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Taking charge of holiday spending, from Ask the Experts' Beverly Bailey

Good morning, everyone. I am so excited to be blogging for Sage magazine’s Ask the Experts panel.

It’s the first week of November, and for most of us, the holiday spending season is starting. We all know at least one person who did her shopping in August, has a freezer full of cookies and her Christmas cards are ready to mail, but I’m not talking to her (literally or figuratively).

The holidays can carry a lot of emotional baggage, and often that baggage can lead to poor financial decisions. So let’s talk about a few things to make this year better.

Gifts: How much can you afford? Be honest with yourself about this and be realistic. Do not feel guilty about being financially responsible.

Once you have your budget, make a list of everyone you for whom you’ll buy a gift. The key word here is WANT. Why give gifts to people you don’t like? This is where the emotional baggage can be an obstacle to joyful giving, and it’s supposed be a season of JOY, not regrets.

Divide your budget by the number of names on your list to determine a per person gift amount. Is the amount too little, too much or just right? If you have to trim your gift list, I recommend prioritizing: kids, then family, then the rest of the world.

If you want to remember people but can’t afford a gift, send a nice card with a note. Not an email, not a text, but a real paper card. Think of it this way: The post office needs the money.

Décor: I love Christmas decorations! But I have 10 big containers in the garage. So I limit myself to one purchase at full price before the holiday and then have a budget for the week-after Christmas sales. Last year I went through every container with the intention of throwing away or donating things I didn’t want. Well, maybe this year I’ll have better luck!

Food: It’s not just the holiday meal that can get expensive. It’s the pot luck at work and happy hours and the office holiday party. Someone may want to do a cookie exchange. You need to decide how much you are willing to spend on these items also.

Charity: To claim a 2012 tax deduction, charitable donations need to be done by December 31. If you have always donated cash but can’t this year, why not donate items like coats and blankets from your closet? Make sure you get a receipt. You can also donate your time, even though that is not deductible.

I want to hear from readers: How do you and your family manage finances during the holidays? Do you have any tips?

Ask the Expert

Beverly Bailey is principal of Chamisa Financial, a full service financial firm. She has been a registered representative since 1995 and a Certified Financial Plannerâ„¢ since 2009. She focuses on retirement planning and asset allocation.

Ask her a question in the comments field below, or contact her at 505.856.9237 or