Surviving the Holidays With Your Sanity Intact

The holiday season is a special time. With Charlie Brown on TV and carols on the radio, Image of cookies in the shape of a sleighand an ever-growing list of people to shop for, it’s easy to get carried away.  The pressure to over-shop and overspend when you’re rushing to buy everything on your list can be overwhelming. No worries, though; we’ve got you covered! Read on for fantastic pre-and post-holiday tips to ensure you’ll have a holly, jolly December without breaking the bank.

6 Pre-Holidays Tips

Revise your gift list

Gift giving is a treasured tradition, but chances are, lots of the people you exchange gifts with would be as relieved as you’d be to be taken off your list. Narrow down your gift list. Talk to coworkers and acquaintances about just exchanging cards this year, or make a deal to only exchange homemade or inexpensive gifts.

This way, you can focus on buying special gifts for those closest to you instead of generic gifts for everyone you’ve ever met and their cousins, too.

 Organize a Yankee Swap or Secret Santa

Still got a list that’s a mile long? Try one of these creative solutions! A Yankee Swap or a Secret Santa activity not only saves money and stress, it adds a bit of intrigue and playfulness to the holiday. These swaps are great for family gatherings, office parties and neighborhood get-togethers.  Everyone involved only needs to bring a single gift – and it’s always fun.

Set a reasonable price cap on gifts so no one ends up leaving with a candy cane while the person next to them hauls off a flat-screen TV.  You can check out online tips for organizing a fun and affordable Yankee Swap or Secret Santa.

Bake holiday treats

Another great way to reduce the financial weight of your gift list is to break out the baking supplies and start whipping up your own holiday treats instead of buying gifts.

It’s hard to know exactly what your friend will like as a gift, but no one turns down a tin of homemade holiday cookies! Use your favorite traditional recipes, or try something new and different.

 Make a budget and stick to it

This tip sounds a bit obvious.  After all, we all plan to stick to a budget, right?  But make this the year it really happens!

Don’t set yourself a ballpark budget.  Set an absolute limit to how much you will spend on the holidays this season.  This will encourage you to plan your spending rather than grabbing impulse items as you move through a store.  It will also encourage you to look for great deals, which brings us to our next tip.

 Make use of holiday deals….but don’t get distracted

It’s easy to become hypnotized by deals. Prices drop and we go wild, spending more than we originally intended because we don’t want to miss out on those “crazy, low holiday prices.”

Take a deep breath.  Make use of these deals wisely by buying items on your list at a discounted price.  But don’t be tantalized by the deals to the point that you buy things you don’t really need….or even want.

 Rethink giving

We know that the holidays are all about giving – but giving doesn’t need to mean spending money.  Instead of running to the mall again, think of other ways you can give that will help improve your community, make the world a better place, and truly brighten someone’s holiday.

It’s the perfect time of year to volunteer at local soup kitchens, homeless shelters and charity organizations. This kind of giving doesn’t cost a dime, but can be a memorable and significant experience for all involved.

To find local volunteer opportunities, click here.

Post-Holiday Tips

Use those gift cards

Gift cards are a typical holiday gift, but many people forget they have them, and they go unused.

Put all of your gift cards in your wallet and spend them creatively.  Maybe you don’t care for coffee on the go, but you can buy a package of ground coffee beans at Starbucks and use it at home.  Use that iTunes gift card to rent a movie instead of taking the family out.  Whatever it might be, use these gift cards and appreciate them for what they are – money in your wallet.

Invest in next year’s regifting effort

In addition to gift cards, you’ll probably find yourself with a bunch of gifts you don’t really want.  Some of these can be saved and re-gifted next year or used as birthday gifts throughout the year – scented candles, bottles of wine, bath products, etc.  Even if you don’t actually want it, you can find someone else who does!

Help! I Overspent On Christmas!


It’s so easy to go overboard on Christmas. If you have kids, you want everything to be perfect for them. You want to build priceless memories, so spending any amount seems worth it. If you’re just getting started, you want to impress your family with how together you have things. Giving extravagant gifts to your family members seems like a great idea … until you’re staring at a huge credit card bill in January.

However it happened, it’s important to approach this problem rationally. Constantly blaming yourself won’t fix the problem. The important part now is to right yourself financially. You can’t take back gifts and return them at this point. You have to deal with the situation that’s in front of you.

Fortunately, you’re not alone. Destinations Credit Union is here to help. Check out these four ways you can patch up your finances and have things right before summer.

1.) Budgeting advice

It can be very tempting to make only the minimum payments on the credit card you used to buy Christmas. Unfortunately, it’s also the best way to ensure you’re in debt for all the Christmases from here on out.

Making minimum payments on credit cards prolongs the length of time you’re in debt. It also makes the total amount you pay for your debt skyrocket. Making just the minimum payment adds an extra $175 to a $10,000 balance at 21% APR.

What you need is an aggressive debt repayment plan. The question you should be asking yourself isn’t, “What’s the least I can pay on this debt?” Instead, identify the most you can afford to pay. Destinations Credit Union can help with informative guides and worksheets on household budgeting.

