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Designing Your Festive Financial Plan

It’s January 15th and you’ve just gotten home to grab your mail and walk in the door at the end of your day…when you notice that the dreaded post-holiday credit card statement has arrived.  You really don’t want to open that statement. (C’mon, we’ve all had that happen to us, yes???)

Well I’m happy to say that it doesn’t need to be that way, if you’re willing to take some time to plan in advance to save money, keep from overspending, and avoid the post-holiday financial hangover!

Similar to everyday money management, designing a holiday financial plan ahead of time that aligns with what matters to you helps more money to stay in your pocket while creating experiences and connections with people you care about.  Here’s how I encourage you to think through and design your own festive financial plan:

–  Step #1:  Decide on your “big” holiday occasions – There are so many opportunities to do things during the holidays, and sometimes it’s a challenge to do them all.  Deciding in advance what your “big” occasions will be (i.e. Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Christmas, etc.), and where you’ll enjoy investing your money the most will help you properly allocate most of your money to those occasions in your financial plan.  And if possible, make sure to allocate a small portion of your festive financial plan for the “unknown” events as well (you know, those opportunities to head out unexpectedly with friends for dinner and/or have cocktails with co-workers before or after the company party).

–  Step #2: Focus on experiences vs. things – We live in a consumer culture where we are constantly being bombarded to buy everything, whether it’s with a TV or radio commercial, an email with something on sale (is it me or has the volume of those emails picked up significantly in recent weeks?!?), or a “flash sale” in a store.  It’s unforgiving at times, quite honestly.  So before you start to think about purchasing gifts (which we’ll talk about in Step #3 below), I’d encourage you to think about whether a gift is what you really want to give.  From what I see and hear, people are craving connection and meaning in their lives, so ask yourself – are you in a place to provide either of those gifts to them?  Some examples might include taking time to volunteer as a family at Thanksgiving at a soup kitchen and then coming home to a smaller meal later in the day, or perhaps scheduling a family event in December to get together with loved ones and asking everyone to bring their favorite dish to share with others (so that the party host doesn’t have to bear the entire expense of the event).  Also, one of my favorite things to do is to make a donation to a charity on behalf of a loved one to a charity that has meaning for them.  For example, my Uncle George is also my godfather and every year I make a small donation on his behalf in honor of his sister (my aunt and godmother) who passed away 5 years ago from Lupus.  He doesn’t need gifts or things, but his face lights up every year when I give him the card that says I remembered to make the donation!

–  Step #3: Conscious gift giving – You know how Santa makes a list and he checks it twice?  I encourage you to do the exact same thing!  Put together a list of people that you want to buy for, all the way down to your kids’ teachers and the mailman.  Once you’re done with that list, review it to challenge whether or not you need to buy something or perhaps you can refer back to Step #2 and give them the gift of an experience instead.  Also, ask yourself the question whether there are people on the list who might appreciate one less thing to shop for during the holidays.  As an example, my best friend and I stopped giving gifts several years ago to focus on getting together for lunch instead and it’s one of the best gifts (less time shopping and more time together) we’ve ever given each other!  For anyone who still remains on the list that needs a gift, take some time to decide on a target amount for each person so that when you get in the store you have some idea of how much you’d like to spend.  And lastly, before you even head to the stores, hop online to search for promo codes or coupons at the stores you typically shop at – at this time of year there are always good promo codes and coupons online that can help you save money and keep more money in your pocket!

The few steps above can honestly be done relatively quickly in just under a few hours, yet it can save you hundreds if not thousands of dollars this holiday season.  And a bonus tip for next year so that you can streamline your holiday spending even further if you’d like to: write down who you bought for, what you bought them, and how much you invested.  Take this list and revisit it in January with two main purposes: 1) to see who you’d like to include for next year again (or perhaps who you no longer need to include); and 2) take the total amount that you spent, divide it by 12 months to get a monthly amount and begin to save monthly in advance so you’ll have the money on hand to pay for everything out of pocket!

And above all, remember to have fun when you’re thinking about planning your holiday experiences and gifts.  In this day and age when everyone is so busy, take some time to stop and smell the roses. Life is short and it’s meant to be enjoyed…I’m wishing you and your loved ones a very happy holiday season!

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How to Systematically Save Money to Support Your Goals

“There is no need to wait for anyone to give you anything in your life.  You have the power to create what you need.  Given commitment, clear goals, and action, it’s just a matter of time.” – Susan Jeffers

This is one of my favorite quotes because it feels so full of hope (to me anyway) that we can all design our lives intentionally instead of simply accepting what is in front of us.  However, so much of our world is unfortunately full of negativity and thoughts completely contradictory to this quote.

Ironically, I stumbled back across this quote just before I started writing this article and it couldn’t come at a more opportune time in my life than now.  I’ve been struggling with putting a dream of my own back into action (after what we’ll refer to as a “temporary delay of game”), and through a series of steps I’ve taken in the last few days, I have essentially decided that I do indeed have the power to create what I need and want.  And that dream now has my full commitment.

So how does dreaming and goal-setting connect with saving, you might ask?  It’s a great question.  While I do believe that you can create what you need and want in your life, I also believe that there’s something to be said for taking inspired action to support what you want to create.  Otherwise said, if your goal requires financial support, why not work to support your goal as soon as possible?

However, before we get into how to save money to support your goals, I’d like to take a moment to distinguish between a dream and a goal.  A mentor of mine, Alison Armstrong (, once defined the difference between a dream and a goal as follows:  goals are dreams with deadlines.  In other words, dreams are things that you enjoy thinking about and let mull around in your head (think daydreaming and smiling while you’re doing that), whereas a goal is a dream that you actually sit down to plan out and allocate resources toward.  Typically, one of the resources that you may want to allocate toward your goal is money.

If you’re one of the people who haven’t yet sat down to think about your dreams and goals and how to support them and you’re considering doing so right now, I typically advise my clients to walk through a very simple process:

  1. Decide if you have a dream or a goal – This may seem simple based on the definition above, however it actually requires a decision on your part.  Do you have something you’re just thinking about (a dream) or do you have something you’re committed to that has deadlines and needs resources (a goal)?  It’s an important distinction to make so that you’re not trying to allocate resources (i.e. money) toward something you’re not fully committed to just yet.
  2. Determine if financial resources are required and if so, how much – If you’ve decided that you have an actual goal that you’d like to commit yourself to, then it’s time to see if you’ll need money to support accomplishing your goal.  If the answer is “yes,” then take some time to quantify how much money you believe you’ll need to support achieving the goal and in what time frame you’ll need that money.
  3. Calculate a monthly amount, automate, and build it into your financial plan – Steps 1 and 2 are relatively simple in the sense that they require “yes” or “no” answers and an assessment of how much money might be needed to fund a goal (in the event it does require financial resources).  If a goal requires money, it’s important to break it down to smaller goals to begin taking steps toward your goal.  Take the total amount of money you’ll need to support the goal at hand, divide by the number of months that you have until you’ll need the money, and arrive at a monthly amount you want to save.  Once you’ve got that monthly amount, it’s time to kick it up a notch and build it into your financial plan (via a specific and budgeted savings account) and automate (whether by actually setting up an auto-withdrawal or simply scheduling a specific day for you to wire funds to your savings account).

In the end, this may seem like a simple money management process on the outside (and in many ways, it is), but the key hurdle is taking the time to sit down and actually decide which of your dreams are going to absorb your intention and which will become goals that require financial resources.  Like the quote mentioned at the beginning, “given commitment, clear goals, and action, it’s just a matter of time.


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