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Holiday Windfalls: 7 Tips on Using Them

Holiday Windfalls: 7 Tips on Using Them

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    The holidays often come with a windfall or two: a monetary gift from a relative or a bonus from an employer. We don’t necessarily expect these gifts — that’s why they’re called windfalls — so deciding what to do with them can be a little complicated. Perhaps you have a pressing need for cash to pay an important bill. If so, that kind of practical application may make your decision for you. If you don’t have such a need, however, take time to consider your options.

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    1. Put it in your emergency fund

    While this option doesn’t sound particularly fun, it may be a life saver. Approximately 60 percent of Americans don’t have enough to make it through a full month on just their emergency savings — a huge problem if you’ve been watching the job market lately. If you’re in that group, a windfall might be your best opportunity for actually starting an emergency fund. If you’ve got a little bit of money already put away for a rainy day, using even a portion of your holiday gift to pad it can pay off. I’ve got my emergency fund in the savings account with the highest interest rate I could find: I’ve already put a few windfalls in there, and I’ve got the comfort of knowing that they’re actually earning me a little money.

    2. Set aside a few dollars for something fun

    Saving money all the time can be tough. More than a few people fall off the frugality wagon because it’s depressing to save every single cent you can. What’s the point of saving every little bit if you don’t get to enjoy your savings on occasion? I wouldn’t suggest spending all of your money on entertainment, but there’s nothing wrong with setting aside a few dollars of ‘play money.’ Depending on the windfall, using a fraction of your gift towards fun could be the equivalent of a dinner out or a new television — if you can afford it, neither is unreasonable.

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    3. Make an investment

    The stock market might make most investors cringe right now, but that doesn’t actually mean that investment is a bad choice. There are still many conservative investment options that can provide a safe place to keep your money and earn a little interest. Those conservative investments don’t provide the return of riskier choices, of course, but they can still provide a little income. Depending on your long-term financial goals, stocks may not be a horrible idea either — consider consulting a financial planner if you want to invest a significant amount of your windfall.

    4. Share the wealth

    I don’t tithe a certain percentage of my income, although I know people who do — including when they receive windfalls. I do believe, however, that it’s good to support causes you believe in (especially when your own financial situation is comfortable). Many non-profits are struggling this year as donations have dropped. If you have made a charitable contribution in years past but have cut back this year, think about donating even a few dollars of your windfall.

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    5. Pay down debt

    Odds are pretty good that you’re already working on paying down any consumer debt you might have — the balances on your credit cards and accounts. Applying a windfall to those balances can not only help you eliminate your debt faster, but it can also save you money in the long run. If you can wipe out consumer debt, you don’t have to pay interest on it. If your credit card balances are in great shape, the same holds true for your ‘good’ debt: mortgages and school loans are considered good debt because they help you earn and save money in the long run. Still, they’re both forms of debt and the faster you pay them off, the less interest you pay.

    6. Put it towards a bigger goal

    Saving up for a down payment on a house? Or for Junior’s education? If you’ve got a big goal that you’re saving up for, a windfall may help move you along to your goal faster than you might otherwise manage. Especially if you have a little time to save up for a goal, like Junior’s college, interest can turn even a few dollars into a larger amount — there are special investment options created for just such goals, like 529 plans. If you are looking at a shorter-term goal, you can often use that savings as a sort of emergency fund: you won’t want to pull money away from your goal, but you won’t be in too much trouble if you do.

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    7. Mix and match

    No matter how small a windfall is, you can divide it among these options if you choose. Dividing a monetary gift between your goals can give you an opportunity to move forward on all of them — if you feel like you’ve only made progress in one area this year, you have the opportunity to make a little progress on all the rest before the year ends. In some cases, it may be crucial to get ahead on a particular goal: you’ll want to take your finances into account to make your decision. And if you have any other ideas for using a windfall, please share them in the comments.

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    Last Updated on January 2, 2019

    7 Steps For Making a New Year’s Resolution and Keeping It

    7 Steps For Making a New Year’s Resolution and Keeping It

    Are you keen to reinvent yourself this year? Or at least use the new year as a long overdue excuse to get rid of bad habits or pick up new ones?

