For most of us, holiday cheer comes with a price tag. Between decor, gifts and parties, it can be all too easy to get carried away this time of year with spending. According to the National Retail Federation, Americans spent an average of $703 per capita in 2013 on Christmas. That's a lot of extra money leaving your wallet. Fortunately, we've got some tips to help you keep track of how much you're spending, where the money's going and how much you've got left.
1. Determine how much you can afford to spend. Do not be tempted to match the national average of $703. Remember, many of the costs associated with holiday spending are wants, not needs. If you have a monthly budget, consider transferring your "entertainment" allotment towards Christmas spending. For example, take the money you'd normally spend going out to eat and apply it towards gift shopping or the cost of throwing a holiday party.
2. Get some help budgeting. In order to determine how much you have left to spend, you need to keep track of how much you've already spent. Fortunately, there are quite a few online tools and apps to help. Check with your bank or credit union and see what they have to offer. Many institutions will be able to recommend tools that can help you categorize transactions and identity spending trends. Some even offer a tool that allows you to view all of your accounts from just one login, regardless of where the account's at. (Cough, cough Washington Federal's snap! product.)
3. Set up alerts. Most banks, credit unions and other financial service providers have options that allow you to sign up to receive alerts or notifications about your activity on your account. These alerts are generally sent to you via email or text message and often include options for balance, transaction or bill payer notifications. For example, you may be able to set up an alert with your bank so that you would receive an email or text every time your checking account balance is below $100.
4. Use that credit card responsibly. Contrary to popular belief, credit cards are not inherently evil. You'll just want to be sure to pay it off before that pesky interest kicks in. If you think you may end up carrying a balance into the next month, then be sure to take a look at all of your credit cards and find out which one has the lowest interest rate.
5. Check your activity. Set aside some regular time to review your account activity. Depending on how much your planning on shopping, this could be once a week or once a day.
Washington Federal is a full-service, national bank headquartered in Seattle with offices in eight western states. For more information about Washington Federal, contact the Client Care team at 1-800-324-9375 or visit washingtonfederal.com. Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender.