5 Tips to Keep Your Budget from Going into Hibernation this Holiday Season

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I don't know what it is, but lately, I feel like there's a big hullabaloo being made about what we should say around the Thanksgiving-and-Christmas-and-Kwanzaa-and-Festivus-and-Hanukkah time of year. You know — December. But you know what I like to call this time of year?

I call it winter. And cold — I call it cold, too.

But to many others, it's a time that's defined by more than just gift giving and parties and snow (in some places). It's more than a time of family and love and togetherness.

It's the Season of Blown Budgets.

Yup. You know exactly what I'm talking about. It's the time when any extra penny counts when you make up your gift lists for your kids and your spouse and your parents and your in-laws and your kids' teachers and your pastor and your rabbi and your dog.

So in order to help you all out with keeping that budget in check, we sat down and chatted with Andrea Woroch, a nationally recognized expert on personal finance and saving, and she gave us some pretty good tips on what you can do to keep you from falling asleep on your budget.

Image via Flickr/ USAG-Humphreys

Round up all of your clutter and sell it for some extra cash

I know you've got it lying around — clothes that your kids have grown out of, sweaters that you're way too cool for, and toys that are being neglected. Andrea even said that old video games could bring in a couple of extra dollars.

The games can be taken to GameStop for the possibility of cash rewards for your old games and consoles, and Andrea suggested taking your old toys and shoes to a consignment shop nearby. “You can cash in on that clutter and declutter at he same time,” she said.

Well said, Andrea. Well said.

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Dig through your couch cushions for all that extra coinage

Pennies are pretty much worthless these days. I kid you not, whenever I see a penny on the ground outside, I don't even take the penny's worth of effort it takes to lean down and pick it up. (I sometimes even lives nickels lying around.) But you'd actually be surprised how much money you could end up with if you just let those penny collections stack up. If you're heading to the grocery store and you don't really have the time or interest in rolling your own pennies and taking them to the bank, lug those pennies around with you and dump them in a Coinstar kiosk.

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Now, I know what you're thinking: “Don't those take like half of the money that you put in the machine?” No, it's not half, but it is 10.9%, which can add up just as quickly as those pennies.

So instead of cashing out with whatever coins you can find (yes, the Coinstar machine takes quarters, nickels, and dimes, too), you can put every single one of them towards an eGift Card. Yeah, an eGift Card. And the 10.9% charge doesn't apply at all.

So if you found $53 in coins around your house, you could take them to a green Coinstar machine and get either $47.33 in cash, or you could trade it straight across for $53 on an eGift Card to Amazon, Starbucks, Toys”R”Us, and tons of other places.

gift cards
Image via Flickr/ 401(K) 2013

And speaking of gift cards …

I personally am not a fan of gift cards — I would just as well prefer cash. With cash, you aren't tied down to a specific store that you never shop at or to a restaurant that serves exactly the opposite of what you like eating. If only you could trade your gift cards for cash so that you could use the funds on whatever you want.

You can!

Coinstar has gone above and beyond the call to count your loose change for you. At the new yellow Coinstar kiosks (as opposed to the green ones that only handle coins), you can slide the card in and get a nice cash reward in return.

In a study done by the people at Coinstar, they found out that about one in three people (37% to be exact) still have gift cards from the previous holiday — gift cards that haven't been used yet.

No, the exchange rate isn't one to one, so that's kind of a bummer and, yes, only cards from select stores are available for the trade, but if you got a gift card to a store that you never shop at, any amount of money in exchange is worth it, right? Just track down a yellow Coinstar kiosk and slide the card in. The machine will tell you how much is on the card and then make you an offer in cash. You can nod or shake your head to the offer and either keep the gift card to [insert unappetizing restaurant here], or you can walk away with heavier pockets.

Your choice.

holiday stress
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Don't forget the little things — they turn into massive things

As Andrea said in our interview with her, “A lot of families overlook the extra expenses that pop up over the holiday season.” And it's true. Parties are almost an every-other-day thing, and if you're paying for gas and for babysitters and takeout Chinese (because the babysitter doesn't know how to cook), your pockets are going to start feeling much lighter.


On top of those expenses, you may have to toil over cookies and dessert for a family Christmas party or maybe you're responsible for the latkes and the sufganiyot at your Hanukkah get-together.

So to be prepared for those things, work those into your budget. Usually it's just the gifts that get room on the budget, but they're going to have to get nice and cozy on that budget list, because there are so many more things that require payment during the holidays.

santas bag
Image via iTunes

Make a list and check it … all the time

Having a list is quite a popular thing to do during the holidays, and it doesn't hurt to use one to your advantage. Andrea suggests to make a list, starting with all of the people that you want to buy gifts for this season. In addition to the gift list that you make, put together a list of “all of the holiday parties or all of the holiday baking you're going to be doing.” To the side of each of these items, keep a count of what you have budgeted. Once you've made your purchase, write down what you actually spent and then compare. If you've overspent, you're either going to need to make some returns, or you're going to have to make some adjustments elsewhere.

Concerning the gift list itself, there's a really cool app out there called “Santa's Bag.” It keeps a Christmas gift list for you, and you can track how much you're spending on each person and even how much on each gift. It's only available on Apple products, so if you've got an Android, I'm sorry. If you have a Windows phone, I promise I won't tell anyone.

I wonder if Santa's heard of this app … He seems like more of an Android type of guy to me anyway.

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What are some holiday budgeting tips you would care to share during a giving season such as this?

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5 Tips to Keep Your Budget from Going into Hibernation this Holiday Season

Jace Whatcott is a self-diagnosed introvert who loves crossword puzzles, golf, and reading. Despite being a male contributor—one of the few on this particular website—he is not in unfamiliar territory. Because he is an English major, 90% of his classmates are females, so he’s not too worried about being a fish out of water. One of his favorite things to do is to raid local thrift stores for used books. He’s always looking for something to read, or for something to put on his endless to-r ... More

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