An official website of the United States Government Español

MyMoney.gov

December in August

By

August is usually a time when military families are wrapping up duty station moves, squeezing in summer vacations, and getting the kids enrolled in school. The hazy days of summer are not exactly the time when military parents (or kids) are thinking about December holiday wish lists, door-buster sales, and gift wrapping.

But, believe it or not, the holiday shopping season will be upon us in just three short months. You may not be ready to see Halloween candy at the drugstore yet, let alone think about December holiday celebrations. But, preparing for your holiday spending now can help you avoid being served a heaping side of seasonal debt along with your plate of turkey and stuffing. So, here are a few ways you can start your December in August.

Set reasonable expectations

Last year, it was reported that the average American expected to spend $854 on gifts during the holiday season. While many people won’t spend that much on shopping, any spending that strains your finances or saddles you with post-holiday debt is bad for your financial future —period. Take the time now to talk with family and friends about realistic holiday spending limits. Consider less expensive gift options like homemade gifts. If you have a large extended family, maybe it’s time to start a new tradition of picking one person out of a hat to buy a gift for, rather than everybody buying a gift for every single other person in the family.

Plan, budget, and save

Figuring out who’s on your gift list, creating a holiday budget, and gradually setting money aside can help you avoid overspending, unwanted debt, and financial stress. You can find helpful budgeting tools on mymoney.gov. Also, check with your bank or credit union to see if they offer a Christmas club or holiday savings accounts that you can use to save for your holiday goals. Old-fashioned layaway is another option.

Keep the big picture in mind

It can be easy to forget that we spend a lot of money on other things besides gifts during the holidays. Big holiday dinners, travel to see family and friends, and even increased electricity costs to run that massive holiday light display can drain your bank account. Make sure you plan for the cost of all of your extra holiday activities.

Look for ways to save

Doing things like catching early sales, comparison shopping, ordering from sites or stores that offer free shipping, shopping at discount stores, and buying items that offer rebates can help save you money on holiday purchases. Saving money for your shopping and saving money while you’re shopping should be a dual goal.

Watch out for costly surprises

Make sure you fully understand the term and conditions if you’re using gift cards or layaway plans. For instance, expiration dates, inactivity rules, and hidden fees on gift cards can eat away at their value if you’re not careful. Take the same cautious approach with store credit cards that you’re offered at checkout. They might save you a few bucks at the register today, but stick you with very high interest rates later.

Avoid holiday debt traps

Not all deals are a bargain, so don’t get sucked in by holiday “super sales”. If you rush to a store sale because you can get a $3,000 TV for $2,000, you’ve still spent $2,000 on a TV. Was that really something you had planned to do? Also, don’t be enticed by payday lenders who want to “help” you get your hands on holiday cash. Proper planning and saving long before the holiday can help you avoid a cycle of high-interest debt that can last for weeks or even months after the holidays are over.

Keep in mind that holiday spending is short-term spending. Once the unwrapping frenzy is over, how long does the excitement last? Saving your money for long-term goals like home ownership, college or a comfortable retirement may be the very best gift you can give yourself and your loved ones.

Financial Education for Moms and All Women

By

Mothers Day provides another opportunity to highlight the importance of financial education for women. Financial insecurity affects all Americans, but women may be in a particularly uncertain position.

A White House Council on Women and Girls interagency report shows that working mothers provide an increasing share of American families’ earnings. Still, a significant pay gap persists. Even after accounting for factors like education or time spent away from work to be primary caregivers, studies demonstrate women still earn less than men for comparable work. This means women make smaller contributions to Social Security. As a result, they may receive lower Social Security payments after retirement.

Changes in private retirement plans are giving all workers greater responsibility for their financial futures in retirement, which makes individual savings decisions very important. Since women have lower earnings on average, it is harder for them to put as much money into these self-directed savings for retirement.

Together, these factors reduce women’s retirement income. The U.S. Government Accountability Office reports that, as a result, women face significant challenges in ensuring financial security in retirement.

Beyond retirement planning, giving women the resources to understand their financial situations can help all of us. Women control the majority of consumer spending. Still, 67 percent of them say they have little knowledge of financial products and services. This makes them potential targets for bad actors in the consumer financial services arena.

The passage of the Dodd-Frank Act last year was an important step to help ensure a fair, transparent, and competitive market for financial products and services, and to help protect consumers from unfair, deceptive, and abusive practices and from discrimination.

Part of the Act created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and one of our core missions is to promote opportunities for effective financial education for American consumers. We recognize that the more consumers understand about financial products and services, the easier it will be for them to make informed financial choices for themselves and their families.

MyMoney.gov has resources to help women and families think through financial choices and take charge of their financial futures. For information specific to the CFPB and for links to advice for consumers on money matters, continue to visit us here at www.consumerfinance.gov.