It may seem that if you listen to one more election podcast or read one more news article about exit polls, turnout or pundit prognostications, you might actually influence the outcome of this election. Spoiler alert: You won't.
Instead, I propose a few options that you can do today that are actually within your control. I want you to make a financial plan for holiday gift-giving.
Today may be Election Day, but it's also the first column I'm writing to the sound of Christmas music blaring like a siren call from every store, jingle bells ringing off websites, all telling us to come out and spend or fire up the laptop, credit card in hand. That's right, Halloween just ended, folks, and the upcoming holidays are upon us! Today, and maybe only today, you can find motivation to take one, two, three or all four of the actions below.
First, open another savings account. Go to your bank and sign the paperwork for the new account (it's free!). Call it a gift account or holiday or Christmas account, whatever makes sense. I bet you didn't even know you could name your savings accounts. Then, fund it! How much? Pull up all those credit card statements from November and December and birthdays and anniversaries from last year and add up the total. Divide that number by 12, then set up a monthly auto transfer from your checking account to your new savings account for that exact amount. You won't have enough for this year. Those little magic money fairies you've heard so much about do not really exist, but by next year you will have enough money saved to make your 2021 gifting seem even more miraculous than Santa slipping down a chimney.
Second, you have one fleeting moment in your entire life to call off gifts, and this year is it. Literally pick up the phone and call the authoritarian family regime and negotiate a settlement. Argument A -- "COVID." If it doesn't work, I want you to pull out the big guns. Use argument B, otherwise known as "budget." There, you said it. And remember that life has gotten more expensive for people at many income levels. Many will benefit from the settlement you negotiate. A lot of people I have met over the years have replaced gift-buying with more intimate gift-giving, such as experiences (like picnics, dinners out, theater tickets), a thoughtful letter or a homemade banana bread. These gifts go a long way. Also, remember that you can still bid on experiences and gifts at charitable auctions, like the upcoming Big Brothers Big Sisters or CARTI online auctions, to name a couple. All from the comfort of your couch!
Third, if you have young children, run (don't walk) to your computer and furiously pull up the Arkansas 529 website and open up a college account for each of your children, or at least the ones you like! Google tuition rates, and you will agree it takes a financial village to raise a child. Set the account up today and call every family member who adores your kids and who spoils them with an abundance of plastic toys that make loud sounds and end up on the floor where you painfully find them in the middle of the night. Suggest to these benefactors that they consider an alternative gift -- the gift of education. They can deposit directly into the account or have a nice, wrapped-up check ready to mail the next day.
Fourth, and what I will be doing today, is making myself a gift budget with a plan to buy each gift locally. I know that making a budget means I am less likely to overspend, and by starting early I prevent the reptilian part of my brain from bursting into flames and prompting me to overbuy in the final days. Sure, it takes a little more effort than the convenient Amazon app on my iPhone, but read this story: arkansasonline.com/113amazon.
Sarah Catherine Gutierrez is founder, partner and CEO of Aptus Financial in Little Rock. She is also author of the book "But First, Save 10: The One Simple Money Move That Will Change Your Life," published by Et Alia Press. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.