Make the Most Out of Your Holiday Dollars in 2014
Free Tools to Assist Military Families
November 25, 2014 by Allen Usry
In uncertain economic times, it’s natural for people to pull back financially. Military families know this all too well—as a study done earlier this year noted that three out of four service members have financial worries, which could affect their holiday spending this year.
According to Gallup, Americans intend on spending $781 on gifts, food, and decorations this holiday season—up slightly from the $730 they spent in 2013. To help military families’ dollars go farther this holiday season, a free holiday spending budgeting tool and other helpful resources are available at HolidaySpendingPlanner.org, allowing users to create and manage a budget, make and track gift lists, and compare actual spending to what someone has put aside.
Smart holiday spending tips
Develop an attitude of “defending your money”. In a season where spending beyond our budget is almost expected, develop an attitude that keeps costs down. Holiday spending shouldn’t derail your ability to save and build wealth. To save on holiday spending in 2014, consider the following:
- Use cash when possible—To minimize debt and future interest payments pay cash for as many gifts as you can.
- Utilize coupons and discounts—Sites such as Groupon and SmartSource, and even your local paper, can provide you with great deals. Many places also offer some sort of military discount; just make sure to ask and have your military ID with you. Never pay full price if you don’t have to.
- Using credit wisely when needed—Using credit at some point is pretty much unavoidable, but simply reaching for a credit card is not always the best option due to the “minimum payment trap.” For example, if you pay just the minimum on your cards each month:
- $2,000 at 15 percent interest will take 8+ years to pay off with $847 in total interest
- $4,000 at 15 percent interest will take 10+ years to pay off with $1,756 in total interest
In short, even a small purchase can turn into a big financial headache, with more than 40 percent of your payments going toward interest over the long run. If you need to use a credit card, use one with the lowest interest rate and longest grace period (the time between your purchase and when they begin charging interest), and try to pay off the balance in full each month.
An alternative is to use a traditional installment loan. The advantage is that you know what your monthly payments will be and when it will be paid in full; the disadvantage is that it’s not quite as convenient and fast as a credit card.
There are several ways to spend almost no money on a present while still giving something memorable this holiday season.
- Make something—Having kids make something from the whole family is a time-honored tradition that's almost always welcome. The gift of food is also a great option, especially around the holidays when many celebrations revolve around the dinner table.
- Group gifts—If someone on your list wants something out of your price range, consider pooling money from several other people. This increases purchasing power and everyone gets to contribute to a gift that you wouldn't be able to afford on your own.
- Do something special—You don't always have to give a tangible item as a present. Offering to spend an afternoon at the movies with a sibling, a trip to the park with the kids, a night of babysitting for new parents, or helping around the house of an elderly family member can create memories no trinket can match.
In the end, there’s no need to let a gloomy economic outlook cloud your holiday cheer. Instead, create a smart budget and do some wise spending, and your holidays can be plenty bright.