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Plan Well, Retire Well

Saving and investing your money

Be Thankful for What You Have: Monitor Your Spending During the Holidays


The holiday season is upon us. Believe it or not, Thanksgiving is here and Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa are right around the corner. This is usually the time that some of the most sensible people throw caution to the wind and charge it! Amidst all the joyous festivities, many unfortunately rack up a ton of debt. In case you didn't know, on average it takes about nine years to pay off a $1000 balance at 18% interest. That's 2018! Is the sweater really that cute?

Recently, I have received a lot of requests for credit management workshops. I normally talk about what a credit report is. I always jokingly say that a credit report is a "grown up report card." I usually get a lot of nodding heads and nervous laughs. I think most people know that it's true. We are judged based on our current and past credit history. I then ask why we need credit. Some of the responses I hear include: to buy a home, a car or get a job; all of these answers are correct. With the shortage of "good jobs", something like a blemish on your credit report could be the difference between getting the job and remaining unemployed.

Next, I normally talk about why everyone should check their report. I get a variety of answers. There are a number of reasons to check your credit report. The best reason I can think of is to make sure the information on the credit report is correct. Besides verifying accounts and balances on file, it is just as important to verify your name, date of birth, social security number, current and past addresses and employers. If any of this information is incorrect, it's probably a good idea to dig deeper and file a dispute, if necessary. I always suggest to workshop participants to get a free copy of their credit report from all three credit bureaus because there is always the possibility that the information is not the same. To obtain a free copy of your credit report, visit www.annualcreditreport.com.

Towards the end of the workshop, I usually talk about the components that make up the credit score such as payment history, amount owed, length of credit history, new credit, and types of credit. If you are holiday shopping and opening credit cards at every store you patronize to get the discount on your purchases, beware that it might cost you a dip in your credit score and inevitable a higher cost for borrowing money.

If you want to keep your spending under control during the holidays, consider establishing a holiday budget. The budget can include gifts, food, decorations and supplies, holiday cards, and other miscellaneous items. Lists will be an important part of creating your budget. Create a list for holiday gifts that include what you plan to purchase, the estimated cost and where you plan to purchase it, if possible. This will help you stay focused during your shopping trip. Your food list should include everything on your menu, including ingredients. Check your refrigerator and cabinets before your shopping trip so that ingredients are not purchased unnecessarily.

Finally, reflect on the year we have had. It's been a pretty rough time this year. We have worried about plummeting stock portfolios, foreclosures, and our healthcare coverage. Now, it's time for us to be thankful for the things that we have. If your 401(k) took a dive, be thankful you even had one; many employees don't. If your home went into foreclosure this year, be thankful you had somewhere else to go; someone ended up homeless. Finally, if your HMO or PPO wasn't the greatest, at least you had coverage; millions of Americans are without any coverage at all. During this holiday season, be thankful for the people and the things that are important to you. In the final analysis, that's what really matters. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. Happy Holidays!!!



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