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NEWS | Nov. 5, 2014

Budgeting plays important role in meeting holiday season's demands

By Robert Goetz Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Public Affairs

With the holiday season just weeks away, many people have already started loading up on gifts for everyone on their shopping lists and will soon be choosing that special Christmas tree for their homes.

However, preparation and restraint are vital since the holidays can exact a heavy toll on people's finances.

"Budgeting for holidays is just as important, if not more important, as monthly budgeting," Bob Williams, Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Military & Family Readiness Center community readiness consultant, said. "Set aside a percentage of your discretionary funds each paycheck to use for holiday gifts, groceries, decorations and travel expenses."

Williams recommended setting aside 5 or 10 percent of funds left over after paying living expenses and placing it in a holiday account offered by banks and credit unions.

"Then write down the name of everyone you want to purchase a gift for," he said. "Decide how much you want to spend on each person and stick to that amount. Remember, it's the thought that counts, and spending more than you plan means more debt in the new year."

People should exercise caution when using credit cards, especially when they shop online, which has become more of a trend, Williams said.

"Credit cards are not considered excess money, but a debt to be paid," he said. "Be aware of online holiday shopping traps and phony deals and offers. Be vigilant, update your software protection and go to sites you know are legitimate. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

Setting aside money for the holidays should be a yearlong effort, Williams said, but people who have procrastinated can still save money from their paychecks at this late date.

"If you're just now starting, you'll have to set aside a larger amount from each paycheck, or you can reduce your giving for this year," he said.

There are a variety of ways to cut holiday costs, Williams said.

"Sometimes great bargains are found at yard sales, thrift shops, estate sales and discount stores," he said. "If you have a special talent, homemade items make fantastic personal gifts. You can also save by skipping restaurant dinners for a week or two and taking your lunch to work instead of going out for lunch."

Williams said community readiness consultants at the Military & Family Readiness Center are ready to help their clients meet their holiday demands.

"That's why we're here - to sit down with them, look at their finances and develop a budget," he said. "The goal is to try to manage their spending during the holiday season in a way that it doesn't put them in debt."

Above all, Williams said, don't make purchases the focus of the season.

"There's a lot of pressure to spend money, but you don't have to do that to enjoy the holidays," he said. "Make the holiday season more of an opportunity to get together and enjoy fellowship."