"It's the most wonderful time of the year," Andy Williams sings in the classic carol, but it's also the most expensive. Between hosting and attending holiday parties (wine for the hostess! new sparkly top!), gifts, and travel, the bill for holiday bliss can be a big one, which leaves you with more than family dynamics to stress about. (Most Americans rank holiday shopping as more stressful than traveling or spending time with extended family, according to a survey from e-commerce platform Needle.)
And here's what makes it worse: in a study from Credit Karma, more than half of respondents said they'd impulse-shopped to deal with feelings of stress, anxiety or depression.
"Stress spending is a bit like having coffee while you are stressed: It's an impulsive behavior that you think will calm you down, but all it does is make you feel even more jittery and anxious," Teodora Pavkovic, a psychologist and life coach tells NBC News.
"It's a vicious cycle because our excessive holiday spending plunges us deeper into debt, which then increase our feelings of fear, anxiety, guilt and shame," says Kelli Saginak, a life coach and professor, told the site.
Online spending in the U.S. is likely to grow nearly 15 percent in 2018 to a total of $124.1 billion. That's a lot of Tickle Me Elmos and Fidget Spinners. But don't worry, you can keep your holiday spending in check by avoiding these pitfalls.
You Don't Make a Budget
Savings for Christmas Shopping Clark & Washington
Got a holiday budget of $1,000? Sorry, that's not good enough. You also need to break that number down by person, Zaneilia Harris, author of Finance 'n Stilettos and president of Harris & Harris Wealth Management told US New and World Report. "The more organized you are and the more detailed you are, the better," she says.
It sounds like a job for excel, advises financial columnist Liz Weston. "Spreadsheets aren't exactly warm, fuzzy and cinnamon-scented," she wrote for the Associated Press. "But they allow us to see our total expected holiday spending and to make adjustments as necessary. (Adjustments are always necessary.)"
You Lean Hard on Credit Cards
"Tons of research shows that people spend more money when they charge things," Kit Yarrow, professor emeritus at Golden Gate University and author of Gen BuY: How Tweens, Teens, and Twenty-Somethings Are Revolutionizing Retail told BankRate. "If you can pay with cash, you'll always be a little more aware of what those gifts cost."
You Let Your Emotions Get the Best of You
Guilt gifting. Fear of missing out on a flash sale. When will turntables ever be this cheap again?!? Don't make yourself susceptible to the psychology of shopping.
If someone who wasn't on your budget gives you a gift, respond with a really thoughtful card or homemade gift—not by buying them an impulse bottle of fine Champagne. You want to show you value them, but that doesn't always require spending.
"What people have to remind themselves of is that money doesn't equal love or affection," Yarrow said.
Fire sales can also tap into our lizard brains and our fear of scarcity. Black Friday sales and weekend specials create emotionally charged and stressful shopping situations, and a fear of missing out can override common sense. "When everybody is grabbing for something, we feel we should be grabbing for it, too" she said.
Furthermore, don't let yourself be seduced by slashed prices and big savings, warns The Motley Fool. "If you buy a $500 dishwasher for $300, don't look at it as saving $200, view it as spending $300."
You Forget the Value of a Homemade Gift
Food in a Minute
"For some people, their love language is receiving things," Michelle Singletary, author of The 21-day Financial Fast: Your Path to Financial Peace and Freedom, told BankRate. Who's to say that "thing" can't be a homemade thing?
You can go big with a knit scarf or crocheted hat, or small with cookies, chocolate bark, jams, granola, homemade bread, soaps or candles. What about making beautiful, abstract watercolors and buying frames at Ikea? Aren't these gifts way more thoughtful than an Amazon gift card?
Or what about thoughtful vouchers? The parents of two-year-old twins will be overjoyed at a coupon for babysitting and your best friend would likely love lunch on you and a trip to the art museum.
You Fail to See the Big Picture
A guaranteed way to spend your holidays feeling drained is to spend the next six weeks at the mall, looking for parking, and elbowing fellow shoppers out of your path at Williams-Sonoma. What makes the holiday season memorable is all the other stuff: fires, time with loved ones, twinkly lights, rich hot cocoa, and festive events.
Kelli Saginak suggests thinking about how to create a meaningful holiday season "with minimal stress on you, your body, and your bank account.: Ask yourself:
- How do I really want to feel during the holidays?
- What type of holiday do I really want to create and experience?
- What conscious responsible actions will allow me to spread holiday cheer, lower my stress and not add to my money problems?
Celebrating is not the same as shopping, Mary Hunt, founder of DebtProofLiving.com and author of 7 Money Rules for Life, told Bankrate. What we enjoy is the ceremony and the feast of the senses.
