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Holiday Cheer

The winter holidays are upon us and with them the added stress of tight financial times. This year, enjoy the season without letting holiday spending get the better of you. We've put together expert advice and practical tools to help you minimize spending concerns and make this holiday season a joyous time. For additional tips on helping your budget stay on track, read Holiday Shopping Tips from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Holiday Budgeting

Make a Budget and Stick to It

Start your holiday budgeting by looking at what you spent last year. Were you on target, or did last year's spending land you in debt? Make a list of what you plan to spend money on this year. Knowing your spending goals beforehand will keep you on track. Some financial planners recommend spending no more than 1.5% of your annual income ($750 per $50,000 of annual income). Look at your major spending categories - gifts, entertaining, meals, and travel - and estimate how much you can afford in each category.

Get Creative

Save money this year by getting creative. Store-bought gifts are great, but when you make a gift for someone they truly appreciate your time and effort. Ideas for creative gift projects are plentiful online. A fun place to start is Instructables.com, a do-it-yourself web site full of step-by-step tutorials for everyone. Perhaps you don't have time to make something yourself but still like the affordability and personal touch of giving homemade gifts. Craftideas.info has crafts for all seasons for year-round fun and savings. The ultimate marketplace for homemade gifts however is Etsy, where you can find crafty items from over 200,000 sellers.

Join Together

Instead of excessively spending on each other this year, join together with family members to help those who may be less fortunate. Opportunities for giving can be found online but before you donate, make sure the charity is legitimate. Charity Navigator examines charities’ finances, governance and effectiveness, to help you make an informed choice of who to donate to. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services maintains a list of registered charities in Florida. Use the Check-A-Charity tool at www.800HelpFla.com, to determine if a charity in Florida is registered.

Travel Wisely

If you plan on traveling for the holidays, take some time to determine how much it will cost you with our Travel Budgeting calculator. Practical Money Skills has a great article, Planning That Affordable Holiday Trip, that can help you save money by planning ahead.

Avoid the Holiday Hangover

Holidays are a wonderful time to entertain. And a little planning and budgeting will help you avoid financial headaches. Give our Entertainment Planner a try and let it help you plan your entertainment so that you don't have to pay for it the rest of the year.