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Dollars and Sense -- Happy halfway to the holidays: Plan now to make shopping easier, debt free

It’s sweltering outside and the most important thing on your mind is sitting by the pool with a glass of ice cold lemonade. How about cooling off with some refreshing savings ideas for the 2014 holidays as well? It’s never too early to start planning for the holidays. Isn’t it winter in Australia right now anyway?

The holiday season is notorious for causing people to get off track with their spending and forget about their financial goals. There’s nothing worse than a budget busting post-holiday credit card bill to bring out your inner Grinch. Start planning now and your happy holiday mood can roll right into the New Year.

Five tips for Grinch-free holiday spending

Join the club. Many banks offer special Christmas savings accounts that you can open with a small initial deposit. Subsequent deposits can be made by direct deposit to help make sure you keep contributing. Some of these accounts are free and even accrue interest. Check with your bank to see what kinds of saving programs are available to you. Putting away money each month over the course of the year and then purchasing gifts with cash will help you avoid the biggest post-holiday letdown of all: the credit card bill.

Make your list. As soon as possible, create a list of who you’ll be purchasing for this year. Make notes about what they might like and then cross off names as you purchase. This will keep you organized and avoid double-purchasing for someone (which the recipient is unlikely to be unhappy about, but it will put a crimp in your budget plans).

Plan for spending. This is code for “budget” since that word always makes people cringe. You’ve made your list, now decide how much you’re going to spend overall and on each person. And, need we say it? Stick to the plan, the budget — whatever.

Shop year ’round. This is it, people: a license to shop. When was the last time someone told you to be a perpetual shopper? Don’t question it, just run with it. Planning out who you’re buying for and what you’d like to give them allows you to take advantage of special sales and deals you might see throughout the year instead of having to make impulse buys in those last frantic days before Dec. 25. Important note: Pay attention to return and exchange policies if you’re buying well in advance.

Use layaway. It just screams 1950, doesn’t it? Well then put on your pearls and get to the store, June Cleaver, because layaway is back in a big way. Take advantage of this opportunity to have a retailer hold your merchandise while you pay for it over time. After your last payment, you get to take your stuff home. These days you can find layaway options at national chains as well as local establishments. Be sure you understand the store’s policies and fees before you commit.

Present Planning

Most of us aren’t in the holiday mindset just yet – no one is reaching for a nice, thick cup of eggnog after mowing the lawn on a hot summer’s day or jamming to Burl Ives on the iPod – but getting the jump on a debt-free Christmas could be the best gift you give yourself this year.

Dollars & Sense is a monthly column provided by the Oregon Society of CPAs



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