However, there's still time to take control of your spending and prevent post-holiday financial headaches. Here's how:
1. Plan your gift-giving strategy.
Decide how much you want to spend on gifts. Make a list of everyone you plan to buy for, along with any gift ideas. Then, divide up the total dollar amount you have to spend by allocating the amount to spend on each person's gift.
Brainstorm possible gifts ideas for everyone on your list that can be purchased with the dollar amount allocated for that person. To reduce the amount spent consider family gifts (rather than individual gifts), gifts of time or service, or if appropriate, passing on family heirlooms as holiday gifts.
Charging holiday gifts means starting 2018 in debt. Instead of using your credit card pay cash if possible. Unlike swiping a credit card, the “ouch” factor when we open up our wallets and hand over the hard cash keeps our spending in focus.
Some people use the “envelope system” for cash management. Put each person's name on an envelope and the amount allocated for their gift inside. When an envelope is empty, you are done buying for that person.
Alternatively, pay for gifts with a debit card instead of your credit card. This avoids interest charges and big bills in January because the amount spent is automatically deducted from your bank account. Keep track of debit card spending to avoid overdraft charges.
If you buy holiday gifts using your credit card, stick with just one card so it's easier to keep track of spending. Pick the card with the lowest interest rate and a grace period (if available).
3. Pre-shop before you buy.
A good rule of thumb is to compare prices with at least 3 sellers. You may save as much as 30%. Mobile apps and online shopping make this fast and easy. If buying an item you are unfamiliar with, find out the most important features to look for. Know the going price so can recognize a true sale. Just because an item is advertised in red letters doesn't mean it's a good deal, or even that it's on sale.
4. Shop with your list.
Stick with your plan. Only buy gifts for people on your list, and stay within planned spending limits.
Your name is not on the list so don't buy things for yourself when holiday shopping. If you see a great buy on that mini tablet you've been wanting, or a red cashmere sweater that would look terrific on you---leave it in the store and drop a hint to someone who has you on their gift list.
5. Check your receipts.
Double-check your receipt before leaving the store to be sure you were not overcharged. If you see a mistake, get it corrected immediately.
Check the receipts for online purchases too. I recently bought something from an online store that offered free shipping on amounts over $50. My purchase exceeded $50 so I entered the required code and completed the purchase. However, the receipt showed I was charged for shipping. I called the company's 800 number to get the problem corrected.
6. Enjoy your holiday gift giving and wake-up to a debt-free 2018.
Start a new tradition this year---stick with your budget and avoid credit card debt.
1. Create a holiday spending plan.
Develop a spending plan (aka budget) that includes all your holiday expenses. Besides gifts, include the costs of wrapping paper, cards and postage, decorations and lights, entertaining, eating out, special clothes (Christmas sweaters anyone?), charitable gifts, and travel.
2. Make a gift list.
Write down each person's name and how much you plan to spend on each. Add up the total dollar amount for all the gifts. Does it fit in your budget? (See your spending plan). If not, adjust the amount per person or limit the number of people on your list.
Take cash when you shop and leave your credit cards at home. Research finds that people spend more when paying by credit card, than by cash. Why? It's easy to overspend when all you have to do is swipe your card. Handing over cash is more “painful” so cash shoppers generally pay more attention to prices and spend less.
Plan to do some or all of your shopping online where paying cash is not an option? Keep reading.
4. Use the “envelope system” to manage your cash.
Get enough cash to pay for all the gifts on your list. Sit down at home with the cash, your gift list, and a stack of blank envelopes. Write each person's name on the front of an envelope, and put the budgeted amount of cash inside.
When you go shopping, pay for gifts with cash from the appropriate envelope. If there's not enough money for the gift you selected, find another gift that fits your budget. When an envelope is empty, you are done shopping for that person.
5. Pay with a credit card and use a “modified” envelope system.
Are you planning to shop with your mobile device or online? Modify the envelope system so it works for you. Label an envelope for your “checking account”. Each time you charge a gift, put cash to cover the payment in your checking account envelope. When you are finished shopping, the envelope will have the money needed to pay the credit card bill that arrives after the holidays.
No debt, no fees, and no interest---that sounds like a happy start to the New Year! Is overspending a holiday tradition? It doesn't have to be.
Are you taking it easy this holiday by purchasing a complete pre-cooked Thanksgiving dinner?
Don't invite foodborne bacteria as dinner guests. Follow these steps when you bring dinner home:
If you're eating later in the day: Food shouldn't be kept hot for longer than 2 hours. As soon as you bring it home...
• Remove all stuffing from the turkey cavity, put it in a shallow container in the refrigerator. (No need to cool it first.)
• Cut up a whole turkey into smaller pieces, including slicing the breast meat and put it in the refrigerator. It's OK to leave the legs and wings whole.
• Refrigerate potatoes, gravy, and vegetables in shallow containers (so they quickly reach a safe temperature of 40° or below).
• Keep cold food cold by putting it in the refrigerator.
When its time to eat:
- Reheat the turkey, dressing and side dishes until hot and steaming, or (the best way) until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 °F as measured by a food thermometer.
- Bring gravy to a rolling boil.
