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The holiday season is a joyous time filled with loved ones and laughter, but let’s face it; it’s also a time when your finances take a major hit and that’s not very jolly.

 

Each year, holiday expenses are increasing and many people are spending money they don’t have, adding to their already overwhelming debt. Just last year, consumers increased their debt during the holidays by more than $1,000, according to a recent MagnifyMoney study. That’s a 5% percent increase from 2016.

 

Financial expert, Dave Ramsey, points out “You know Christmas is in December every year, so there’s no reason to act like it suddenly snuck up on you.” You have plenty of time each year to prepare your finances and get ready for the happy season without putting a strain on your finances.

 

And here’s how to do it:

Plan your holiday spending around your current financial obligations—not the other way around

Your current financial obligations aren’t going to come to a sudden halt because of the holiday season. You’ll still have your regular expenses, such as paying monthly bills, contributing to retirement funds, etc. So, instead of planning your financial obligations around your holiday expenses and putting your financial situation in jeopardy, plan your holiday expenses around your current finances. In other words, take into account all of your current expenses and only put aside the amount of money for holiday spending that you can afford. You don’t want to spend money you don’t have and dip into your budget for other monetary obligations.

Create a holiday budget and stick to it

A great way to ensure you won’t be putting your finances in a bind during the holiday season is by doing an expense audit and creating a specific holiday budget. Make a list of all of your holiday expenses as well as all of your other financial obligations. Then decide how much money you can spare for holiday spending—an amount that won’t damage your personal finances in the process.

Start a side hustle to earn extra cash

For many people, the holidays are so costly because they spend money on the holiday they want rather than the holiday they can afford. Thankfully, if you want a bigger budget for your holiday spending, there are ways you can increase your cash flow so you don’t have to put your financial situation in jeopardy.

 

One way to do this is by starting a side hustle. Depending on your availability, this can be as time-consuming as you want it to be. You can make your own side hustle by selling homemade crafts, babysitting, tutoring, house cleaning, etc. Or you could take on a temporary second job. During the holidays plenty of seasonal jobs are available that would allow you to pick up a few shifts here and there to earn some extra cash. If you wanted to work enough, you could even set aside your side hustle money to pay for all of your holiday expenses so you didn’t have to use a penny of your regular salary.

Find deals

There’s no shame in using coupons and finding the best deals for the items you want. Who doesn’t like to save money? Most stores usually have a variety of holiday deals to choose from. You can also shop used items that are still in great shape for a discounted price. Also note, certain stores wrack up the prices of their items around the holiday season so it might be a good idea to plan ahead and buy the more expensive gifts (especially technological items) sooner rather than later, in case the price goes up closer to Christmas time.

Consider doing secret Santa gift exchanges

If you’re someone who does gift exchanges with most of your friends and family, it can get expensive. Instead of buying a present for every individual, suggest a secret Santa gift exchange. This way, everyone will still receive a gift and they’ll save money in the process. You can also set a spending limit for these exchanges, so you have an estimate of how much it will cost and you can work this into your holiday budget.

Protect your packages

Every year, more and more people are taking advantage of online shoppers by stealing packages from their porches, earning the nickname “porch pirates.” You don’t want to take your time planning and budgeting your money for the holidays just to have your purchases stolen. If you’re an online shopper, get the tracking number for all purchases and check on the package daily. You can also require a signature when receiving packages so if you’re not home, the package can’t be delivered to your home. This may be more time consuming but it will keep your spent money and your packages safe.

Start saving now

Like Ramsey said, you know when the holiday season is each year so you don’t have to be scrambling mid-December to get your finances in order for your festivities. Take the time to properly plan and to prepare your budget for the additional expenses. It’s never too early to begin saving money.

 

If you’re someone who really likes to plan ahead, you could set aside a small amount of money each month leading up to the holidays. When the holidays roll around, you’ll have a chunk of money already saved.

 

Whatever your saving method may be, you still have time to prepare your finances for the holiday season, so don’t be discouraged and start planning instead.

 

Bio:

McCall Robison is currently a Content Marketing Strategist for BestCompany.com. She writes for a variety of sites and personally manages three blogs for her company. Her work has been featured on Forbes, Yahoo Finance, and Business Insider. You can find McCall on Twitter @mccall_robison on the off chance that she’s not too busy hanging out with her cat.