Making an extreme budget is usually not a good choice, but in this case, it’s essential until you get yourself out from under that holiday-fueled debt. Make some sacrifices and get ready to tighten your belt for a little while. Yeah, coming up with an extra $35 or $50 a month is tough, but it’s the easiest way to get things moving.

2.) Refinancing major purchases

If you went overboard on one or two major purchases, like a car for a teen, it may not be credit card debt you need help overcoming. Slick dealers offer crazy-sounding incentives like zero down and zero percent financing on cars to entice people to give cars for Christmas. Unfortunately, once you’ve signed on the dotted line, you may see you’re in for more than you can handle with a car payment.

Destinations Credit Union can help. Our auto and other major purchase loans often feature rates that are better than dealerships. You may need to finance over a longer term to manage the monthly expenses, or you may just need to restructure to pay less now. Either way, you’ll find more favorable and flexible terms with us than you will at the dealer. 

3.) Debt counseling 
Does reading those credit card statements fill you with a dizzying sense of despair? Destinations Credit Union can help you make sense of them.

Make an appointment to speak with a debt counselor.  Through our partnership with Accel, Destinations Credit Union offers free unlimited debt counseling. You’ll gain a better understanding of your rights and responsibilities. You can also come up with a realistic plan to pay off your debt and avoid falling into the same trap next year.

4.) Personal loans

Instead of making dozens of minimum payments, wouldn’t it be nice to focus your debt into one manageable plan? A debt consolidation loan can do just that. Best of all, it can save you money in the long run by lowering your interest rate and monthly payment commitment. Rather than paying a credit card APR, you can get the low fixed rate on a personal loan.

Although collateral, or something to secure the loan, can help get you a lower interest rate, it isn’t necessary. All you need is some basic personal information and a willing partner, like Destinations Credit Union. Our loan specialists can help you organize and simplify your payments, working toward a debt-free life.

Your Turn: Feeling buyer’s remorse after a big holiday spending spree? Let us know about it in the comments. If you’ve got a system to stay on budget, help your fellow members and share your wisdom!


How To Be The Host With The Most Without Draining Your Account


Hosting a holiday meal is one of the stressful parts of any holiday. Sure, it’s great to help everyone get together under one roof as part of a fantastic tradition. On the other, though, feeding many people can put a serious strain on your budget. With holiday gifts to buy, a strain like that really can’t come at a worse time! 

Fortunately, it’s possible to be a great host and a great saver at the same time. It’s not easy, but you can put on a great holiday meal without breaking the budget. Try these 3 handy tips to save this year!
 

1.) Plan
If there’s a law written in a personal finance stone tablet, it’s “always make a plan.” It doesn’t need to be detailed, but it should identify your needs for a project and how you intend to meet them. For a meal, that should include both what you intend to put on the table and anything else you need to make your guests comfortable.
Obviously, the earlier you start making your plan, the better off you’ll be. Having a plan in place lets you take advantage of the rotating grocery specials. You can incorporate more seasonal produce, meaning you’ll cook a better tasting and more nutritious meal at a better price. The plan also lets you make a budget for your holiday meal spending while not having to put big shopping trips on credit cards. The memories of a wonderful family meal should stick around for years; a debt to pay for it all should not!
2.) Delegate
The sheer volume of tasks that go along with hosting a holiday meal can quickly get overwhelming. Beyond the meal, you need to clean and tidy up, decorate, and make sure your house is stocked with essentials, like hand soap and toilet paper. Even listing all the steps involved can get exhausting!
That’s why it’s important to recognize the tasks that need your individual attention and separate them from the tasks that can be done by someone else. While you may be doing most of the cooking, outsource the meal planning to a family member. Give them the guest list and ask them to help you come up with recipes that will satisfy the crowd. You can also get kids involved in making and placing decorations, which may help get them in the holiday spirit as well. While it’s likely too imposing to ask guests to bring toiletries as part of a potluck, you may be able to fold that shopping into your ordinary shopping and avoid extra last-minute trips.
By delegating responsibilities, you make the task of putting together a wonderful time more manageable. This decreases the temptation to find a quick, easy and potentially expensive, solution at the last minute. Budgets tend to explode most often when there’s a serious time or energy crunch. Avoid that crunch by getting help wherever you can.
3.) Substitute
While everyone loves a nice holiday roast, cuts of beef big enough to serve an entire family can easily cost $200 or more. Instead, look for seasonal specialties, like spiral cut ham. You can also get good prices on turkey breast or whole chicken, both of which can easily feed an army without draining your checking account. If you have the time, slow-cooking cheap cuts of pork (belly or shoulder) can make ham or bacon that’s tastier than what you get at the supermarket, but for a lower price. It will cure in the fridge for several days, and then needs to be cooked. A smoker is best for this process, but a standard grill can work in a pinch.
You can use the same home cooking ingenuity to save on side dishes. One of the best ways to feed lots of people without breaking the bank is to use root vegetables, which are cheap and filling. Rubbing parsnips, potatoes, sweet potatoes or carrots with salt and pepper before throwing them in the oven for 40 minutes on medium heat can turn ordinary produce into delicious sides. Serve these instead of more expensive, less nutritious, canned or frozen vegetables.
Finally, don’t forget to substitute other people’s cooking for your own. Guests like to feel included in the preparation process. Ask your guests to bring desserts or sides, while you focus on getting your main dishes ready. This will save you both time and money.
Don’t forget that the best things about the holiday are free. Time spent with friends and family, telling stories and making memories, is more important than how much food you put on the table. Your guests will remember the shared experience of the holidays more than what was on their plates, so focus on being gracious and calm while making your guests feel welcome.
Happy holidays!
Your Turn: What’s your best holiday budget survival tip? Do you have any go-to tips or tricks that saves on costs? Let us know how you host with the most (without spending the most) in the comments!

