The holiday season is in full swing!  It’s time to trim the tree, buy gifts and celebrate with family.  However, you don’t have to go into debt and a potential financial crisis to have a happy holiday–there are many things you can do to avoid the ugly post-holiday financial hangover in January.  Here are some preventative tips to avoid a financial disaster at Christmas.

Plan, Plan, Plan

As always, the first step to avoid financial danger is to plan out everything.  Make a holiday budget that includes everything from how much money you have to spend to a breakdown of who you need to buy for and how much you are willing to spend on each person.  If you plan out your purchases, you will be less likely to have any surprises when the bills come due in January.

Avoid Credit Cards If Possible

When purchasing gifts, try to avoid using your credit card.  You don’t want to start the new year off with a high credit card bill and a bunch of payments you can’t afford.  Instead, see if your store offers some sort of layaway program. Many stores offer this around the holidays, and it is a very effective way to avoid debt but still be able to make payments on items you wish to buy.  The store usually requires you to put down a small payment to hold the item. Then you pay on it when you can until the agreed upon date. Once you’ve paid it off, you can take it home with you. If you don’t end up paying it off, you do lose the money you already put on the item and you will not get to take the item home, so be sure of your purchases if you decide to take this route.

Track Spending

When you finally do purchase all of the items from your planned budget, it is always a good idea to keep track of every purchase.  Write down every purchase you make, and keep receipts in case you need to make a return. This will help you see how closely you stuck to your budget, which will help you plan for next year more effectively.

Use the Dollar Store

Once you have all of your gifts purchased, it’s time to make them look pretty!  Instead of going to the Hallmark store (or even Walmart) for all of your gift wrapping needs, take a look at what your local dollar store has to offer.  Most of the time you will find beautiful wrapping paper, bags, tissue paper and bows for a fraction of the price at another store. The dollar store even has scissors and tape to help you as well.  Always check out the options at the dollar store for gift wrapping before purchasing it elsewhere.

Start Planning Immediately

When the holidays are over, start planning for next year’s Christmas budget immediately.  This may sound like overkill, but if you can start saving a little money here and there for Christmas every month starting in January, you will be way ahead of the ballgame next time the holiday season rolls around.  Take a look at your plan from this year and see what worked and what didn’t work and use that to start hatching a plan for the next year. It’s never too early to start a good plan.

If you need help planning out your Christmas money for next year, take advantage of WCU’s Christmas Club where we help you put money back each month automatically.  You will receive the money just in time for you to shop for gifts near the holidays. To enroll in this program, just give us a call at 256-355-5010, and we can get you set up!

Holidays can wreck your finances if you don’t have a clear cut plan in place, so take this advice and have a successful holiday season.

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