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United Way Center for Financial Stability helps families stay financially fit this holiday season

Budgeting tips and creative gift ideas for the whole family

It’s no secret; families spend more during November and December than any other time of year. To help alleviate the stress, the experts at the United Way Center for Financial Stability have compiled top tips to help individuals and families stay financially fit through the holidays and start the New Year on the right financial foot.

“Having a clear picture of your monthly spending and saving is essential for your family's financial wellbeing at all times, especially during the holidays when your spending is likely to increase,” says Karina Ron, director, United Way Center for Financial Stability. “Make sure you plan ahead, allowing yourself and your family to enjoy the season without compromising your long-term financial goals.”

Budgeting tips for the holidays…

Make a holiday budget: In addition to your regular budget, make a holiday budget a few months before December. Write down your income and expenses for a typical month, then see how much you have left to save or spend in preparation for the holidays. Take into account everyone you plan to buy a gift for, no matter how small the gift may be. Include ideas of what to give each person, along with the maximum amount you’re willing to spend. Double check the list and think to yourself, “Do I really need to buy all of these presents?”

Start early: You don’t have to wait until after Thanksgiving to get started. You always find the best gifts when you aren’t looking for something specific. If every year you buy holiday gifts for the same handful of people, keep gift ideas in mind year-round. If you see great c andles go on sale, pick up an extra few for your friends or coworkers.

Use the envelope method: Create an envelope for each person you would like to buy a gift for, and in that envelope place the amount of cash you have budgeted for their gift. Keep yourself accountable by only spending what’s in the envelope.

Family decisions: Have a conversation with your loved ones about how much you'd like to spend during the holidays. Sometimes families make a conscious decision to spend less during this time of year, in order to spend more during the summer months on things like vacations and outings.

Before you hit the stores…

Consider different options: Give of your time and/or resources to an important cause. Volunteering or donating are rewarding and fun experiences, especially as a group. Consider this, instead of buying h oliday gifts for your coworkers or cousins, coordinate a day of service for t he whole group. You can also make a gift to a nonprofit in honor of a friend or family member, and surprise them for the holidays, for example United W ay’s Gift of Caring.

Gift exchange: A popular holiday gift idea is to coordinate a gift exchange with family members, where each person gives and receives one gift.

Do your research: Research the gifts you ultimately decide to purchase on the Internet. Look for reputable reviews and prices of different items and brands. www.Froogle.com, a website powered by Google, can help you compare prices quickly across online and offline retailers.

Invite a friend to shop with: It can take a lot of discipline to stick to a budget. When you actually start doing the shopping, feel free to invite someone else to come with you so they can provide that voice of reason and help you stay away from the temptation of last-minute buys.

Subscribe to your favorite retailers: In general, retailers offer better deals online than in the store. You can even get advance notice about sales and insider deals by simply signing up to receive emails from your favorite stores.

Cyber Monday: We all know that Black Friday is the number one shopping day of the year. However, we recommend getting your holiday season deals and sales in a much calmer environment – the comfort of your own home. On Monday, December 1, many online retailers offer special discounts. It is reputedly the biggest online shopping day of the holiday season, though you can find online bargains all year long at www.cybermonday.com.

Do-It-Yourself: With websites like www.Pinterest.com and www.Etsy.com it is becoming more and more popular to give handmade gifts rather than purchased gifts. Before you hit the mall, take time to think of gift ideas that you can make in your own home. There are plenty of online tutorials that show you how to create gifts from clothing items to home décor. The kids can even join the fun by filling jars, making holidays cards etc. For more ideas, check out the website www.kaboose.com.

Remember the reason for the season: The holidays are busy, and you certainly don’t have to say yes to everything and everyone. If you start to feel overwhelmed, turn down invitations or activities. Remember to give yourself time to enjoy the holidays, and be with the ones you love.

For more information and resources on keeping your family financially fit year-round, visit www.miamifinancialstability.org.

United Way Center for Financial Stability

Established by United Way of Miami-Dade in 2009, the United Way Center for Financial Stability, operated by Branches, helps working individuals and families pave a path to financial independence by providing a full range of services and support – from financial coaching and credit counseling to free tax preparation, employment assistance and more. The center works with numerous partners to provide access to comprehensive financial stability services, because increasing the financial stability of families creates a stronger, more productive workforce and a prosperous community. Bank of America is the founding partner. For more information, visit www.Miamifinancialstability.org.