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Financial Stress Relief for the Holidays
December, 2006 - Issue #26
Well, it is that time of year again. The holidays are upon us. You may be asking yourself, "How did they get here so soon? What am I going to get everyone? Have I even finished paying for last year?"

This time of year can be terrific. Great food; family; work parties; silly, but cute, kids programs at school. All of these can be very exciting and can help to make the season a joyful time of traditions and memories. But this can also be a very stressful time. You may ask yourself, "What great food am I going to make? What family is coming for dinner? Are Uncle Joe and Aunt Sally still not talking? Do I really have to buy Jim at the office a $25 gift? What do I have to make so my little boy can be a tree in the play?" The holidays are just like the rest of the year: a balancing act between fun and responsibilities. The difference is that there is twice as much to balance in only a month and a half.

Your Holiday Money-Saving Game Plan

•Set a budget and stick to it. Include all items, from food to kids' pageant costumes to presents.
•Know what you are going to buy before you enter a store. This will reduce impulse shopping.
•Plan a shopping/errand route that will save you time, energy and gas.
•Don't charge it. Spend what you can afford or you'll enter a cycle of debt that will follow you through 2007 (at least!)
•If you must use plastic, plan on paying off the full amount in 30 days.
•Remember that the holidays are a chance to spend quality time with family and friends; no one will remember what present they opened a year or two from now, but all will recall the joys of chatting in front of the fireplace, sipping cocoa with cousins and catching up with old friends.
So how can you get it all done with as little stress as possible? Well, I can't help you with Aunt Sally and Uncle Joe and I have no idea how to make a tree costume, but by using this list of time saving, money saving and stress reducing tips you should be able to handle Joe and Sally a bit better.

Take a deep breath, relax and enjoy yourself. Holiday preparation is going to take awhile, so pace yourself. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Set a budget for all of your holiday spending. That's right, I said budget. Know how much you can spend before you start spending. This should include gifts, food, babysitting, wrapping paper, decorations and the list goes on. The up side is, this is where the creative and usually the most memorable holidays are born.

Create a list of people to buy for and another one for who is coming to dinner and stick to the lists. Know what you are going to buy for everyone on the list before you start shopping and stick to the list. This can and will save you a lot of money by reducing impulse shopping

Plan a route. Knowing where and when you are going can reduce stress, panic and save gas. Getting more done in a day leaves more time for you.

Reward yourself. Tell yourself, "If I get one third of this list done today and I stay on or below budget, then I can have a manicure or I will hit a bucket of balls." However, the catch to the reward program is that you have to be honest or it is useless. By the way, don't forget to include these rewards in your holiday budget.

Minimize or avoid charging purchases. People tend to overspend and fall off their budget when they charge. If something needs to be purchased on plastic make sure you can pay off the full amount within 30 days. Here is a fun fact from www.debtscape.org: "If your credit card balance is $8,000 and you make the minimum monthly payment at 18-percent interest, it will take you 25 years, seven months to pay off the debt. You will pay $15,432 in interest charges, almost twice the balance, bringing your total to $23,432." That was a fun fact, huh?

Start preparing for next year now. Calculate what it took for you to have a successful shopping experience this year. Use the knowledge gained this year to prepare for next year. You might even be able to start sooner.

It's my hope that this holiday season will be your family's best ever, and that these tips will help you find time to enjoy all the work you put into making your family's holiday fantastic.

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David Beaver is a financial counselor with Total Financial Solutions. E-mail questions and suggestions to tfm@insidescv.com.
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