Simone's Blog: Money Magnet

As the Director of Affiliate Relations at HomeFree-USA, I’ve always been fascinated with how people handle their money. Like everyone else, I’ve had my financial ups and downs. In fact, it took me 32 months to pay off $32,000 in credit card bills and build up a six-month emergency fund. While that was a very difficult period, I am grateful – and wiser -- for the experience.

Through my personal experiences and working at HomeFree-USA, I’ve gained a ton of insight that I feel compelled to share. You’ll find those lessons here. Feel free to take the thoughts and ideas that resonate with you most and put aside the rest for later. I look forward to sharing my journey.

Don't cancel Christmas

I’ve been trying to cancel Christmas since 2003. I love spending time with, and money on, my family, but I always regretted spending so much. It took years to prepare and balance my spending to the point where I wouldn’t have to “detox” (aka not afford to eat) into the New Year. Canceling Christmas was the perfect solution to my over-indulgence.

Except it never worked.

So I had to learn to live within my reality - I simply don’t have the luxury of buying whatever I want without advanced preparation. I had to devise a plan. Here are a few lessons I picked up from people far smarter than I:

Friend Jennifer: Set a budget. How much can you afford to spend this season without going into debt or not eating? You may have to cut in other discretionary areas (like eating out or shopping for yourself), but determine a clear and realistic number, then commit to spending that or less.

Sister Milan: Make a list of everyone you plan to gift, no matter how small. Include ideas of what to give them, and set a maximum dollar amount. Include people you may tip, such as the babysitter or housekeeper.

Uncle Evans: Research the best brands and deals before you shop. Check out user reviews on sites like Amazon, subscribe to www.consumerreports.org or CNet.com, or comparison shop using sites like Honey and www.pricegrabber.com.

Contractor Bert: Every sale is not a deal or even a discount. Retailers are known for price-hiking during the holidays, then “reducing” it to an amount that’s still higher than you’d normally pay. Stick with your original plan.

Grandmother: Make all meals a potluck. As the host(ess), be sure to coordinate what everyone is bringing so you won’t have too much of one thing and not enough of the other.

Mom: The week after Christmas buy decorations and gift wrap for the following year. Stores need to make room for next season’s items so they discount all holiday items by 50-75%.

Me: Embrace the unconventional. I travel often for work so I accrue airline miles. Gifting those points to someone who wants to visit their loved ones during the holidays could make a huge impact on their season without costing me anything. Likewise, while I was in Seattle earlier this year I bought four bags of dried lavender leaves, which I’m turning into oils, candles, and room spray (I am NOT the DIY girl but this has been pretty easy), all to be given away as gifts.

Finally, don’t beat yourself up if you can’t do all you’d like. Figure out what’s manageable, take satisfaction in that, and work on a plan to enhance your giving in the years to come.

And so it is.