Tips to save on holiday spending

This was originally published on Monday, October 13, 2015, in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

Thank goodness the holidays only come around once a year. Many people find themselves overspending during the holidays. Overspending can put you and your financial health in jeopardy. This year, start planning early and save some money.

Kids’ expectations. We always want to get our loved ones that perfect gift, especially when it comes to kids. Children usually will give you their wish list that is quite extensive. Have them review the list and pick their top five choices and which is their No. 1 choice. This can help curb their expectations and reduce the disappointments of not getting what they want.

Simple decor. When we think of the holidays, we could think of the halls decked in extravagant decorations straight out of a Hollywood movie. If you want to upgrade your theme indoors, try doing an exchange of decoration between family and friends.

Reduce power costs. Dressing your house can be quite expensive, not to mention the power used to light the strands of festive bulbs. Have you seen the movie “Deck The Halls” with Danny DeVito and Matthew Broderick? If possible, retire the old strands of light that are less efficient and replace them with new LED models. LED lights burn brighter, longer and are cool to the touch. If you are lighting up your outdoors, you can purchase outside rated timers that can turn your lights on and off at certain times. This will help manage how much power you use, especially if you don’t need your holiday decor on all night.

Holiday party. You do not have to be a Scrooge and forgo hosting a holiday party. Make your party a potluck where friends and family bring their favorite holiday dishes. Or try a progressive dinner, a social occasion where the different courses of a meal are eaten at a different house. This gives everyone the opportunity to host and show off their decorations.

Free entertainment. The holidays are never short on free entertainment. Drive around the neighborhood viewing the lights, go to the mall to watch dancers and choirs sing, or watch a holiday program and curl up with some hot cocoa and popcorn. Several places have trains and holiday decorations set up for the public.

Give back. Nothing is more satisfying than giving back to those less fortunate during the holidays. You can donate old toys or clothing, canned goods, or your time. There are many nonprofit organizations that help bring holiday cheer to those who are less fortunate.

Start saving. Why wait till next year? Start today. Look for banks that offer a Christmas club account. These usually tend to have higher interest rates and limit when you can withdraw from them. You can set up an automatic direct deposit to the account so it’s out of sight out of mind. Check the balance of the account regularly to see if you are close to making your goal. Next holiday season will be a lot less demanding on your wallet.

After-Christmas sales. Once Christmas is over, stores start planning for the next big holiday. This means huge savings to those who are smart. Stores put candles, wreaths, wrapping paper, bows, ribbons, and other holiday supplies on sale. Stock up on your holiday items today for next Christmas.

Most importantly, remember what the season means. It is not about material things but the memories that are created. Veer away from impulsive buying and trying to keep up with the neighbors.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at moneymattersguam@yahoo.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at moneymattersguam.wordpress.com.

Tips for spending during the holidays

This was originally published on Monday, October 5, 2015, in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

It is hard to believe that the year is coming to an end and that the holidays are quickly approaching. As much as we try to enjoy the holiday season we often find ourselves financially stressed. As we all know, overspending during the holiday season is quite common and quite easy to do. Companies and stores spend a lot of money trying to tempt you to spend your money with them. Here are a few tips that could keep you in the green instead of seeing red:

Create a spending limit

Take into account everything that you will be paying for this holiday season. There is much more to include than just the gifts. Think about the other things that can sneak up on you, leaving you to ask the question, “Where did all our money go?” Remember to add in the holiday parties, shipping fees for gifts being sent off-island, ATM fees, more power consumed while kids are home on vacation, and of course, the increase in your food budget. If possible, add another $200 to cover the incidentals like an unplanned gift or party that you have been invited to.

Make a list of who you are buying gifts for and how much you are willing to spend. Create another list with the parties you are invited to and what you plan on bringing and how much it will cost you. Keep a journal of how much you are spending; it is easier to know how much you spend when you actually start watching it add up.

Pay with cash

This is probably the easiest way to stay on your holiday budget: Once it runs, it runs out. Be careful with using a credit card for these expenses. Credit cards make it easier to keep spending without realizing just how much you have spent until the bill comes in. You could ask the bank for all $100 bills. It would make you think twice before breaking a large bill. Of course, be alert, because many thieves plan on you carrying cash. It is also easier to lose and once it is lost you can’t get it back.

If carrying money makes you uncomfortable, use your debit card instead. There are no interest fees and your bank may have an app for your phone to monitor your purchases.

If you are going to use a credit card, know which one is the best to use. Many people have more than one or two credit cards in their wallets. Choose the card with the lower interest rate and balance.

