Have the holidays become a financial black hole? - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Money

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Have the holidays become a financial black hole?

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Denise Aguilar

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Posted: Thursday, January 5, 2012 4:00 pm

How does it happen every year? You go from being OK with just sending out Christmas cards and baking goodies for your loved ones, to buying a gift for what seems like everyone you know.

Whatever the reason - running out of time to bake, feeling obligated because someone else gave you a gift, or just getting caught up in the festive atmosphere, it seems to happen every year, and it adds up.

If you're like me, you host Christmas dinner and go all out with a turkey, pies, and all the sides to go along. You start out with a few gifts under the tree, but end up with mountains of presents for your kids, family, friends, coworkers, neighbors ... the list goes on!

Unfortunately, all the good feelings you get while enjoying Christmas dinner with your loved ones, and watching the kids' eyes light up while opening those special gifts, can turn to heartburn when you look at your bank statement at the end of the month. It's similar to the feeling you get when you look down at the scale after the holidays.

I wish I had the solution to this problem. I can say it all I want - make a budget, stick to it, make Christmas dinner a potluck, don't feel obligated to spend money on everybody, a small token of appreciation gets the thought across ... but I have to be realistic here.

It is almost impossible to stick to a budget during the holidays. So, let's just do what we can given that fact and plan to be more financially aware during the non-holiday months.

After the new year is a great time to take a close look at finances from the year before. Buy an inexpensive bookkeeping software program and import your bank statements into the software. Categorize your spending and see the eye-opening results.

For my family, eating out is always the biggest money pit. For others I know it is shopping. It could be traveling, gambling, the cost of cigarettes, going out to bars, it may even be helping others.

It's not to say you have to completely cut out the activities you enjoy, but it can be a wake-up call to pay more attention to just how much money is thrown toward things that don't always give us a great return on investment.

It's all about making educated decisions as opposed to spending on impulse. We're all guilty of it, and I can tell you my family will never stop trying new restaurants or visiting our favorites.

But we can make a plan to eat out only when we want to do just that - try something new or visit a favorite. We can avoid eating out just because it's convenient. We can make sure there are groceries in the fridge and make enough to have leftovers, which are even more convenient.

You get the idea.

Now, on to the new year!

• Ahwatukee Foothills resident Denise K. Aguilar is a local attorney whose bankruptcy practice focuses in consumer and small business bankruptcy. Reach her at (480) 455-1881 or visit www.aguilarlawonline.com for more information on the Aguilar Law Firm, P.C.

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