As we here at Peak Personal Finance have stated repeatedly, there are lots of great tidbits of personal finance advice out there that are great in theory, but not so great in the real world (with bills to pay, mouths to feed, and unexpected expenses). We know, many of these can seem daunting at first, but here are 3 things you can start with little nibbles to get on the right financial path:

1. Three Months of Emergency Savings

For most people this sounds so difficult to do that they never really start trying. Yet, in these days when some creditors are going out of business and/or reducing their credit lines without advance notice to customers, having an emergency fund set aside is more important than ever. But remember, you don’t have to have all three months of savings at once.

We suggest starting today and setting it up electronically so that your online banking account automatically sends funds to your savings account at each payday — this makes it less painful. You can start with a small amount (maybe $20) and then bump up that amount once you find that you can manage without it, and at the very least bump it up every time you get a pay raise. It is fun to watch the money start to add up.

2. Max Out Your 401(k)

Yes, the market is down now, but if you still have a decade or more left before retirement chances are that you can look at this as a good time to “buy low”. Again, the idea of setting aside around $16,000 may be daunting at first, but you can take baby steps here too.

First, if you are lucky enough to still have your company matching your 401(k) contributions to a certain percent, then you are leaving money on the table if you are not taking advantage of that. Next, though you don’t have that money, it is also not taxed now. And once you divide what you would have had after tax by the 24 or more paychecks it is spread out over, the sting each paycheck is not that bad. Again, just get started with a small amount, and bump it up every time you get a raise. Don’t worry so much about short term losses, as this is a strategy for the long haul.

3. Line Up Your Bills

This is probably less enjoyable than the first two tasks, but it is oh so crucial. If you have multiple credit accounts, line them up and form a plan of attack to “take out” the ones with the highest interest rates first by paying as much extra as you can each month. Try not to be distracted by “shiny things” like promotions, “special offers” or other incentives creditors might throw at you to try to keep you indebted to them. This is a polite war, you against them, over who gets to keep more of your money.

And the answer is “yes”, you should start all of these today. You will have to budget how much you can put into each task, but don’t wait to complete one before taking a small step on the others. As they say, every journey starts with one step. Why not take a small step on each of these personal finance tasks today?

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Summer days are longer and the kids are home from school, so that means your air conditioner is being used more, and it’s easy to increase the amount of energy you use every day. This can cause a big increase in your average electric bill, but it doesn’t have to be that way. By being more conscious of how you use the air conditioner, coming up with outdoor activities that require little or no energy, and making some changes around the house, you can lower your energy costs during the long days of summer. Consider the following energy efficiency tips to save money and have an energy efficient summer.

1. Try to keep your air conditioner off as much as possible.

Running your air conditioner is one of the biggest household energy expenses at any time of year, but it’s especially bad in the summer. Many experts in the prepaid electricity industry note that usage skyrockets because of  air condition use. You can cut down on those bills if you keep it off most of the time and make a few simple adaptations to your usage patterns. First, you can use fans more frequently, while keeping the windows closed and the curtains shut so your house will be cooler when the sun’s at its hottest. When it’s cooler outside, you can open the windows and try to create a cross breeze. If you have a two-story house, you can also spend more time downstairs or create a family center in the basement where it is cooler. Go outside for a few fun activities in the summer sun, including swimming and picnics. You can also go out to air-conditioned places like the movies, the mall, and other fun venues. Make sure you encourage your whole family to wear light clothing that they’ll stay cool. If your family is staying inside wearing sweatshirts in the summer because the air is too cold with air conditioning, you are simply wasting energy. Instead, use the air conditioning less and wear clothing appropriate to the season. When you are using your A/C try to keep it at 78° for optimal energy efficiency.

2. Make sure your air conditioner is energy efficient.

When you are using the air conditioner, make sure it’s running efficiently. It’s a good idea to look into this before the heat of summer is upon you. Check your home insulation and seals to make sure the cool air stays in and the hot air stays out. Change the air filter when it’s dirty to prevent the air conditioner from running longer and wasting energy. You might need to look into buying a newer, more energy-efficient air conditioner if you have an outdated model. Plus, do chores that cause heat, like drying clothes and using the oven, at night when it’s cooler so the air conditioner doesn’t have to work as much to keep the house cool.

3. Cut down on indoor cooking.

Use the grill for most of your cooking during the summer months. Grilling is a great summer activity and can expand your cuisine from winter comfort foods. You can grill meats and even many of the side dishes, including corn, vegetables and toasting buns. You can even cook some foods in baking dishes and pots on the grill, like baked beans and berry cobbler for dessert. If you decide to cook some items inside, try to keep it to only simple side dishes and do the bulk of the cooking on the grill. Another option is to make more lettuce salads and cold summer dishes like chicken salad and tuna salad that don’t require cooking. Cutting down on cooking inside will also prevent the house from getting as hot, so it can cut down on costs to keep the house cool. If you need grilling ideas, checkout this post on cheap and easy grilling recipes.