"The sights and sounds of Christmas were the reason [my family] loved the mall," Hunt says. "So I would just take a few bucks in my pocket to get a hot chocolate and a cookie. Our purpose was to go see Santa, or to go see the decorations and ride the train." She also remembered the most memorable year being the cheapest.
"The best Christmas we ever had was when we decided to spend $100. The $100 goes fairly quickly. So what do you do for the rest of the season? You visit, you make hot chocolate. We spent the holiday with people and not in the stores. It was, by far, the best holiday ever."
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Whether you are looking for a new job or trying to grow in your current one, getting a certification can be a great way to improve your skills.
Anyone can put that they are proficient in a computer program on their resume but having a certificate can help you stand out amongst the competition and give credence to the strength of your skills.
But what's the best way to invest in yourself without breaking the bank? Some certification programs can cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars. We are going to walk through six of the best certifications you can get for $100 or less.
Who is it best for: Those who work with analyzing and presenting data.
Cost: $100 for Tableau Desktop Specialist; additional certifications are available for a larger fee.
More companies than ever see themselves as data companies. Being able to understand data and use it to guide decisions at your company is often critical to taking on a leadership role. Not to mention, being able to present the data in a clean, attractive, and compelling way can help get buy-in from others in your organization or clients. That's why Tableau is a great tool to have in your toolbox.
Tableau allows you to create interactive visual analytics dashboards. In layman's terms, you can take data; create graphs, maps, or charts; and then allow end-users to interact with these graphics to better understand the information. It's a fantastic tool allowing non-technical users to gain insights for data-driven decision-making.
Tableau Desktop Specialist certification starts at $100 and has no expiration date. There are many videos on Tableau's site to prepare for your exam as well as Tableau Starter Kits allowing you to play around and learn the different capabilities of the program. Tableau offers a 14-day free trial as well as free license for one year for students.
Additional certifications after Desktop Specialist are Desktop Associate and Desktop Professional. Those working with a Tableau server may also be interested in a separate certification as a Server Associate or Server Professional.
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When you take out a loan for a car, charge something to your credit card, or get a personal line of credit, there is going to be an interest rate that applies to your loan.
A lot of different factors go into what you will be charged, including your own personal credit score. But even those with flawless credit still see a minimum charge that they can't get around. That all goes back to the Federal Funds Rate.
One thing consumers rarely realize is that all of our banks are lending money to each other every night. Banks are legally required to maintain a certain percentage of their deposits in non-interest-bearing accounts at the Federal Reserve to ensure they have enough money to cover any withdrawals that may unexpectedly come up. However, deposits can fluctuate and it's very common for some banks to exceed the requirement on certain days while some fall short. In cases like this, banks actually lend each other money to ensure they meet the minimum balance. It's a bit hard to imagine these multibillion-dollar financial institutions needing to borrow money to tide them over for a bit, but it happens every single night at the Federal Reserve. It's also a nice deal for those with balances above the reserve balance requirement to earn a bit of money with cash that would normally just be sitting there.
The Federal Reserve
The exact interest rate the banks will charge each other is a matter of negotiation between them, but the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) (the arm of the Federal Reserve that sets monetary policy) meets eight times a year to set a target rate. They evaluate a multitude of economic indicators including unemployment, inflation, and consumer confidence to decide the best rate to keep the country in business. The weighted average of all interest rates across these interbank loans is the effective federal funds rate.
This rate has a huge impact on the economy overall as well as your personal finances. The federal funds rate is essentially the cheapest money available to a bank and that feeds into all of the other loans they make. Banks will add a slight upcharge to the rate set by the Fed to determine what is the lowest interest that they will announce for their most creditworthy customers, also known as the prime rate. If you have a variable interest rate loan (very common with credit cards and some student loans), it's likely that the interest rate you pay is a set percentage on top of that prime rate that your lender is paying. That's why in times of low interest rates (it was set at 0% during the Great Recession), a lot of borrowers should go for fixed interest rate loans that won't increase. However, if the federal funds rate was relatively high (it went up to 20% in the early 1980's), a variable interest rate loan may be a better decision as you would be charged less interest should the rate drop without the need to refinance.
The federal funds rate also has a major impact on your investment portfolio. The stock market reacts very strongly to any changes in interest rates from the Federal Reserve, as a lower rate makes it cheaper for companies to borrow and reinvest while a higher rate may restrict capital and slow short-term growth. If you have a significant portion of your investments in equities, a small change in the federal funds rate can have a large impact on your net worth.
Whether you're leaving a job involuntarily, departing for something new, or just want to prepare for the unknown, it is smart to understand all your options regarding your 401k.