It's the most wonderful time of year — except on your wallet. Thanksgiving is now over and if you didn't buy all your presents on Black Friday, deals are going to be hard to come by now. And if you're young and just starting out, there's even less opportunities to save.
So, since we're officially on that Christmas "creep," here's a definitive guide to greeting 2018 with a few more digits in your bank account.
Make a list
Although the most basic of traditions, making a list first could end your bad budgeting behavior before it even starts. We often ask ourselves what we can get everyone and how we can make it the best Christmas ever.
However, before jotting down present ideas for your "Nice List," instead ask yourself what you can actually afford this holiday season. Make a maximum price ceiling for each person instead — and cut out the people who are definitely not going to return the gift giving favor.
Establishing a budget for the holidays allows you to control the unbridled giving, protecting you from your own expectations. Build a budget that will let you enjoy the next 364 days after Christmas.
Wait before you buy
Giving is a great part of the holidays, but buying is the BEST! Living in this capitalistic society, we as humans are conditioned to want to spend money. Being almost as counterintuitive as the last tip, waiting 24 hours before clicking "purchase" on dad's new Kitchen Aid will keep your paycheck from leaving your bank account so soon.
Events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday create anxieties about missing those so-called doorbusters — however, most of these deals are extended days and weeks beyond the time they're allotted.
For instance — Amazon's Cyber Monday event is practically undone by its "Deals Week." In addition, most stores and sites will offer deals right up until the last days before Christmas. E-commerce certainly gives us the instant gratification that comes with shopping online, but convenience allows for us to become click-happy.
By waiting 24 hours before checking out, you give yourself enough time to reflect on your budget and the gift itself, eliminating buyer's remorse as well as poor budgeting.
Give your gift in other ways
Family and friends make the holidays both worthwhile and expensive — however, the key to any celebration is the family-gathering. If you and your loved ones are truly interested in the spirit of Christmas, expensive presents won't be the only thing ya'll are worried about.
Of course, gift giving is important in demonstrating appreciation and tradition, but it doesn't mean that your second cousin should expect the new Nintendo Switch from you. Instead, why not knit a special sweater for your grandmother or DIY some personal items for your significant other?
This doesn't mean you're copping out as a cheapskate — measuring the value of a gift and what it will mean to you and the person receiving it will bring some perspective to the holidays. Family is much more important than stuff and in this case it truly is the thought that counts.
The key to any budget — and certainly to these three pillars of Christmas survival — is maintaining a realistic understanding of your financial capabilities. While Christmas is a magical time, to navigate it unscathed you will need a few skills that are rather ordinary.
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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.
Frugal gifting often gets a bad reputation. However, this shopping method does not make you cheap — it makes you practical. Frugal gifts often avoid waste and overspending and can be just as meaningful (if not more so) as any other present.
With the National Retail Federation predicting each consumer this holiday season to spend upwards of $1,000 on holiday gifts amidst an economic recession —this year might be the perfect time to reconsider your spending budget. We've formulated the ultimate list of frugal gift-giving ideas to get you started.