Make a list and check it twice


Next month: Cash-free giving

The holiday season is upon us and already we can feel the rush. It’s exciting and fun, but also potentially the biggest budget buster time of the year for all of us. All these holiday good feelings seem to erode our common sense, kill our budget resolve and leave us with an unpleasant surprise when the bills come due in January.

I’m here to help. This is the first of three columns aimed at getting us through this holiday season with our pride—and bank accounts—intact.

This month, I offer my Top Ten Tips to Avoid Holiday Debt and Set an Example of Smart Spending for the Wee Ones Who Are Watching.

1 Make a list. Start by asking your entire family to sit down together and make a list of people they want to remember with a gift this holiday season. Each family member should compile his or her own list. The list must be in writing. A written list is easier to focus on because it is tangible.

2 Set a spending budget. Now that you know how many people are on your list, write a dollar amount next to each name. That is how much you would like to spend on that person. Total up the list to see what kind of money you are thinking about spending. (Remember, the amount you plan to spend on a person can be $0 if you can come up with creative and free gifts such as a home-made coupon book promising hugs and kisses for Grandma.)

3 Cut the budget down to size Once you have the total, chances are it will add up to way too much money. Now is the time to cut the list and trim the budget. It may mean cutting certain people or it may mean spending less on one person or another. Do whatever it takes to bring the budget within your means.

4 Create an earning/savings plan. Now that you have a list and a budget, where is all that money going to come from? Talk about a plan to set aside money from earnings. Help your children create a job list that will help them earn the money they need to pay for the gifts they want to give.

5 Don’t shop without your list. As a family, agree only to shop with the list and budget in hand. Also, agree only to buy for those on the list and at the amount specified.

6 Use cash. This is especially important for your kids. They will learn the important lesson that when money is gone, it’s gone. Take only your budgeted amount with you when you go shopping.

7 Agree to shop with purpose. Hit the mall only twice for holiday shopping. When you’re there, stay on task. Don’t buy anything that isn’t on your list. If you happen upon something you’d like for yourself, put it on your own wish list. Better yet, wait until after the holidays and get it on clearance or with a gift card someone else gave you.

8 Choose the stores where you want to shop. Sounds strange, but make a list of the stores where you want to buy your holiday gifts and only shop those stores. Many times during the holiday, seasonal stores pop up selling stuff we never even considered buying. This kind of stuff is generally overpriced and plays on your holiday emotions. Don’t be tempted. Shop only the stores you shop regularly that have earned your loyalty due to their good value and quality.

9 As you shop, edit your list. You may find a great deal on one gift, which means you can spend less on that person on your list. That money can be applied to another person. However, never spend more than you have budgeted on a person until you find you have some money in your budget"bank” because you got a great deal somewhere else.

10 Model the behavior you want your child to model. This approach to holiday gift giving will not only help you as an adult, but will be the model your children use as they grow. Remember, they are watching you. Only do what you want them to do.

Finally, remember it is easy to get carried away during the holiday season. Holiday shopping is no different than any other shopping in the eyes of a child—they are watching you and learning from your behavior.

Susan Beacham is the founder and CEO of Money Savvy Generation, a financial education company that provides innovative products and services to help parents and educators teach children the basic skills of personal finance, www.MoneySavvy E-mail her at

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