Avoid extra fees that you incur by exceeding your spending limit or using your credit card at an ATM. Pay your balance in full and within the billing cycle to avoid late charges.

Buy least expensive first

If you are looking to buy electronics or other high-priced items, try waiting till the stores put them on sale. Black Friday and Cyber Mondays always offer some great deals.

For those gifts that are least expensive, like gift cards or books, purchase those a month or two in advance and it will not add to your December spending.

Be creative

With today’s access to gift-giving ideas online, there are no shortages of gift ideas. There are many alternatives to expensive gifts. Many of them mean more as they come from the heart and not the wallet. There are photo albums, homemade art work or decor, and so much more to create. Some use store-bought materials but many reuse items that you may have laying around your house. Gift baskets are always a hit as well. Put an entertainment basket together with some microwave popcorn, DVD’s, and movie gift certificates. Use your talents like sewing, carpentry and scrapbooking to make a gift that won’t be forgotten.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at moneymattersguam@yahoo.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com.

Shopping days follow Thanksgiving

This was originally published on Monday,November 24, 2014, in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

It is official: The holiday season is in full swing. If you did not want to brave crowds of Black Friday shoppers, you still have an opportunity to find some great deals. The Monday after Thanksgiving is Cyber Monday, or for Guam, Cyber Tuesday. It is the day for online retailers to offer holiday shopping bargains. Shopping online can definitely ease holiday stress.

Be organized: Just like the jolly ol’ fella, check your list and decide who you will be nice to this year. Create a budget that will not put you in the hole and start off 2015 in the red. Gather information on who you are buying for and what you are buying. Have your address book on hand so you can send gifts directly to the recipient. Look for codes that unlock free shipping.

• Compare: This is probably much easier than comparing prices at a typical brick-and-mortar store. Use a search engine to help compare prices. Sign up for newsletters or emails informing you of sales. You also can follow your favorite retailer on social media sites.

• Hidden costs: Be aware of what you are paying for. Gift wrapping, state taxes and shipping and handling fees all add up. If you can shop at just a few stores to help keep the shipping and handling fees to a minimum, you will save a lot of money. Many online retailers offer free shipping if you purchase a certain amount.

• Limited offers: Just like physical stores, the quantities of an item may be limited. You may want to check to see when the item goes on sale.

• Avoid temptation: Stick to your list and don’t get side tracked. There will be many offers enticing you to buy something you don’t need.

• Coupons: There are a few major retailers that will allow you to stack coupons. You can really get some great deals by using several different promotional codes. For example you may get $10 off a $100 purchase with free shipping.

• Discount sites: There are several online stores that offer items at a very low cost. These items could be from last season or acquired from a store close out.

• Shipping and handling: Living in a tropical paradise does offer some drawbacks such as certain sites not delivering to Guam, or items that are shipped by expedited mail service carriers. If items cannot be shipped to Guam, ask a friend or relative on the mainland to receive it, then ship it you. Of course you have to plan ahead to accomplish this.

• Shop safe: One of the worse things that could happen is to find out that your identity was stolen. When shopping online, use secure sites and stay away from sites that you have never heard of. Look for the “https” in your web browser address. The “s” stands for secure and it offers the highest protection for your transaction. Do not use your debit card because that gives thieves direct access to your checking account. Unauthorized charges on a credit card of $50 or more are protected by federal laws. Create an email account that is used just for shopping purposes. Ensure that your antivirus protection is the most recent version.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at moneymattersguam@yahoo.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com.

Control the temptation to spend while holiday shopping

This was originally published on Monday, October 13, 2014, in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

Holiday shopping can cause a lot of tension and anxiety. The music, decorations, lights, smells and hurried pace can cause any sensible shopper to be tempted to buy, buy, buy. This emotional shopping can be detrimental to your budget. Studies show that far too many customers pay for their holiday sprees far beyond six months. So how do we control the temptation to spend? Here are a few tips:

•  The time of day. If possible do your shopping during the early morning hours of the day through lunch time. This is when you are well-rested. Eat a sensible meal that will fulfill you until the time you return home. If you shop later in the day, you are most likely already tired, and the stress of the day is starting to wear on you. At that point, you will make rash decisions just to get out of the store.

Shopping on an empty stomach creates more aggravation to an already stressful situation. Of course, to satisfy the hunger immediately, we purchase food which most likely was not factored into our budget.

If possible do your shopping while family members are carrying on with their daily routine such as school or work. This will lessen the distractions and curb the temptation of impulse buying to satisfy a cranky child. Besides, most people do their shopping later in the day and the stores are much more crowded.

