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Money Matters: How to prepare for the holidays like an accountant

By Amy Osmond Cook - | Sep 11, 2021

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In 2020, Americans collectively spent an estimated $167 billion on holiday shopping, according to a NerdWallet survey. While this was less than the $184 million Americans planned to spend in 2019, “it’s not the spending dive you might expect in this year of financial precarity.”

Clearly, holiday spending is a priority for Americans. But if you find yourself spending way too much on gifts and decorations year after year, it may be time to consider approaching your holiday budget like an accountant. Here are five tips for doing just that:

Make a List (and Check It Twice)

As much as you might want to or feel obligated to purchase a gift for everyone you know, it may not be your wisest financial move. So, make a list and consider this advice:

“If your shopping list includes more than five people outside of your immediate family, cut down on the number of people on your present list,” said Reyna Gobel at Investopedia. “Then, bake some cookies to give to all the people you snipped from your original gift list. This will ensure you spread the holiday cheer and keep you from looking like Scrooge.”

Build a Holiday Budget

If you know an accountant, you’ve probably heard them sing the praises of spreadsheets. Spreadsheets are powerful tools, and the good news is that you don’t have to become a CPA to use one! Consider using a holiday budget template like this one from Vertex42. Input your budget and actual spending for gifts, cards, decorations, food and other items, and the template will track how much you end up spending and how much you have left over.

But how do you ensure you have enough money for holiday spending in the first place? You can add a gift category to your monthly budget, or you can also create a holiday gift fund that sits in your savings account. You’ll add to that fund all year, and then whatever is in that fund becomes your holiday budget.

Use an Automatic Coupon Browser Extension

You don’t have to hunt for coupons anymore — coupon-hunting plugins can do the work for you! Just add one to your browser, shop online to your heart’s content and as you go to check out, the extensions will automatically search the web for coupons and apply them to your purchase. Here are a few to consider trying:

  • Honey promises to find the best deals online, including on Amazon. The free extension can watch an item for you and notify you when the price drops and also allows you to earn gift cards.
  • Rakuten operates similarly to Honey, but they pay you cashback via check or PayPal.
  • Giving Assistant makes it easy to donate to charity. Shop around as usual, apply the coupons Giving Assistant finds for you and choose how much of your cashback to donate to a nonprofit of your choice.
  • The Camelizer shows you the price history of items on Amazon so you know for sure if you’re getting the best deal.
  • InvisibleHand sends you a notification if the item you’re considering is available for a better price elsewhere.

Consider Getting a 0% APR Card

If you have a great credit score but are strapped for cash this year, a 0% purchase credit card may be a helpful option for you. Purchase your gifts on credit and pay back the credit card company with no interest for as long as 20 months in some cases.

“But remember — cash back cards are best used by those who avoid interest by paying statement balances in full,” said Jason Steele, credit card expert. “If you have to carry a balance, you’re better off using a card with the lowest possible interest rate.”

Sign Up for Credit Monitoring

Few things can ruin a holiday like getting your financial information stolen–unfortunately, fraudsters don’t take vacations. Credit monitoring services notify you of potential fraud on your credit report(s). They will watch for changes to your card balance and new accounts opened in your name. Some even scan the dark web to see if your personal information is out there. When you’re aware of these things, you can make sure your personal information is protected so you can focus on the excitement of the season.

Finding that perfect gift for a loved one is a special moment, so prepare ahead of time to prevent financial difficulties from stopping you in your tracks. Make a list, build a budget, use a helpful extension, consider a 0% APR card and sign up for credit monitoring. The holidays are just around the corner – be savvy, and enjoy!

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