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Making Merry When Times are Tough
Many cash-strapped households may be wondering how they are going to come up with extra money this year to cover the additional costs associated with the holidays.
By making small changes in daily routines, people will likely be able to save money in ways they hadn't considered or didn't think would add up. While one individual change may not amount to much by itself, several changes, even if in place for just a month or two, can have a big impact on savings accounts. Make these changes permanent and the growth in savings a year from now will be significant.
What You Can Do Now:
- Take fewer trips to the grocery store. Going less (and sticking to your shopping list) cuts down on impulse buying which can add up to big bucks in unnecessary purchases. Buy store brands.
- Change one daily habit. Instead of buying a morning coffee and breakfast on your way to work, make your cup of Joe and breakfast at home.
- Eat out even one less time. Eating dinner at home one more night a month and bringing the leftovers to lunch for work the next day can, over time, significantly add to savings. If you reserve eating out only for special occasions, you will save even more.
- Use cash for purchases and save your change. Paying for items with cash means no credit card interest later. Depositing change (instead of leaving it on the dresser) can add as much as $60 a month to piggy bank savings.
- Cut services you don't need – premium TV channels you never watch – and find cheaper substitutes for the ones you do use. Shop around for less expensive auto and home policies. Switch from an unlimited calling plan if you do not need the minutes.
- Adjust your thermostat. Lowering it by just one degree can reduce monthly heating bills by as much as five percent and the difference in heat is minimal. If you are chilly, put on a sweater and throw an extra blanket on your bed.
When You Do Your Holiday Shopping:
- Make a budget. Keep in mind that gifts bought on credit will have to be paid for in coming months. Know what you can spend before you start buying.
- Make a list of who needs gifts and have everyone on the list draw one name. Before they make their purchases, decide how much money each can spend.
- Shop secondhand stores. Clothing, toys and books are available for a fraction of what they cost new at a retail store.
- Give your time as your gift. Make a coupon book where you agree to do yard work, babysit or run errands or make a CD of someone's favorite music.
- Inexpensive craft items like crayons and marker pens make great gifts for children. Use the artwork to inexpensively enhance your holiday décor.
- Make a donation on behalf of someone you love. Find a charity that your loved one supports or go to www.universalgiving.org, which promotes charities worldwide and gives 100 percent of your donation to the selected group or project. Your loved one receives a gift card announcing your donation, the amount of which is entirely up to you and is not disclosed.
- Consider doing potluck celebrations or some other cost-sharing merry making.
Frank discussions with loved ones – including children – about the need for these and other belt-tightening measures will help make it possible to enjoy gatherings and celebrations without spending more than can be afforded. With forethought and some planning, everyone, no matter their financial circumstances, can celebrate in ways that are meaningful and that do not break the bank.
[Janet Lubman Rathner]