Do you panic every January, about how you’re going to get back on track and recover your finances from holiday-related spending? Stop worrying and try something different this year. Start strategizing now for ways to avoid running up those bills and starting the new year with a mountain of debt in the first place.
1. Start saving now. Open up a savings account or a Holiday Club Account. The Holiday Club concept predates our credit card-centric era, first becoming popular during the Great Depression and coming back into favor during the last recession. Offered by a number of financial institutions across the country today, they instill savings discipline via tactics. You can even set up an automatic deposit so money can get funneled toward your holiday expenses without any additional effort on your part. Open up a Holiday Club account with First Financial to start budgeting yourself this holiday season.
2. Use credit card rewards. Have a cache of points or miles? Take a look at your redemption options to see if they can be turned into gifts. If you’re a First Financial VISA Platinum Credit Cardholder – be sure to check out your current rewards status at our CURewards website. You might be able to “buy” gift cards with your points that you can give or spend to buy presents, or even electronics. This is another way to purchase holiday gifts without dipping into your bank account.
3. Don’t open store credit cards. Yes, you’ll probably get 10% or 15% off, but retail cards can be trouble for a few reasons. First, opening new credit cards can deliver a hit to your credit score, especially if you open several within a short time period. The typically low credit limits of store cards also make it easier to max them out faster, another activity that looks bad on your credit report. This could cost you if you plan to take out a loan or try to refinance your home in the near future. But the more immediate problem with store cards is their high APRs. Some store credit cards charge as much as 25% or so in interest — just a few percentage points lower than many non-branded cards’ penalty rates. The stores and the banks that run their card programs count on large numbers of people not paying their balance in full, an especially likely scenario during the run up to the holidays, when many people adopt a buy now, pay later mentality. If you absolutely have to revolve a balance, use a card with the lowest APR you can find.
4. Start shopping now. Retailers would rather not spill the beans on this little secret, but Black Friday isn’t the savings bonanza it’s made out to be. Sure, there are all the ads, and the doorbusters, and crazy hours that seem to creep further into Thanksgiving dinner every year, but a recent survey found that several other shopping holidays including Labor Day, Memorial Day, July Fourth, New Year’s Day, Columbus Day and President’s Day all offer a higher overall percentage of discounts. A second survey found that electronics — one of the most popular categories, especially when it comes to those much-hyped doorbusters — are actually cheapest in early December. So if you want to burn off that turkey and gravy shivering in a sleeping bag outside your local big-box outlet this Black Friday, be our guest — just don’t expect to score the best discounts.
5. Try gift card exchanges. Gift card markets like the one at PlasticJungle.com and GiftCardRescue.com, are places where people list gift cards they’re willing to unload at a discount. So if you’re looking for a brand they’re trying to get rid of, you can essentially buy yourself a discount. Obviously, the offerings vary from day to day on these sites, but a quick check turned up discounts on retailers like Build-A-Bear Workshop, Ann Taylor, Gap Kids, and the Sports Authority. The percentage off any given retailer varies widely among sites and even among sellers on the same site, so it pays to do some comparison shopping. If you don’t mind taking a “haircut” on the value of an unwanted gift card, you can also use these sites to sell unwanted cards and earn a few extra bucks. And, if you’re looking to purchase a VISA Gift Card for that hard-to-shop-for person on your list – don’t forget to stop into your nearest First Financial branch and pick one up. Holiday themed gift cards are available in amounts ranging from $20 to $500 – with a low $3.95 activation fee
6. Hit the dollar store. No, you don’t need to buy gifts here, but savings experts say dollar stores are a great source for wrapping paper, greeting cards, and decorations. If you do a lot of entertaining around the holidays, dollar stores are also good for disposable flatware, plates, tablecloths, and the like.