12 financial tips to help you survive the holidays

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12 financial tips to help you survive the holidays


The holiday season isn't always the most wonderful time of year -- especially when it comes to your wallet.

According to a 2015 Healthline survey, over 60 percent of respondents experienced some stress during the holidays. The No. 1 cause of stress? 47 percent of respondents said "finances."

With travel, gifts, parties and more, it's easy to feel stretched thin during the holiday season. Here are 12 money tips from the financial community to help you survive the holiday season.

1. Let your budget be your guide.

It can be really easy to overspend during the holidays. In order to combat overspending, come up with a budget of what you can actually afford for gifts and travel without going into debt or touching your savings.

"If the number is $1,000, then split it up per person -- $200 on your wife, $50 on your brother, etc.," says Greg Wells, vice president and Certified Financial Planner™ at EP Wealth Advisors. "You're less likely to splurge when you shouldn't."

2. Make the most of your credit card spending.

If you're a responsible credit card user and pay off your balances each month and avoid debt, you can make the most of your credit card spending and get cash back.

"According to our customer data, last holiday season, consumers spent an average of $700 on retail purchases alone," says Jason Gaughan, senior vice president at Bank of America. "By using a rewards card, shoppers can earn points they can redeem after the holidays to help pay their bills."

3. Keep your balances low.

If you're using credit cards this holiday season, you may be charging a lot to your card. Even if you pay off your balance in full each month, carrying a balance that's more than 30 percent of your credit limit could lower your credit score.

"Holiday shoppers should be mindful of racking up too many credit card charges in order to keep their credit utilization in a healthy range," says Heather Battison, vice president at TransUnion.

4. Create a list and check it twice.

The holidays are a great time to be generous, but that doesn't mean you need to get a gift for everyone you know.

"One tip I have for surviving the holiday season is to pare down your list of gift recipients," says Sharon Marchisello, author of "Live Cheaply, Be Happy, Grow Wealthy."

Consider getting gifts for your closest family and children, while opting for a party with friends or a gift exchange with co-workers, if your budget allows it.

5. Get creative with gifts.

Here's one of the best holiday secrets: You don't have to spend any money on gifts! Instead, you can give the value of your skills and time.

"Offer to baby-sit to give your loved ones a date night or shovel snow a couple of times for your parents this winter. [Or], offer a voucher for one lawn mowing or house cleaning to your friends," suggests Sam Farrington, founder and financial planner at Sound Mind Financial Planning.

6. Make extra money using the sharing economy.

Why not try your hand at earning more money to help offset your holiday-related costs?

"My number one tip is to take advantage of opportunities in the sharing economy," says Glenn Carter, blogger at The Casual Capitalist. The sharing economy allows you to use your skills and resources to make money on your own time through various apps and websites.

Carter suggests checking out sites such as Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, DogVacay, Instacart and Postmates to get started.

7. Think twice about getting a store card.

When you're at a store making a purchase, you may get a tempting offer to sign up for a store card in order to get a discount on your purchase. It can sound like a good deal when you're trying to save money -- but retail cards can be a slippery slope.

"Don't open retail store cards unless you can pay them off in-full on the spot," says Ashley Agnew, associate director of relationship development at Centerpoint Advisors. "Retail credit cards have high interest rates and late fees that can nullify whatever promotion they advertise."

If you do end up getting a store credit card, be sure to understand your interest rate and strive to pay it off on time and in full every month.

8. Don't shop under pressure.

The holiday season can be stressful. To keep your finances in good shape, avoid shopping at the last minute. You may be pressured to spend more than you can afford just so you can get out of an overcrowded mall.

When trying to stick to a budget and a specific gift list, go shopping when you're thinking clearly.

9. Use card-linked offers to save the most money.

Cutting coupons isn't for everyone, but there are ways you can get a discount on your shopping without reaching for the scissors: through card-linked offers that work with your debit or credit card.

"To use a card-linked offer, consumers link a coupon to their preferred payment card and they receive the discount or loyalty benefit at the time of purchase automatically, without paper coupons or QR codes," says Silvio Tavares, president and CEO of The CardLinx Association.

"Many companies such as Ebates, Coupons.com and Empyr, along with American Express and Mastercard, provide cash-back offers when you buy the things you want from your favorite brands."

10. Avoid only paying the minimum on your credit cards after the holidays.

During the holiday season, work to keep tabs on your credit card spending and, if possible, pay more than the minimum on your credit card balances when your bill arrives. If you can, pay your balances in full as soon as possible so you don't end up getting hit with additional interest charges.

11. Contribute more to your 401(k).

You may associate the holiday season with spending and giving, but it's also close to tax time. Don't forget to save for yourself and your future, which may help your tax liability.

"Put as much as you can before year end in your 401(k). This could give you a federal, state and local (if applicable) tax break," says Abby Eisenkraft, CEO of Choice Tax Solutions Inc.

Of course, how much you can save depends on your personal financial situation. Any questions or specifics should be discussed with a tax professional.

12. Count your blessings

For some, the holidays are considered the most wonderful time of year. For others, it can be a difficult time. Gary Duell, owner of Duell Wealth Preservation recommends focusing on the good things you already have -- instead of the things you don't have.

"I've seen the havoc the holidays can wreak on not only one's wellbeing but also on finances," Duell says. Duell's daughter passed away 21 years ago the week before Christmas. Though the holiday season is a painful time, he focuses on gratitude during the holiday season.

"No additional person, place or thing will make me happy unless I appreciate who, what, and where I already am," he says. In order to stay focused, he recommends journaling about all the blessings you do have in your life.

"You [may be] less likely to overeat, over imbibe, overspend, and be unkind to those around you. It helps you keep present, centered and mellow," he says.

About the Author: Melanie Lockert is a freelance writer and event planner currently living in Los Angeles. She is the author of Dear Debt: A Story About Breaking Up With Debt. She has been featured on Oprah, Huffington Post, Business Insider, The Globe and Mail and more.

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