    Yes, it’s that time of year again. The time of year when we feel as if we have to turn over a new leaf. The time when we misguidedly imagine that the arrival of a new year will magically provide the catalyst, motivation and persistence we need to reinvent ourselves.

    Traditionally, New Year’s Day is styled as the ideal time to kick start a new phase in your life and the time when you must make your all important new year’s resolution. Unfortunately, the beginning of the year is also one of the worst times to make a major change in your habits because it’s often a relatively stressful time, right in the middle of the party and vacation season.

    Don’t set yourself up for failure this year by vowing to make huge changes that will be hard to keep. Instead follow these seven steps for successfully making a new year’s resolution you can stick to for good.

    1. Just pick one thing

    If you want to change your life or your lifestyle don’t try to change the whole thing at once. It won’t work. Instead pick one area of your life to change to begin with.

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    Make it something concrete so you know exactly what change you’re planning to make. If you’re successful with the first change you can go ahead and make another change after a month or so. By making small changes one after the other, you still have the chance to be a whole new you at the end of the year and it’s a much more realistic way of doing it.

    Don’t pick a New Year’s resolution that’s bound to fail either, like running a marathon if you’re 40lbs overweight and get out of breath walking upstairs. If that’s the case resolve to walk every day. When you’ve got that habit down pat you can graduate to running in short bursts, constant running by March or April and a marathon at the end of the year. What’s the one habit you most want to change?

    2. Plan ahead

    To ensure success you need to research the change you’re making and plan ahead so you have the resources available when you need them. Here are a few things you should do to prepare and get all the systems in place ready to make your change.

    Read up on it – Go to the library and get books on the subject. Whether it’s quitting smoking, taking up running or yoga or becoming vegan there are books to help you prepare for it. Or use the Internet. If you do enough research you should even be looking forward to making the change.

    Plan for success – Get everything ready so things will run smoothly. If you’re taking up running make sure you have the trainers, clothes, hat, glasses, ipod loaded with energetic sounds at the ready. Then there can be no excuses.

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    3. Anticipate problems

    There will be problems so make a list of what they’ll be. If you think about it, you’ll be able to anticipate problems at certain times of the day, with specific people or in special situations. Once you’ve identified the times that will probably be hard work out ways to cope with them when they inevitably crop up.

    4. Pick a start date

    You don’t have to make these changes on New Year’s Day. That’s the conventional wisdom, but if you truly want to make changes then pick a day when you know you’ll be well-rested, enthusiastic and surrounded by positive people. I’ll be waiting until my kids go back to school in February.

    Sometimes picking a date doesn’t work. It’s better to wait until your whole mind and body are fully ready to take on the challenge. You’ll know when it is when the time comes.

    5. Go for it

    On the big day go for it 100%. Make a commitment and write it down on a card. You just need one short phrase you can carry in your wallet. Or keep it in your car, by your bed and on your bathroom mirror too for an extra dose of positive reinforcement.

    Your commitment card will say something like:

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    • I enjoy a clean, smoke-free life.
    • I stay calm and in control even under times of stress.
    • I’m committed to learning how to run my own business.
    • I meditate daily.

    6. Accept failure

    If you do fail and sneak a cigarette, miss a walk or shout at the kids one morning don’t hate yourself for it. Make a note of the triggers that caused this set back and vow to learn a lesson from them.

    If you know that alcohol makes you crave cigarettes and oversleep the next day cut back on it. If you know the morning rush before school makes you shout then get up earlier or prepare things the night before to make it easier on you.

    Perseverance is the key to success. Try again, keep trying and you will succeed.

    7. Plan rewards

    Small rewards are great encouragement to keep you going during the hardest first days. After that you can probably reward yourself once a week with a magazine, a long-distance call to a supportive friend, a siesta, a trip to the movies or whatever makes you tick.

    Later you can change the rewards to monthly and then at the end of the year you can pick an anniversary reward. Something that you’ll look forward to. You deserve it and you’ll have earned it.

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    Whatever your plans and goals are for this year, I’d do wish you luck with them but remember, it’s your life and you make your own luck.

    Decide what you want to do this year, plan how to get it and go for it. I’ll definitely be cheering you on.

    Are you planning to make a New Year’s resolution? What is it and is it something you’ve tried to do before or something new?

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