months of your annual income. However much you decide suits your financial goals, just make sure you aren’t dipping into it when you don’t have an emergency. (Note: Grabbing a great pair of shoes on sale is not an emergency.)
2. Retirement Account. If you want to retire at some point (and most of us do), this one is a no-brainer. Odds are you’ve already begun to set aside a little something for the day you can trade in your suit and tie for a Hawaiian shirt and a pair of flip-flops, but are you storing your money for retirement in the right place right now? Unlike a day-to-day checking account with a very low or non-existent interest rate, your retirement account should be a separate account that has some power behind it. You’re taking the initiative to put away money for your future – get it working for you! Your goal should be to grow your retirement savings in an account with as high of an interest rate as you can find.
3. Fun Fund. This category may seem frivolous if you’re trying to stick to a well-structured financial plan, but it’s actually an important piece that can help make your budget “work”! Depending on your priorities, you might contribute a little or a lot to this account, but making some room for fun might make it more palatable to save long-term.
You might try setting aside 10% of your paycheck for fun and entertainment and see how that works² – is that too much or not enough? Bonus: this is easy to calculate each month. If you’re bringing in $2,000 per month, put no more than $200 in your Fun Fund.
What you do with your Fun Fund is your choice. Will it be more of a vacation fund or a concert fund? A wardrobe fund or a theme park fund? It’s all up to you. And when the rest of your money has a purpose and is growing for your future, you might feel less guilty about snagging those hot shoes you’ve had your eye on when they finally do get marked down.
Don’t let your goals and your money get lost in a black hole of coulda, woulda, shoulda. What kind of purpose do you want to give your money? I can help you decide!
¹ Curiosity Staff. “Black Holes Might Cause Spaghettification.” Curiosity, 8.31.2015, https://curiosity.com/topics/black-holes-might-cause-spaghettification/. ² Ward, Margurite. “Here’s how much you should spend on ‘fun’ each month, according to a financial planner.” CNBC, 1.27.2017, https://www.cnbc.com/2017/01/27/how-much-to-spend-on-fun-each-month-according-to-a-financial-planner.html.
What does your own holiday spending bill look like so far? Use these 3 simple ideas to help cut down on your expenses this time of year, and keep the rest of your holiday spending looking more nice than naughty.
1. Decide beforehand how much you’re going to spend on gifts.
Yes, I’m talking about the B-word: Budget. This time of year it’s especially important to exercise discipline with purchases. Have a firm plan about what you’re able to spend before you start tackling your seasonal shopping list, so you can avoid the “holiday hangover” when your January credit card bill arrives. Challenging yourself to stick to a budget can help get the creative gift-giving juices flowing, too. If you’re crafty, there are tons of ideas online for budget-friendly, thoughtful gifts. If you’re not crafty, check out your local dollar store (lately they’ve been really upping their game) or thrift store for low-cost, unique treasures that your giftees will appreciate.
2. Dine in.
When you’ve budgeted for picking up the tab for a celebratory family meal at your favorite restaurant, it can be a great gift that brings everyone together – literally. But if you haven’t financially prepared for a big night out with the whole extended crew, the final cost of the festivities can really sneak up on you. Say you venture out with a party of 15 family members. At even just $10 an entree, if you add in appetizers, desserts, cups of cocoa for the kids, eggnog (or something a little more “grown up” for the adults), and any other extras… Whew, that’s going to be a credit card statement to remember! But what if you planned a night in with the family instead? The whole point is just being together, right? Have a potluck or pizza night (try retailmenot.com for online coupons!). The warmth and comfort of home. Baking cookies. Holiday music in the background. You can still enjoy cups of cocoa and eggnog, but at a fraction of the cost. (Here are some ideas for setting up your own “hot cocoa bar”.)
3. Stay with relatives when you travel home for the holidays.
This practice is standard for some, but if this suggestion makes your face flush or your blood run cold, this may help you change your mind: the average hotel stay costs $127.69 per night (and that’s not even including taxes and fees). Let’s say you’re heading to the town where you grew up for 4 days and 3 nights. The 3 nights at a hotel are going to cost you…
Add in tax and hotel fees as well as the daily cost of gas to and from the hotel, and the thought of a few nights spent in your childhood bedroom (that now has a surprise treadmill-as-a-clothing-rack addition), might not be so terrible.
Saving doesn’t have to mean sacrificing holiday spirit! How many of these tips are you going to use?
National Retail Federation: “Consumers and Retailers Win Big Over Thanksgiving Holiday.” 11.28.2017
Family Feedbag: “Best ever chocolate chip cookies (gift-giving mix!)” 12.2012
HGTV: “Set Up a Holiday Hot Chocolate Bar.”
Statistica: “Monthly average daily rate of United States hotels from 2011 to 2017 (in U.S. dollars).” 2017