It’s Almost Halloween, So Let’s Talk Christmas


Football has begun, the leaves are changing and the kids are back in school. Clearly, it’s time to start thinking about Christmas.  Some of you are reading this on your phone while waiting in line at Starbucks, preparing to buy your first Pumpkin Spice Latte of the season, but it’s time to start thinking of peppermint mochas instead.  Even if you’re the “Bah, Humbug” type of person who regularly posts Facebook rants about the neighbors putting up their lights before Thanksgiving, making financial plans for the holiday is still a really good idea.  It might be too early to hang a stocking, but it’s never too early to sock money away.

Question: How much will I be spending on the holidays this year?

Answer:  Recent studies have pegged the price of the holidays at roughly $300 per child, while one in 10 shoppers admit to spending over $500 on gifts for their children.  Overall, Americans spent about $600 billion on Christmas last year, which comes out to around $2,000 per person. This includes decorations, hams, ugly sweaters, and whatever else you tend to buy.  That’s a lot of money.

Question:  Ugh.  Why are we even talking about that money now? It’s not even Halloween!

Answer:  Halloween is exactly why we should make plans now.  Since 2005, American spending on Halloween has spiked.  Last year, we spent about $7 billion on Halloween, including $350 million on costumes for our pets!  It’s easy to overspend in October, let that lead into an indulgent Thanksgiving in November, and then find ourselves putting all our Christmas spending onto a high-interest-rate credit card.  Planning ahead is a necessary step to prevent you from a holiday hangover in the New Year.

Question:  How bad is it to put Christmas on a credit card?

Answer:  It might be worse than you think.  It’ll cost you about $200 per month to pay off an average Christmas debt in time for next year if using a typical high-interest credit card. And if you don’t pay it off by next year, you’re suddenly trying to pay off two holidays at once. That’s bad news.  Even if you think you can handle the extra debt load, remember that the Fed just raised rates, and it may do so again. Whenever it does, you can expect your credit card bill to go up.  On top of all that, paying around $400 in interest charges and fees over the course of the year is still $400.  That’s probably enough money to turn your average Christmas into something worthy of a televised Christmas special.  If you have to use a credit card, make sure it’s a low rate card like your Destinations MasterCard.

Question:  Is it too late to get ahead for this year?

Answer:  Not at all.  You have a lot of options to save yourself from your own spending.  You can sign up for a Holiday Club account, a High Yield Account or a variety of other plans.  But that’s not the only approach.  You can also get ahead of the rate hikes by moving all of your credit card debt into a home equity loan (check out our rates) or signing up for one of our low-interest credit cards.

But even all those options don’t represent all the various ways to save money. Remember that Christmas spending doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition.  You can combine savings, credit cards and budgeting to attack the holiday from several angles.  Start now, and by Christmas you’ll have a well-stocked war chest, or in this case, toy chest, to give you a variety of options.

Question:  What about the holidays between now and then?

Answer:  Between Halloween and Thanksgiving, Americans spend around $150 per person on average, which is far more affordable than Christmas. But that can still add up quickly, especially in larger families.  It can also be difficult to tighten the belt at this time of year, because it can mean less candy and less family time for the kids.  If you’re worried about this spending, one way to rein it in is to make a combined holiday budget you pay into every month.  Figure out how much you plan to spend on birthdays, holidays, anniversaries and the like, then divide that by 12.  That’s how much you need to put away every month.  Does that sound like a lot of money?  Then you can cut down all year long.  Maybe you don’t need to send birthday gifts to as many people or your anniversary can be a smaller occasion this year. The bottom line: If you start planning ahead, you can keep your holiday spending from being an obstacle to your financial future.

Sources:

http://theeconomiccollapseblog.com/archives/guess-how-much-americans-plan-to-spend-on-christmas-and-halloween-this-year
http://www.today.com/parents/yes-we-spoil-our-kids-6-000-moms-come-clean-1C7397939

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2011/10/the-halloween-economy-2-billion-in-candy-300-million-in-pet-costumes/247531/

http://abcnews.go.com/WN/mailform?id=14998335