Stay Out of Debt This Holiday Season


As the holidays quickly approach us, it’s time to take a look at our finances and holiday spending.  One of the ways you can be sure to have a stress-free holiday is to not go into debt buying Christmas gifts.  If you don’t have the money to buy gifts this year, you shouldn’t charge things on your credit cards just to have something to give.  However, with the right planning, you can stay debt-free and give your loved ones something special for the holidays. Here are a few tips that will help you have a debt-free Christmas.

Budget and Plan in Advance

As with most tips to staying debt free, the first thing you must do is make a plan.  Figure up how much money you will need for gifts, events and food this holiday season.  Write down that total amount and divide it by twelve. The total is the amount of money you need to save each month to meet your budget by Christmas.  If you start to plan for the holiday season in January, you won’t have to stress about not having enough money at the end of the year, which is a contributing factor for debt.

Make Your Gifts

If you find yourself in the situation where you didn’t plan ahead and money is tight, then consider hand-making your gifts instead of going out and spending a bunch of money.  The act of giving gifts during the holiday season is just to show your loved ones that you care about them. This can be done through inexpensive homemade gifts like baked goods or crafts.  Remember it’s the thought that counts. Check out Pinterest for some homemade gift ideas.

Sell Things for Cash

If crafting isn’t for you, don’t worry!  There are ways to make some extra cash if you need money for gifts.  The easiest way to do this is to sell items you no longer want on platforms such as Ebay, Craigslist, Letgo and Facebook Marketplace.  You can sell old clothes, books, electronics, kitchen appliances, baby items, etc…there’s a market for most items in your home. Selling those items will give you enough cash to buy gifts if you find yourself in a bind at Christmas.

Pay Off Cards

If you use credit cards for any reason (like gaining rewards points for purchases), it’s important that you always pay off your cards completely when the bill is due.  If you don’t, you will be incurring interest, which will end up costing you a lot of money in the long run if left unattended. If you pay off your cards in full, you won’t have to worry about outstanding debt.

These are just a few ideas of ways you can stay out of debt during the holiday season.  Check out some of our other blog posts in the archives for more debt management tips.

How To Avoid A Financial Crisis This Holiday Season

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.

Gift Ideas to Inspire Financial Health

What do you gift a person who has everything?  When it comes to some people in your life, a little creative gift giving might be in order for the holidays.  Why not give your loved one the gift of inspired financial health? Here are some non-traditional holiday gift ideas that can help or inspire people to get in financial shape.

Investment Fun

When it comes to teaching kids about investing and the stock market, why not give them a little hands on experience?  You can gift them a small sum of money that they can invest in a “fun” company of their choice–like Disney for example–that will peak their interest.  Then you can show them the basics of investing and watching the stock market. If they are interested in the company and feel they have “ownership,” they will be more likely to take an interest in learning where their money is going.

Start Retirement Young

Another great gift for teens and young adults would be to start a retirement fund for them.  You can give them a sum of money to start their fund or you can match whatever they put in to mimic an employers match.  Whatever way you decide to do it, teach them retirement fund basics along the way, like how much they can contribute per year and what the different types of retirement accounts mean.  You can never start too young!

Help Education

A great gift for your kids or grandkids is to start a 529 Savings Plan for their education.  This gift may seem boring to the kid at first, but when they are older and don’t have to take out student loans, they will thank you.  This not only shows that you support their education, but you can contribute a small amount to the plan each year as additional gifts.

Personal Finance Books

Books about personal finance topics are a great gift for those in college, just starting out on their own or young newlyweds.  Books such as The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey or The New Retirement by Jan  Cullinane and Cathy Fitzgerald are just a couple to get started with.  Check out our previous blog post about great books on financial topics.

Giving those you care about gifts that help them financially is truly the gift that keeps on giving.  So keep that in mind next time you are on the hunt for the perfect holiday gift for a loved one.

Frugal and Easy Ways to Decorate for the Holidays

Everyone knows the holidays can be expensive between the gifts, decorations, food and travel.  But decorating for Christmas doesn’t have to be super expensive. There are lots of ways to save a few bucks while still making your house festive.  

Do-It-Yourself

Making your own decorations is not as hard as you might think.  There are tons of tutorials and decoration ideas on Pinterest and YouTube.  From making your own wreaths and ornaments to more elaborate outside decorations, you can pretty much find instructions for anything you could ever want in a decoration scheme.

Use the Dollar Store

Sometimes dollar stores can be great, and the holiday season is definitely one of those times. Dollar stores tend to carry many decoration items such as fake flowers, items to make wreaths, stockings, bows and other trinkets you can use in your DIY projects.  With a little imagination and some of the online tutorials we mentioned earlier, you can transform your home into a holiday wonderland without breaking the bank.

Go Minimal

Sometimes the best way to save money is just not to go all out for the holidays.  Less can be more in some situations, and if your wallet is hurting this holiday season, just stick to the basics.  Put up a nice tree with your decorations from previous years and stick a wreath on the door. These decorations will still make your home feel festive, but they won’t overwhelm your senses or your wallet.

Realizing the holidays aren’t about the “stuff” is important.  If you are under a budget or simply like being frugal, use this upcoming holiday season to focus on your family, friends and community rather than what all you have to buy to keep up with your neighbors.  Use these simple tips to help you stay in the holiday spirit no matter how much money you have to spend.

 

4 Money Saving Energy Conservation Tips for Winter


As the weather cools off this fall, it’s time to start thinking about getting your home ready for winter.  In a few weeks or so, your electric bill and wallet will start feeling the consequences of the colder temperatures.  To combat the extra expenses, try these energy conservation tips for the cold weather months.

Keep It Open

When it’s cold outside, try to keep your curtains and blinds open to let the natural sunlight in.  The sun will naturally warm your home causing your heating system to run less. The less it runs, the more money stays in your wallet.

Check for Leaks

Go around to each window and door in your home and check to see if you can feel any cold air leaking through.  Another great way to check for air leaks is to see if you can see sunlight peeking around the corners of any windows or doors.  If you do find a leak, make sure you caulk or seal it right away. The more warm air escapes from your home, the harder your heater has to work to keep your house at a comfortable temperature.  

Let Your Fan Help

Believe it or not, your ceiling fan can help keep your home warm by simply reversing the rotation of the blades.  Since hot air rises, set your fan blades to spin clockwise to help push that warm air down to where you can feel it.  It’s a simple tip, but it can be very effective–especially in smaller spaces.

Switch to LED

A great measure to take any time of the year, switching out any of your regular light bulbs to LEDs can help conserve energy and lower your electric bill.  However, as the holidays approach, consider using all LED holiday lights for your decorations this year. You will likely see a reduction in the Christmastime electric bill spike that everyone comes to dread.

So you see, implementing a few of these energy conservation measures can really add up to savings!  Just follow these tips and you can be on your way to saving money during the winter months.