BOISE -- In this week's Life in Balance we are talking about saving up for the holiday season. Money Coach Whitney Hansen is back with what you need to be doing right now to make sure Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year.
"Ideally you should have started saving yesterday, but you know, as soon as possible because Christmas is really expensive," Hansen said.
Hansen has a master's degree in business and a bachelor's in accounting. The self-proclaimed "money nerd" teaches millennials how to pay off debt and gain financial independence.
"I've been working with people one-on-one, helping them pay off debt, live on a budget, do all the very boring, but important stuff," Hansen joked.
The National Retail Federation expects consumers to spend on average $967 this holiday season. However, considering most people can't afford to cover a $400 emergency expense, Hansen says we could all learn a thing or two when it comes to saving and spending for the holidays.
Her first tip is to figure out what's best for your bottom line, and forget about what the average person will spend.
"Right now the best thing to do is set that intention. Start to plan for it. What is the budget? How much do you want to spend? How much do you feel like you can afford?"
Once you've determined how much you can spend on the holidays, start saving. Hansen likes a good, old-fashioned savings account, but with a modern twist: Automatic deposits.
"Talk with your bank," Hansen said. "They already have a system set up where you can immediately transfer a certain amount every single month into a savings account for you. And so you can do that once a month, per paycheck or randomly."
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There are apps to help you with automatic savings. One of Hansen's favorites is the Qapital app.
"So every time you swipe your card it rounds up to the nearest dollar and saves that into a savings account for you," she said.
The sooner you start saving for the holidays, the better off you will be.
"So if you do it automatically, once you get to the point where you're ready to purchase gifts, you're in a really good financial position," Hansen said.
Another suggestion Hansen gives her clients is what she calls the 52 weeks savings challenge. This works for the holidays or any other big-ticket item you need to save for. It can also be a great way to pay down credit card debt.
"So week one, you save a dollar," she explained. "Week two, you save two dollars, week three, three dollars, and by the end of that, after a full year, you have $1,300, almost $1,400."
And if you're really desperate, try freezing your credit cards.
"What I mean by this is get a little mason jar, fill it up with water, put your card in the water, and yes, physically freeze the card," Hansen said. "It sounds so weird, but it's one of those things if you have to physically wait for your card to thaw out for you to make a purchase, it's going to minimize a lot of those crazy, impulse buys that we have."
Knowing when to shop can also save you money. You're encouraged to do your research because not every deal happens on Black Friday.
"For electronics, we always think we're going to get some great deals around Black Friday, and you will, but actually the best time is early November," Hansen said.
As for the best time to shop for toys, Hansen has found some great deals the day before Thanksgiving.
Online shopping is a good option, Hansen says, because it's the easiest way to compare prices, but she cautions, online retailers have gotten smart to entice you with impulse buys.
"So we see this a lot with Amazon when you're shopping they'll also make recommendations of, 'Hey you might like this,'" Hansen said. "And if it's an item you've truly been looking at, they're tracking the cookies on your computer, they can see exactly what products and services you're interested in."
But by far the biggest mistakes to avoid when it comes to holidays: not saving and not having a plan.
"So setting that expectation early on with your family and friends of what you can afford," Hansen said. "And even with your kids and your spouse, let them know this is what Christmas is going to look like. So if you set that expectation early on you don't feel pressured and your family doesn't feel awkward if they don't get their dream gift."