• Shop early. If you can plan and finish your shopping before the holiday rush, you may be able to enjoy the holidays a little more. A friend of mine purchases Christmas gifts all year round. Doing so spreads out her purchases and she does not feel so overwhelmed. If you aren’t as organized to plan shopping for the holidays so far in advance, some experts say the best time to shop is between Oct. 1 and Dec. 1.

• Use cash. If possible use cash to make your purchases. It is very easy to go over your budget when you do not see the money actually leaving. According to the Consumer Credit Counseling Service, people spend a third more when they make purchases with a credit card.

If you do use your credit card keep track of your purchases in a small notebook that you keep with you so you always know how much you have spent.

Many stores have in-house credit cards that help you save money when you make purchases with them. Be very careful. Although it may reduce your initial purchase by a certain percent, you may be paying over that percentage on interest. If you do use an in-store credit card, pay it off when you get the first bill so that you can take complete advantage of the discount.

• Snail mail. If you send your family’s yearly updates by mail, don’t forget to factor postage or shipping into your budget. The costs of sending out holiday greeting cards go up almost every year. So does the cost of shipping packages off island to love ones. There are websites in which you can send an e-card for little to no money. Just remember that some of your relatives, especially the older ones, may not have email accounts. Send your packages out in enough time so that you are not paying for the most expensive delivery method to get the gift there on time.

The holidays do not have to be stressful. Create a reasonable budget, set your spending limit and stay within your budget.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at moneymattersguam@yahoo.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com.

Take the stress out of holiday shopping with limits, lists

This was originally published on Monday, October 6, 2014, in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

It is hard to believe that the holidays are just around the corner. Hopefully throughout the year, you were able to tuck some money aside to help ease the potential stress of holiday shopping. If not, it is not too late to start planning for the approaching season.

Set your limits. Think about how much you want to spend. What you want to spend may not be a realistic goal. How much you can afford after paying your bills should dictate your spending limit. Sit down and plan out what you can afford, then create your holiday budget. In your budget, be sure to include the small items, such as wrapping paper, mailing/shipping expenses and holiday cards. They may not seem like much on their own, but they do add up.

Keep track of what you are spending. Don’t let the time of year, stores and commercials play on your emotions. Try not to give in. Be sensible. You will feel much better about your decisions once you start off the New Year without breaking the bank.

To gift or not to gift. Not everyone on your list needs a store-bought gift. Explore your creativity and make homemade gifts. If you have a talent such as baking, cooking or painting, use it to create gifts from the heart. There are many websites that have tutorials or ideas to create the perfect gift. A small personal gift is worth more than a large expensive gift on any given day.

Stick to the list. Once you decide who you will be shopping for, do not stray from that list. Impulse purchases, no matter how small, eventually will add up. Unless your list calls for double of that item, stay away from the “buy one get one half off” deals. These deals are meant to get the consumer to spend a little more.

The gift of you. You could be the best holiday gift. Going home for the holidays or helping around the house could be the best gift. Create an IOU to help paint the house, do some landscaping, or to wash a car. If you can’t travel off island for the holidays, send pictures or a calling card. Instead of a holiday party, throw a volunteer holiday party. Gather your family and friends and spend some time volunteering at an organization that could use your manpower and time.

Compare and save. Plan ahead and be on the lookout for some wonderful holiday savings. It can be a bit overwhelming, but take some time to go through newspaper circulars or online deals. Doing so can save you a substantial amount of money. Online, you can look for coupon codes that you can use for online stores. Sometimes, if your online total reaches a certain amount, you could also get shipping and handling for free. If you are baking or cooking gifts, look for coupons for the ingredients to help keep the cost of giving down.

Enjoy the season. Being thrifty is not being a scrooge. The holidays are not about gift buying but creating memories. If you are hosting a party, don’t be afraid to make it a potluck party. Continue with your routine exercises. Walking, jogging and other physical activities help reduce stress.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at moneymattersguam@yahoo.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com.

Classic tips for managing holiday finances

This was originally published on Monday, December 2, 2013, in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

Throughout the year I have written several articles about holiday financial tips. This is a perfect time to review a few of my past tips and discuss some new ones.

• Creating a budget is the most useful tool to avoid taking on debt. Decide how much you want to spend. Include gifts, travel, parties, decorations and any other expenses. If you have specific gifts in mind, compare prices and which deal is worth the savings, and your time.

