November is a busy time of year for many. The holiday season kicks into full gear with seemingly endless gift-giving, personal and professional events. According to a survey we conducted, 48% of Americans carry credit card debt during the holidays. With that in mind, here are some money questions to consider this month that could help keep you on track throughout the holiday season and set you on a fresh start for next year.
If you’re going to be away during the holidays, there are a few extra things you should do to prep your home before leaving. Burst water pipes can be an expensive risk as the temperature drops. Frozen pipes can burst, which can lead to more than $5,000 in water damage, according to the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety.
So, keep the thermostat on in your home when you leave, however make sure the temperature doesn’t go below 55 degrees to ensure your water pipes don’t freeze and burst. This isn’t only a risk in cold climates, where most homes are prepared for cold weather and keep water pipes in insulated and heated areas of the home, but also in the south where houses may not have adequate built-in protection. Consider using pipe insulation on your water pipes in attics, crawl spaces and areas that are usually not heated. Also consider draining the water system by shutting off the main valve and turning on all water fixtures until water stops running.
Another tip while you’re away: unplug appliances such as space heaters, toasters, TVs, hair dryers and the like. These draw a little bit of power, even when they’re not turned on, which adds to your electrical bill. Leaving devices plugged in can also create a small chance of fire.
It can be easy to spend more than you’d like during the holiday season. To stay on budget, start by creating a budget. Ideally, you will have set aside some savings to prepare for the winter holidays. According to the National Retail Federation, consumers say they will spend an average of $1,007.24 during the holidays, with the bulk going to gifts.
When mapping out a budget, start with how much you can spend, then divvy up that amount to gifts, food, decorations and other things. Get detailed. For gifts, make a list of everyone you need to give to, then assign a dollar amount to each person and stick to it. Coming up short? Consider making some gifts like homemade cookies or scented bath salts. When you’re shopping, it can be tempting to find gifts for yourself. If you want to stay on budget, you’ll need to resist that, even if it is a good deal. And if you haven’t set aside money for the holidays, that’s okay too. If you start now (or in January), you’ll be in great shape for next year!
Some of the biggest sales of the year -- Black Friday and Cyber Monday -- are in November. There are some really good deals out there but if you want to avoid busting your budget, make a plan for the day so you don’t get sidetracked. Maybe you’ve been planning to upgrade your TV; if so, do a little research ahead of time to see where you might find the best deal. Many stores advertise their Black Friday and Cyber Monday specials a few weeks ahead. Also know that if you miss some deals, there are plenty of sales year-round. Depending on what you’re looking for, you might even do better!
Everything kicks into high gear this time of year. This means appointments and reservations fill up fast and if you haven’t booked a little earlier than usual, you might find yourself scrambling at the last minute. Think hair appointments, babysitters, professional photos, catering, pet sitters or pet boarding, house cleaning and the like.
Are you hosting? If so, plan your menu and shopping ahead of time. You might be able to score a deal on a turkey or ham. Some supermarkets have special deals around the holidays for a free turkey or ham, provided you spend a certain amount. Check your local grocery circular for weekly deals.
Another option: host a potluck to make it easy on yourself and your wallet. The host generally provides the main course, whether it’s ham, turkey, steak or whatever, and everyone else brings sides, dessert and alcohol.
If you haven’t been contributing regularly throughout the year, now’s a good time to max out your contributions or contribute as much as you can, depending on your circumstances. With a 401(k), you can contribute up to $18,500 in a year if you’re under 50. For anyone 50 and older, you can contribute up to $24,500 in 2018. Contributions to a 401(k) are tax deferred, meaning you don’t pay taxes on it until you withdraw.