- If using a microwave oven, cover the food and rotate the dish so it heats evenly.
After dinner:"Chill" before you chill out.
- Put all perishable foods in the refrigerator or freezer within 2 hours of cooking.
- Cut up leftover turkey into small pieces before refrigerating.
- Place the leftover turkey, stuffing, and side dishes into shallow containers and refrigerate at 40 °F or below.
- Don't forget to refrigerate the desserts, particularly any prepared with eggs or dairy products such as pumpkin pie.
- Freeze any leftovers you won't be able to eat within 3-4 days.
- Throw away any perishable food left out for more than 2 hours---including raw or cooked vegetables, and cut fruit. (Getting food borne illness (aka food poisoning) is no holiday!)
After 3-4 days
Throw out any uneaten leftovers.
Other food safety questions?
Call the “USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline” 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) which is open on Thanksgiving Day from 8:00 a. m. to 2:00 p. m. Eastern Time and regularly Monday- Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. ET.
Get answers 24/7 from “Ask Karen”, the FSIS automated response system:
Mobile phones: m.askkaren.gov
1. Ask what is needed before you give.
Sometimes what we want to give—holiday foods, homemade jam, or cake mixes---may not be what is needed. Check the website of your local food bank or call to see what foods they currently need. Generally, the most needed items are:
• Peanut butter
• Canned meats such as tuna or chicken
• Canned and dried fruit
• Canned vegetables
• Macaroni and cheese
• Canned soup.
2. Choose a more nutritious form of the food you want to give.
For example, select:
• Fruit canned in its own juice rather than syrup
• Vegetables canned without added salt
• Cereals that are high in fiber and don't have much added sugar
• Whole grains such as brown rice, whole wheat pasta, and quinoa
• Low sodium soups and low-sodium versions of other products such as pasta sauce
• Lean protein, such as beans and canned tuna.
3. Check the use-by or expiration date on canned or packaged food items.
If donating food items from your own pantry, check the freshness date. Most food banks will not give out food that is past the use-by or expiration date printed on the container. (Use-by and expiration dates refer to the quality of the food, not the safety.)
4. Avoid foods in glass containers or damaged packaging.
Some food banks don't accept food in glass containers---even baby food or infant formula---because they chip and break easily. Inspect the packaging of an item. Avoid dented or bulging cans. Food banks won't accept damaged or open paper or plastic containers. Only donate commercially prepared foods. Food banks cannot take home preserved foods.
5. Give with the food bank clientele in mind.
Are the clientele homeless? If so, they probably don't have access to storage or refrigeration. Dr. Lucia Kaiser, Nutrition Specialist at the University of California Cooperative Extension, suggests giving easy-to-prepare and ready-to-eat foods such as:
• Pop-top cans of stew, chili, and soup
• Shelf-stable milk and cheese
• 100% fruit juices in single serving boxes
• Convenience foods like granola bars, packaged crackers (low fat), beef jerky, and single-serving packages of nuts.
Programs for children may want single serving sizes of foods, such as;
¥ 100% fruit rolls
¥ Graham crackers
¥ Unsweetened applesauce
¥ Fruit cups
¥ Low-sugar cereal bowls
Ideas to Help You Plan a Healthy Food Drive
Request donations by meal (breakfast, lunch, or dinner), by food group (fruits and vegetables, dairy, protein, etc.), or by recipes. Another option is a SuperFood Drive where participants donate items on a list of nutrient-dense foods that you provide. Or, help potential donors by giving them Dorothy Smith's food bank gift list.
Here's to healthy living and giving during the holiday season!
Are you age 65 or older?
If so, you may be targeted by a new Medicare scam.
Medicare is issuing new benefit cards with new benefit ID numbers.
Look at your Medicare card. Your social security number, which is also your benefits number, is printed on your card. This has led to growing rates of identity theft among those 65 years and older.
Its easy for a thief to get your number. Anyone who stands close to you when you check out at the pharmacy can see the number and use it to steal your identity and may even fraudulently claim benefits in your name. The same thing can happen if someone sees your card when you open your wallet at the cash register, or finds your missing wallet (with your Medicare card inside).
The government redesigned the Medicare card so that it does not reveal your social security number. You will be assigned a new personal benefits number. Here's what the new card will look like:
What do you need to do?
That's important because scammers may try to take advantage of someone who is not aware of the process for receiving their new card.
The new card will be sent to you. You do not need to fill out a form, pay a fee, or give someone your social security number. Here's what the Federal Trade Commission advises to protect yourself:
- If you get a phone call, email, text or letter claiming to be from Medicare and asking for your social security or bank account number...
IGNORE it! That's a scam. Medicare will never call (or send an email, text message, or letter) and ask for this information.
- If someone asks you to pay for a new Medicare card...
IGNORE them. That's a scam. Your new Medicare card is free.
- If someone threatens to cancel you benefits unless you give them information or send money...
IGNORE them.That's also a scam. There will not be any changes to your benefits.
When will this change happen?
Delivery begins in April 2018 and will be completed by April 2019.
Learn more at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. https://www.cms.gov/medicare/new-medicare-card/nmc-home.html