• Go high-tech if you are comfortable with technology. There are several apps that can help with holiday shopping. Most will keep track of your spending and how much of your budget you are using. If your list is always with you on your phone, you are less likely to stray away from it. Consider creating a spreadsheet. You tend to spend less if you can see how much you are spending.

• Avoid impulse purchases. One rule is to walk around a bit before purchasing and think if you really want or need this. In most situations, by the time you’re ready to check out you may have decided that you really don’t need it. If you still can’t decide, walk away and sleep on it. If you still feel that the item is something you must have, then go back and purchase it. Don’t feel overwhelmed by sales clerks pressuring you into buying. If you stay on budget, you will be thankful later.

• Use cash, not credit. You can track how much you spend more efficiently by using money. Late or partial credit card payments can cost you more money through fees and interest.

• Shipping costs add up, whether you are shipping it off or purchasing it online. Some companies consider Guam an international destination. Try asking if a friend or family member back in the states can receive the gift and send it postal mail. Shipping by courier can cost more than the gift itself.

• Holiday utilities can be extra costly, especially if children are home using power-consuming devices, which are usually turned off during the day. Extra cooking and baking for holiday festivities add up along with holiday lighting. Consider buying LED (light-emitting diode) lights to save energy and money. They also burn much cooler than traditional lights reducing heat in your home.

• Food safety can save on your holiday expenses. Party foods are usually left out for long periods of time that can cause food to spoil. Throwing away good food and an unplanned trip to the emergency room can be a budget-breaker and ruin your holidays. Leftovers can extend your food budget. Freeze or go online and find creative ways to use leftovers. For more food safety tips, go tohttp://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/events/holidays/.

• Be creative; not all gifts have to come from the store. Look online for ways to create inexpensive personalized gifts.

• Holiday employment is a great way to earn a little extra cash during the holidays.

• The gift of helping may not be exactly a way to save money, but it sure can help you enjoy the spirit of the holidays. Volunteer to help with the less fortunate with family and friends.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at moneymattersguam@yahoo.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com.

 

Survive Black Friday and all your holiday shopping

This was originally published on Monday, November 25, 2013, in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

This week starts off the holiday season with Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. It is considered to be one of the busiest shopping days of the year.

Many stores have extended hours, from early morning to late night. But how do you survive a marathon of shopping?

• Store circulars and fliers: Do your research for the best deals. You may be overwhelmed when walking into a store and your list will be helpful to stay on track. Pay attention to how long the item is on sale.

• Prioritize: Decide which gifts are the ones you really want to purchase, have a limited quantity or are really popular. These items will run out the fastest and you may lose out on a good deal.

• Food: Bring along snacks and drinks to keep up your energy. It will also keep you on your holiday budget since you will not have to purchase food.

• Bring a friend: Nothing is worse that standing in line for hours without someone to talk to. Friends can hold lines as you go hunting. They also can be a voice of reasoning.

• Have a good attitude: You will get irritated, but if you approach the crowds and lines with a good sense of humor and attitude, it will not be so stressful.

The Monday after Thanksgiving (our Tuesday) is another busy holiday shopping day, but without the lines or crowds. Cyber Monday is a great day for online deals. Here are several tips to help:

• Deals: Look for deals that interest you and compare prices.

• Shipping: Some sites will offer free shipping. Others will treat Guam as an international country and will only ship through couriers and not the postal service. Visit websites and research what shipping policies are offered. If the package is going regular mail, not priority or express, it is sent by boat and will take much longer to arrive. Shipping costs vary and should be added to your holiday budget.

• Return policies: If you are sending your package to another address, make sure that the person can return the gift without any hassles.

• Coupons: Some stores will offer online coupons for additional savings. Some will send it to you if you have signed up for their email newsletters.

• Secure sites: Never give out your birth date or social security when checking out. I recently experienced an attempt by a third party to get my personal information online. It was very believable, however, my instinct prevailed and I prevented it. Here are a few things to look for to ensure that you are purchasing through a safe site:

Use familiar websites and watch your spelling in the website address.

Look for https:// at the beginning of the checkout webpage address. A little padlock icon will appear to the right or left of the address bar.

Ensure that your antivirus and/or firewall programs are up-to-date.

Use strong passwords and do not save your credit card information on a website.

Whether shopping on Black Friday, Cyber Monday or just holiday shopping, be sure to stay on top of your credit card statements. If you see a discrepancy, alert your bank as soon as possible. Because your card is used in many different locations, it makes it easier for bogus purchases to be charged to your card.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at moneymattersguam@yahoo.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com.