It's never too early to start tracking down extra cash for holiday gifts. And if you plan in advance, not only will you save money, but you'll also avoid the big credit-card bills that can last long after the holidays are over.
"It's a matter of planning ahead so you don't have a horrible surprise in January," says Donna Skeels Cygan, a certified financial planner and owner of Essential Financial Planning in Albuquerque.
Follow these tips to uncover some extra money for the holidays:
Boost Your Income
Now is the perfect time to pick up some extra work. Retailers begin hiring extra staff for the holiday season in late October and early November. Even if you can work only nights or weekends, you'll earn some money, and your employee discounts can lower your holiday bills even further.
To find seasonal work, visit stores where you plan on holiday shopping and ask if they're hiring seasonal workers. You can also check out seasonal retail jobs on Monster.
Seasonal work extends far beyond the mall. You'll also find plenty of jobs in other types of businesses that deal with the holiday rush, such as caterers, restaurants, shipping companies, event planners and online stores that need help packing and shipping all those extra orders. It's also a great way to test-drive a job you may want to keep after the holidays.
You could make good money working overtime at your own company, especially if you're willing to work Christmas or Thanksgiving Day. These shifts often pay double or even triple time. And if you set aside just a little money every week, you'll amass a nice pot of cash for your holiday gifts. Just $50 per week can add up to $400 over two months, which could easily come from a few meals you don't eat out. (With so many holiday festivities, you could probably do without the extra food anyway.)
Stretch Your Dollars
Use a credit card that offers cash back on your purchases to buy your holiday gifts. Taking advantage of such a rebate card can really add up after a few months of big expenses. Look for a card with a low annual fee, and make sure the items you plan to buy qualify for rebates. For this strategy to work, though, you must pay off the bill in full before it's due -- these cards tend to charge high interest rates, and carrying a balance for even just a month or two could quickly eat up the rebates you've amassed. You can search for rebate cards at CardWeb.
Want extra money without having to make sacrifices? Adjust your tax withholding. If you get a big tax refund every year, it means you're actually giving the government extra money with each paycheck, but many people could use the extra money right now.
To adjust your withholding, fill out a new W-4 form and submit it to your employer. For help figuring out your adjustments, see the withholding calculator created by Kiplinger's Personal Finance.
Save Money on Shopping
Start thinking about your gift list early so you can set a spending budget. "Make what cash you do have stretch as far as possible by having a clear idea of your shopping needs," says Evelyn M. Zohlen, a certified financial planner and founder of Inspired Financial in Garden Grove, California. "Sticking to a carefully-prepared shopping list helps us avoid the temptation of holiday impulse spending and ensures that we have enough cash for everything."
Prepare for Next Year
Finally, take some steps now to make it easier to cover your holiday expenses next year. If you get a pay raise this January, Zohlen recommends earmarking some of that -- say just $50 to $100 per month -- toward next year's holiday savings fund. Have it deposited directly into an interest-bearing savings account or money-market fund so you don't get used to having the extra money -- and don't get a chance to spend it on anything else. At the end of the year, you could have $1,200 for gifts without making any sacrifices.
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