I first heard Jean Chatzky speak at a “Standing Out in the Crowd,” forum sponsored by OPEN from American Express back in November of 2006. I remember being impressed as she shared her various business insights. Fast forward to November of 2009 and I was happy to be a part of an audiocast that she hosted. Although many financial-related topics were discussed on the call, the primary focus was on paying for the holidays. Since finances are consistently the number one holiday stressor, I was eager to learn how we (you and I!) could set ourselves up to win from the start.
There are few (to none) of us who have not been affected by the economic climate of our country. That is why most of us are spending less or at the very least, we are being more thoughtful about how we spend our money. I know that I am. My husband and I recently had one of those “financial conversations”. We were used to having a lot more “wiggle room” in our budget. However this year, our expenses increased (new apartment, etc.) and our income decreased. (I’m doing well as a start-up, but it is not the same as having a consistent monthly paycheck.) Fortunately, we’re doing just fine, but it was important that we acknowledged the changes now so that we could plan accordingly for the upcoming year.
On the call with Jean Chatzky, the following points stood out to me the most:
-She shared the fact that people are still paying off debt from the last holiday season. As such, she suggests that people don’t spend any more than 1.5% of their take-home pay on the holidays. To help set a realistic budget, you can find a holiday budget calculator on her site.
-When setting your holiday budget, remember to include everything. It is not just the presents that cost. Gift wrappings, postage, cards, decorations, big family meals, travel and such should also be considered. Don’t forget gifts for teachers, service people and such. That is a big deal in NYC. Just this week, I was getting input from my Twitter and Facebook fans regarding how to tip when you have several doormen, porters and such (like we now have). Personally, I can tend to just focus on the gift aspect of the budget and overlook those “extra” things, but they really do add up!
-Be creative in your gift giving. To lessen costs, she suggested: buying gifts for families rather than each person in the family; giving out coupons for your services (i.e. babysitting); baking for loved ones and such. One other thing that she mentioned that I agree with is to ask others to get (or chip in to get) the big ticket items for your kids. We do that with our kids. Certain family members have more expendable cash than we do. They want to get the kids certain gifts so we let them (within reason). As it is, sometimes we have to reign in their generosity so that our kids won’t become spoiled brats. Jean also mentioned using her kids’ unused gift cards from the year. (I don’t know about that one. My kids would be all like, “Hey! That’s mines!”) I guess that you have to know your kids. You could also do what I do with my close friends and siblings: make a pact that your gifts to one another will be that you don’t need to get gifts for one another. Those are some of the best gifts going! (Except for the kids…we get gifts for people’s kids, our parents, and a few other people.) One other thing that we do is host several white elephant parties. Do you know what those are? Basically, everyone brings one unisex gift of a certain value. It is a game to see who ends up with what. They are really fun!
-Lastly…there are legitimate places where you can get free credit reports and scores. Ironically, freecreditreport.com is not one of them. You can get a free copy of your credit report annually from each of the major credit bureaus at annualcreditreport.comOther reputable, places to get free credit reports and scores are: creditkarma.com, credit.com and quizzle.com.
After the call, I was sent two gift bags – one for me and one for you. There is a copy of Jean’s guide for paying off your debt – Pay It Down!: Debt-Free on 0 a Day. There are also several products (binders for savings and debts; a budget notebook, and more) from Franklin Covey’s Jean Chatzky Collection. I am actually giving my set to a Mom in the City reader/friend whom I recently helped with her budget. (I’m better tracking my budget using an Excel spreadsheet that I created.) Also, I just received a free trial access to Jean’s Debt Diet Online. At first glance, it looks like it will be more my financial cup of tea.
To win one of the gift bags, share one of your personal holiday financial tips in the “Comments” section below by December 31st. For an additional entry, comment on any other non-giveaway post during the promotion period.