4. Take a break from electronics.

Kids and adults spend endless hours on the computer, on smartphones, watching TV, playing video games, and using countless additional electronic devices. But summer is the perfect time to enjoy some electronics-free fun. There are endless indoor and outdoor activities for kids and adults that can save on energy costs, including bike rides, reading, putting on a play, playing dress-up, playing board games and with toys, playing with water guns and water balloons, exploring the outdoors, fishing, camping, going on day trips, and more. Try to get the neighbors involved as well, so the activities can be more social. By engaging in more of these activities, you can save energy by not using electronics all day, plus you can unplug them during that time to prevent wasting energy through the standby functions.

5. Cut down on hot water use.

During the summer, it’s hot anyway, so it’s not so hard to cut down on hot water and save money on water-heating costs. Encourage your family to take cooler showers, which can be refreshing after a hot day in the sun. Practice shorter showers, no baths, and turning the water off when brushing teeth and shaving. Use cold water to wash the car and water the plants.

6. Cut down on the costs of your pool.

Pools take energy to run the filtration pumps, plus extra if you heat them and run lights at night. To cut down on energy usage here, consider going to a community pool instead, using a friend’s or neighbor’s pool, or going to the ocean or other natural bodies of water. If you want to continue to or start to use a pool at home, there are a few tricks that can help you save money. Use a cover on the pool when it’s not in use to cut down on cleaning, to prevent evaporation, and to keep the water warmer. Consider investing in a solar heating system if you need to heat the water. Also, specific filters, such as sand multi-layer filtration systems, can help you save money in energy costs by not using as much hot water.

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As our lives become increasingly mobile, it is little surprise that we are interested in taking more of our finances with us. And with smart phones, like the iPhone, Blackberry and G1, it is possible to keep track of just about everything related to your financial world.

Using apps on your smart phone is a great way to make sure that you are always up to speed with your financial situation — no matter where you are and what you are doing. Some of these financial apps are free, and others will cost between $1.99 and $25, depending on the company and the version that you get.

Here are six different types of financial apps that you can use on your smart phone:

  1. Banking/Personal Finance: It is easy to find apps that can help you with your banking and personal finance. Most of the major banks now have apps that allow you to check balances from your phone, as well as make balance transfers and pay bills. You can also find nearby ATMs. Personal finance apps let you keep track of your income and expenses remotely, and many of them can be attached to your bank accounts so that you get access to those as well. Mint and Pageonce are two examples of personal finance apps.
  2. Investments: If you are an investor, you can get the latest price alerts, stock quotes and financial news. You can also see if your brokerage offers apps for your smart phone. If so, it is sometimes possible to manage your account, buying and selling from your cell phone. Bloomberg Mobile and iStockManager are two examples of investment apps that can help you stay connected to your portfolio.
  3. Calculators: There are some really cool calculator apps out there. These do more than just help you add up numbers. You can can calculate tips, get the latest currency conversions and even figure out a pay-off rate for debt and a payment schedule for your mortgage. Some apps that fall into this category include Pay Off Debt, Mortgage Calculator and eCurrency.
  4. Shopping: You can even increase your shopping efficiency with the help of your cell phone. There are coupon applications that help you search for the coupons you want and then download them to your phone — no paper necessary. Additionally, it is also possible to use some applications to comparison shop with other places in town or online. Some great shopping apps include ShopSavvy, GasBuddy and Coupon Sherpa.
  5. Searching Real Estate: If you are interested in getting a little help with home shopping, there are a number of apps that can help you locate homes in the neighborhood you are in. Many of these apps use a mash-up with mapping technology to help you search homes via MLS. You can also do some research and find agents. Some of the real estate search apps you can try include Zillow and Homes for Sale.
  6. Add Money to Your Parking Meter: This is actually a really cool idea. In some 100 locations around the world, including Miami, Chicago, San Francisco, Vancouver and Dallas, you can sign up to pay your meter remotely from an account. This will work with any cell phone. All you do is call the number on the meter, enter the code, and decide how much time you want. You are billed later. Your cell phone will keep you updated with regard to how much time you have left. Verrus and Clancy Systems International provide these services.

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