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How To Survive Holiday Financial Stress

Karen Gibbs

Christmas shoppingKaren, how can I deal with the financial stress of the holidays?
    Crystal, Randallstown

Crystal, the holidays can be stressful with a full house and high expectations.  You can lower your financial stress with smart thinking about your money.

First, congratulate yourself.  You’ve made it through Thanksgiving door buster sales, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday.  With a few shopping days left until Christmas, it's time for smart shopping.

Have you set a budget?  Most of the financial stress of the holidays comes from overspending.  Avoid this by making a list.  For whom are you buying gifts?  Do you really need to by one gift for everyone?  Can you combine gifts for the household?  Have you considered cash for the babysitter, paperboy and the beautician instead of gifts?

If you have a special gift in mind, have you done your research and comparison shopped online?  Often, the deals you see advertised are not deals at all.  Your comparison research will help you spot a real deal.

If you are creative, consider homemade gifts.  Is there a signature dish or dessert you can make for your friends and family.  Gifts from the heart trump gifts from the store.  The gift of your time may be the best gift of all for a new mother, a caregiver, a sick and shut-in neighbor.

If you can’t resist the lure of the shopping mall, shop with cash or credit cards.  It been just about a year since the Target data breach, followed by Michaels, Home Depot and other hacking incidents.  Using cash avoids the potential security breach and keeps you on budget.  If you choose to shop by plastic, use the credit card instead of the debit card.  Credit cards offer you more legal protection in case of theft or loss.  If you promptly report the loss or theft of a credit card, your liability is capped at $50. You have 48 hours to report the loss or theft of a debit card for your liability to be capped at $50.  Longer than 48 hours, your liability rises to $500.  If the loss or theft goes unnoticed and unreported for more than 60 days, you’re on the hook for everything.

If you’ve bought something with your credit card and it is damaged or lost during shipping, you can dispute the charge but, if you’ve used a debit card, you may be stuck with the charge unless the store agrees to reverse the charge, and then only after the process has been completed.

Pay off your credit card balances in full every month to avoid expensive financing fees.  Keep track of your receipts in case you need to return an item. 

If you’re prone to procrastinate as I am, you may want to take advantage of free shipping from a host of merchants on Thursday, December 18th.  Go to for a list of participating vendors.

Please think about the less fortunate.  The season of giving is a great way to involve children and teach them about philanthropy and encourage the habit of giving.  Soup kitchens, food banks, clothing and toy drives offer an opportunity to give back and give thanks while making you feel really good.

Crystal, it’s never too early to start thinking about next year.  Start a Christmas savings fund at your bank or credit union.  Stashing a few bucks away every month will relieve the stress of next year’s shopping season.  Look for gifts all throughout the year instead of just the holiday shopping season.  Selections and choices are limited the longer you wait.

Best of the season, Crystal, to you and yours.

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