Holiday plans let you control cash flow

Posted: Sunday, December 08, 2002

Soften your urge to splurge this holiday season with a spending plan.

Even though you already may have taken advantage of holiday sales, it's not too late to decide how much money you can afford to spend without ending up flat broke or with credit card debts that will take you all year to pay off.

Some human development specialists encourage the whole family, even children, to be included in the holiday budget meeting to discuss and understand the limits to holiday spending. Each family is unique in how financial matters are addressed, so everyone will approach this topic differently, if at all.

A spending plan includes more than just the gift-giving. Other categories may include greeting cards and stamps, decorations, donations, travel, entertaining and the cost of shipping gifts. Some people eat out more often during the holidays so the food budget may be higher than usual.

Once you identify where your money will be spent, decide on an amount for each category. Adjust this spending plan until you have a total amount you can live with.

Next, think about how you will track the money you spend. One way is to keep all sales receipts in a special container such as a canister, an envelope, or zip-top plastic bag. Every several days go through the receipts and log them in an unused check register or ledger book under the budget categories.

To use a check register, write in the expense categories across the top and draw vertical lines to divide it, leaving the balance column blank. Write in the budgeted amount for each category under each heading and write in the total budgeted amount in the balance column. This method helps you keep a running total of each category as well as the total budgeted amount. It is also small and can be carried with you while you shop.

It is easy to lose track of what you have charged on your credit card when you are making a lot of purchases. Attach a sticky note to each credit card and record each purchase on that card to help you keep track of what has been charged. This may help with self-discipline.

Even if you choose not to develop a spending plan for this year, keeping all receipts is necessary for returning or exchanging gifts. Keeping track of spending also will give you an idea of how much money was spent this year, which can help you begin to plan for next year.

Some experts suggest starting a savings account or earmark money in a savings account specifically for holiday spending beginning as early as January.

Linda Tannehill is an agent at the Alaska Cooperative Extension Office. She is a home economist and involved in the 4-H/Youth Development programs. The Kenai Peninsula District Extension Office is at 43961 Kalifornsky Beach Road, Suite A, Soldotna, AK. The phone number is 262-5824 or toll-free at (800) 478-5824.

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