We’re down to the last few pages of the year, and almost everyone agrees: they’re the most fun. Between trick-or-treating and “3…2…1! Happy New Year!” we bounce from party to event to family gathering and back again. But while these months are the year’s most festive, they can also be the most sneakily expensive.
Here are three ways to combat the leaks the season can poke in your wallet.
Gather all your cash alternatives. Credit card points, unused gift cards, gift balances with online merchants…these are all money in another form, and now is the time to put them to use. Devote an hour to organizing all the points and virtual cash you’ve accumulated so that you can use them before you dip into more liquid savings. (Justify the time by thinking of the money you organize as the salary you’re paying yourself for the hour.)
I generally use gift cards and “remaining balances” first, because the points are worth a bit more when you redeem them for a higher cost item. That’s also the main reason you should use credit cards that accumulate points in the same network; they let you save up for a larger amount of points more quickly.
Rough out a budget before you’re done with your Halloween candy. As the gift-buying season gets into full swing, tally up how many presents you plan to buy and what you expect them to cost. Then line that budget up alongside your social calendar – making sure to account for the bottles of wine and boxes of cookies you’ll be bringing to the party table, as well as the meals you’ll be expected to provide for family and friends.
Be realistic with what you expect it all to cost, then compare that number to what you actually have to spend – then make adjustments so that they match each other. It may not be the most fun you can have during the holidays, but it feels a lot better than waking up with a wicked financial hangover after all the confetti has been swept away.
Don’t forget that an experience is a great gift as well. Sometimes it’s tough to buy the perfect gift. So don’t look for it at a store. Consider offering a friend or your partner an actual experience instead. Take him or her out for a dinner, or a hike, or a surf lesson…you get the idea. Even if the event itself turns out to be a dud, you and your companion will create great memories in the process. My favorite “way in” to these kinds of experiences: check out your credit card rewards program. Many will give you more bang-for-your-buck if you use the points on experiences rather than possessions. And if you feel like you’re coming up short if you’re not leaving a beautifully wrapped gift on someone’s doorstep, remember: things fall apart, but memories last a lifetime!
The tail end of the year can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to break your bank. Follow these simple rules and never again fret about the happiest time of the year.
Though the opinions provided here are fully mine, this piece is written for American Express as part of the #PointsForPresents initiative, where we are compensated to help educate consumers on financial choices. And just in case you are worried about being too “on-the-go” to shop for holiday gifts this year, you can now download the new and improved American Express app here to use Membership Rewards points from your smart phone for almost anything and everything.