NEWS AND RESOURCES

Financial Planning for December 2003

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Survival 101 - A Guide to Surviving Christmas
As a young child growing up, I never could understand why my parents seemed so edgy and anxious around the Christmas Holidays or as many put it these days, the Holiday Season. For us kids, it was a great time of year. We got a couple of weeks off from the rigors of school, there were lots of things to do like going to parties and playing outside until all hours of the night, we got presents and, best of all, the whole family got together and actually enjoyed it! (Those of you with siblings should understand that one.)

Good or bad, I think that I can now say without hesitation that I get it! What I didn't know when I was young was that all those parties Mom and Dad attended were, in some cases, obligatory. While I was concentrating on telling "Santa" what I wanted for Christmas, my very own "Santas" were trying to figure out where to get what I wanted, sometimes on short notice, and how they were going to pay for it! If you are a parent, you will understand why summers and holidays are not necessarily the best time of year for getting work done and you will probably get an earful about finding good daycare or babysitters. You know, I never knew until I tried it just exactly how hard it is to coordinate the schedules of one's immediate family and the entire extended family so that everyone comes to the same place at the same time!

In short, the Holiday Season can drive you nuts!!!

The good news is that there is hope; it just takes a little work. Here are our suggestions for dealing with the Holiday Season without jumping off a bridge.

Before we go on, let's make things perfectly clear. This is not intended to be an article aimed specifically at Christmas. No, that would be unfair because no matter what religion you are, some part of the Holiday Season is going to jump up and grab you. It's best to be prepared.


Keeping Your Sanity

Did you ever wonder if there really were aliens observing the human race, especially those of us in parts of the world where Christmas is celebrated? You have to wonder if they would think that there was a war brewing. What with the mad dash home to get ready to go to the next Christmas party, the increased traffic in stores where people seem to be stocking up on all sorts of seasonal "necessities" (i.e. presents) and the increase in communications traffic (holiday greeting cards, telephone calls, e-mails) the poor aliens would be crazy not to think something pretty big was going on and that generally means a war of some kind.

The first thing you need to do is remember, you're supposed to be having a good time! This is the time of year when our thoughts should be on peace and goodwill toward all people, even the jerk who cut in front of you at the checkout stand. With the possible exception of someone being injured or killed by your not making it somewhere on time, there really are not that many things during this time of year that are worth your life. Let the stress of the Season get to you and you shorten your life.

There are many ways to protect yourself. First, limit the number of parties you attend. Don't go to so many parties that you get caught up in dashing from place to place and just tiring yourself out. Second, limit the number of parties your children attend, if you have children. Now, they are not likely to get to the "party overload" stage, but you are and that could spell disaster going into the later part of December. For our Jewish friends, Channukah begins on December 20, then there's Christmas on December 25, for some, Kwanzaa starts the day after that and on December 31, we have New Year's Celebrations to attend. All in all, the potential exists for you to be tied up in one celebration or another starting on December 20 and ending on January 1.

Remember, pace yourself and your family. Take time to relax during this Holiday Season so you and your family will enjoy it more.


Finances

The Holiday Season is a party season. The time spent with old and new friends, with your family and colleagues is a time of renewal that is not repeated the rest of the year. Unfortunately, entertainment costs money and that is something many of us find in short supply during the Holiday Season.

If you are in business for yourself, you may find that you are expected to throw a Holiday reception. Typically, you can expect to be expected to provide refreshments and some level of food. One way to keep the refreshment tab down is to minimize the use of alcohol. If possible, eliminate it completely. If you can't eliminate the use of alcohol for one reason or another, use professional bartenders. Yes they will cost a little more, but many times, their control of the alcohol takes you off the liability hook if someone leaves your party and gets hurt. Our best advice is to find a caterer who is reasonable and won't try to get you to buy Caviar when no one in your town eats it.

If you or your employer throws an office party every year, watch out for the gift giving part of the party. Giving gifts at an office party can be fun, but set limits on the amount to be spent and what is an acceptable gift. Keep the cost reasonable for your area and stay away from the alcohol at the office party way too much liability in that one.

By far, your biggest expense will be gifts for the family, especially with children. According to a November 10-12 Gallup Poll, Americans expect to spend more on Christmas in mid-November 2003 than they expected to spend at this same time last year. According to Gallup, the average American expects at mid-November 2003 to spend about $734 on Christmas this year as opposed to an expectation of $690 at the same time in 2002. While the numbers in 2002 increased when Christmas neared (A similar poll at the end of November showed expected expenditures to be $753.), if the trends hold, you will be spending more this year on Christmas than last year. This means you need to make your list, check it twice and start looking for the best bargains you can find. If necessary, explain to the children that food comes before toys in the dictionary and in your budget.

We don't mean to say that you should play Mr. Scrooge, but facts are facts and it's wise to budget based on your income and not your credit limit. Too many people make the mistake of buying now and spending the next year trying to pay the credit cards off. Reduce next year's stress by keeping your Holiday Season spending at a reasonable level. Setting a budget and asking potential gift recipients to prioritize their wishes should go a long way to keeping you from busting the budget.

Some Final Thoughts

We usually end this article with an invitation to call us if you need help. Unfortunately, we have no control over what Holiday activities you attend and what gifts you buy. You know what time you have and what you are capable of spending, so we will cut to the chase for this time of year. The Holiday Season, regardless of what your religion is, should be a time spent reflecting on your year. A lot of how you will perceive this season depends on your attitude and the best attitude to make this the best time of year is one of gratitude and we in the United States of America have much to be thankful for. We live in a great country with freedoms unheard of elsewhere in the world. We owe this in large part to our forbearers and the blood they shed to defend our freedom and we owe it to the troops who protect us today. Keep our troops in your thoughts and prayers as we go through this Holiday Season and have a wonderful Holiday Season.

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